Notes for a reading of the ‘Book Lamentations’ by Narek
Armenian News Network / Groong
November 21, 2016
By Eddie Arnavoudian
Reading Narek: Three
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Always totally confident of humanity’s potential for recovery Narek urges ‘faith in change that can help to totally cleanse the sinner’ (‘հաւատալը եւ այն փոփոխության որ մեղաւորը կարող է դառնալ լիովին քավված - p30). The aspect of the Divine within remains an indestructible core, a very constituent of being human. Even when fallen ‘into the bottomless pit’, the human being ‘has still that relic of salvation preserved as a spark of light in the mind and the soul’, in the intellect and the spirit we could say (‘վիհի անդունդն անհատակ, բայց ունի նաեւ նշխարն փրկութեան իբրեվ լույսի կայծ պահած իր մտքում ու իր հոգու մեջ’ - 30-310). But in addition to this existential, philosophical affirmation Narek turns to human history too to assert possibilities for recovery. He harnesses the Bible as historiography to show precedents for such recovery (p31-3).
Humanity’s transformative potential that is captured in a string of powerful images, among them one proclaiming that having ‘sheltered in this un-shadowed confidence, I who was ruined now stand erect, I who was wretched, am now triumphant’ (‘ապավինելով անստվերագիր այս վստահության, կործանվածս ահա կանգում եմ նորեն, թշվարս հաղթող - p33).
Confidence in the potential for human recovery through rational self-activity premised on a philosophic grasp, on knowledge of human history is buttressed and reinforced by faith in a God defined first and foremost by his love of humanity. Such a God can never turn down a plea for forgiveness. Faith in God assures us that any appeal for the will and the strength to act virtuously will be granted. It is easy of course to understand how even if the omnipotent God one believes in does not actually exist, such faith by a believer can act as a powerful spur to action, to overcome and recover.
In the struggle to transform one’s life such faith in an unconditionally generous and forgiving Divine power can become a powerful prescription for independent action, a tremendous boost to will and confidence. For after all, whatever the scale of our lapse, so long as we confess and repent, so long that is as we acknowledge wrong and determine to do right, we will unfailingly be forgiven, that is we can self-confidently start anew with a clean sheet. We can be assured that so long as we ourselves honestly will it, we will unfailingly acquire the strength to live virtuously.
The four elegies that follow the 11th are prayers in the spirit of ‘h/she who calls the name of the Lord shall live’ (‘ով կանչի Տիրոջ անունը կ՝ապրի’ - p34). Appealing to a humanist Divinity, to ‘your love of man/woman’ «քո մարդասիրության» (p38), the poet pleads for poise, serenity and calm: ‘dissipate forever my sadness filled with shame, lift and shake off this unbearable burden’ (‘փարատիր իսպառ տխրությունն իմ այս նշավակելի, այս անտանելի ծանրությունները վերցրու, թոթափիր ինծանից’ - p35).
For Narek there is something necessary in the almost ceaseless appeals to God for help and forgiveness, in an endless and compelling elaboration, propounding and reiteration of God’s omnipotence and humanism. It serves at least two purposes. Given the historical record of repeated human transgression, given our propensity to sin, man/woman’s self-confidence is at rock bottom. Against grim reality faith and hope for the future is at its lowest possible ebb. The depth of catastrophe, its apparently endless repetition, its apparent permanence in life generates endless doubt and questioning both of human potential and Divine generosity too.
In the face of the endless sinning we feel human potential and Divine generosity buried beneath high mountains. They cannot be seen or felt. It is as if they do not exist in fact, and cannot if they did exist be recovered for our lives here on earth. Thus the need for constant reaffirmation, for constant self-assurance, constant, repeated, magnified and ceaselessly passionate reaffirmation of faith in human potential and the Divine’s generosity. These are constantly challenged by the experience of life.
-- Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in history and politics from Manchester, England, and is Groong's commentator-in-residence on Armenian literature. His works on literary and political issues have also appeared in Harach in Paris, Nairi in Beirut and Open Letter in Los Angeles.