Remembering Yevtushenko and strangers

As we gear up to the General Election (which was never going to be called) we are entering manifesto season. I love the word manifesto, full of show and promise. I start the day with words from the Old Testament: the reading appointed for today has this:

“So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? … The Lord set his heart in love on your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples …

Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and does not take a bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and that widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

From Deuteronomy 10:12-19

This is God’s manifesto – his show of promise which becomes the praise of his people. It contrasts with the meanness of some of the political manifestos which list what they can get away with, either for themselves or for the people, depending on your political point of view. My colleague, Christopher Burkett is helpful in his tweeted #cLectio reflection on this today:

cLectio

We are all fearful of strangers. We worry about who will live next to us. Fear has always had the upper hand in our dealings with strangers. It is important for us to hear the voice from heaven commanding us to love strangers (with the unspoken implication, “do not let your hearts be anxious because of them”. Loving strangers, overcomes division, builds friendships and makes a fabric for society – and responds to the needful knocking on the door. There is great wisdom in the reminder that we were all once strangers (and some stranger still!) to one another who now count ourselves friends.

YevtushenkoI was grateful to be reminded today of the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Yevtushenko died on April 1st 2017. Jeanette and I saw him perform his poetry in Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre in the 70’s. I well remember the way that he shuffled his feet as he dramatised a journey for one of his poems. Father Richard in one of his tweets, points us to Yevtushenko’s poem (Guardian Poem of the Week) in which he makes the point that “there are no boring people in this world”. In this poem he underlines our differences, that we are distinct from one another as planets are distinct from one another. In my words, “we are worlds apart”. That’s it. We are strangers to one another with very little common ground except that we are all stranger. This poem seems to embrace our stranger status, that though we are worlds apart, we can mean the world to one another. Here’s the poem (beautifully translated by Boris Dralyuk):

There are no boring people in this world.
Each fate is like the history of a planet.
And no two planets are alike at all.
Each is distinct – you simply can’t compare it.

If someone lived without attracting notice
and made a friend of their obscurity –
then their uniqueness was precisely this.
Their very plainness made them interesting.

Each person has a world that’s all their own.
Each of these worlds must have its finest moment
and each must have its hour of bitter torment –
and yet, to us, both hours remain unknown.

When people die, they do not die alone.
They die along with their first kiss, first combat.
They take away their first day in the snow …
All gone, all gone – there’s just no way to stop it.

There may be much that’s fated to remain,
but something – something leaves us all the same.
The rules are cruel, the game nightmarish –
it isn’t people but whole worlds that perish.

BenedictThere are worlds of difference, but whole worlds to explore. But we’re not called to love strangers for our own self interest but for theirs. I hope that becomes manifest and manifesto.

You can see Yevtushenko performing his poetry here

Father Richard blogs as Education Priest at Quodcumque

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