Poems and Reflections by Richard Barry

Richard Barry Part 2 of 4

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Too Busy

I’m too busy.

Too busy to not set aside one day per month for a personal retreat.

Too busy to not be re-calibrated by watching unspeakably wise trees sway in the gentle summer breeze.

Too busy to not behold water and stones so joyously fulfill their ancient pledge to gravity.

 

Too busy to not spend hours in reflection.

Too busy to not pay close attention to my inner life.

Too busy to not slow down until I spot God hiding in every moment of mundanity.

 

Perhaps a day will come when I won’t be so busy and these things will become optional.

But for the time being, I have no choice.

 

I’m simply too busy

Not to reflect

Not to retreat

Not to slow down.

 

Reflection Question: What are you too busy to not do in this season of your life?

 

She Who Owns My Heart

Beyond knowing,

Beyond experiencing,

Beyond feeling,

Beyond capturing,

Beyond articulating,

Her name is Mystery, she Who owns my heart.

Known in unknowing,

Experienced in intuition,

Felt in unspeakable longing,

Everywhere present, yet magically elusive – oh, how she dances!

Articulated in groans and breathless hopes,

Manifest ethereally in LOVE,

Her name is Mystery, she Who owns my heart.

 

I see her everywhere,

and yet I cannot discern her.

I have unknown her always,

she Who cannot be proven,

she Who may not exist,

only because existence is an abode ill-suited to her,

a container not expansive enough,

a category not strong enough to hold her.

She is a black hole,

a gravity wave, ripping through spacetime.

She is Dark Energy,

I have seen her, but she danced away again.

How is it that she is so hidden and so present at once?

– oh, how she dances!

Her name is Mystery, she Who owns my heart.

 

She whispers the words “Higgs boson”

– and dances away again.

Her retreating shadow is perceived in neuroscience

– as she vanishes in a pirouette.

She spins her way through quantum entanglement,

playfully mocking that cosmic speed limit,

for she is something more than light,

though light, too, hopes for her,

daring to hint at her Name.

Her enchanting laugh is in it all!

(Or am I hearing an echo of that laugh? I can’t tell.

But what does it matter? It’s enchanting either way.)

She is quadrillion supernovae,

issuing forth countless,

imperceptible,

unnamed elements,

forcing the very boundaries of our universe to expand.

It is a timeless arabesque!

Oh, how she dances!

 

I have always loved her,

though I knew not her name,

though I was taught to call her by another,

a name which I have shouted for forty years.

But now I whisper her true name,

for she has made it known in my unraveling,

in my liquefying,

in my being unmade.

Her name is Mystery, she Who owns my heart.

 

But as for homo sapiens,

we who are gods,

yet whose eyes are only now beginning to crack open,

that we might take in our first glimpse of the wondrous absurdity of life,

now these three remain:

presence, attention, and listening.

But the greatest of these are all three.

For these also are her names,

she Who owns my heart.

 

Reflection question: Certainty and Mystery: two components of an absolutely critical polarity. What are the benefits of each? What are their drawbacks? Where do you tend to encounter God most these days along the Certainty-Mystery spectrum?

 

Not Done with You Yet
(or Job, Act II)

Taking a few deep breaths,

I compose myself,

and turn to face the Divine:

“Excuse me, God, I have something to say,

a bone to pick with you, to be more precise.

There is too much inequity in this world,

too much harm, tragedy, and meaningless suffering,

too much naked exposure to absurdity,

for humanity to hold its tongue ad infinitum.

I stand as its representative today,

giving voice to our rightful grievances.

And I’ll stop you before you even think of saying,

‘Who are you to ask?’

What a cop-out!

Don’t try to do to me what you did to Job.

No, you must answer to me.

Where are you when we need you most?

And don’t tell me, ‘The devil is responsible,’

when you’ve claimed to have defeated him.

Don’t you dare try to shift the blame.

Man up!

I don’t let my children get away with moves that cheap,

and I certainly won’t let you either.

Nor tell me, ‘He went through pain too.’

I didn’t ask if you have felt our pains.

I asked why you didn’t intervene when the child was raped for the 500th time,

not to mention the 499 before.

I never claimed to be active in all things –

that was you.

I never claimed to be sovereign over all things –

also you.

I never claimed to be the Good Shepherd –

you did.

I never claimed to be the Defender of the Weak –

another one of your gems.

Let’s riff here for a moment, shall we,

you who claim to defend the weak?

It’s a strange title for someone who has such an extremely,

embarrassingly bad track record.

You seem great at defending well-to-do American evangelicals,

especially if they are white.

But you seem quite inept at defending the vulnerable.

Quite inept at safeguarding black men from systemic injustice.

Quite inept at saving child-trafficking victims,

or those of incest,

or three-year-olds who fall to malaria,

or countless women abused by arbitrarily powerful men.

How long is your arm, exactly?

It troubles me that it was long enough

to give us that special parking spot in Cabo,

but too short to reach them.

Keep your parking spots, and do your job,

oh, Defender of the Weak!

Or were you just embellishing on your resumé?

If you could have stopped it, but you didn’t,

you are nothing short of a monster.

And if you intervene in any situation,

you’re on the hook for it all.

So I will not answer to you,

You will answer to me.

‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?’

I’ve been told you are prone to ask.

What does that have to do with anything?

Stop trying to change the subject.

Stop trying to deflect, you who refuse to be put on trial.

You can escape no more.

I don’t accept your cop-outs,

your grandiose, condescending, entirely unbecoming excuses.

(Are You preparing to stand up?

No, stay right there, I’m not done with you yet!)

Another says, ‘When you see God,

you will either shut up or fall on your face.’

I am still standing, my face uncovered,

meeting your gaze in defiance.

My heels are dug in, I’m not going anywhere,

and I’m not shutting up.

You will answer to me.

Let us return to your phrasing:

‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?’

Allow me to return the favor, though I’m not asking for your permission:

Where were you when the child was raped?

Where were you when the woman was abused?

Where were you when the HIV+ blood transfusion took place?

Where were you when the slave was lynched?

Where were you when the car-bomb exploded?

Were you busy arranging a pleasantly unexpected 25% discount on Chanel handbags for all those pitiable, exhausted holiday shoppers at South Coast Plaza?

#blessed

Were you otherwise occupied showering the privileged with trifles,

that the rich might more fully comprehend your favor upon them?

#grateful

Words are not failing me,

nor do I feel the slightest inclination to fall on my face.

You are on trial, not me, and your excuses are exposed at last.

You can no longer bully us.

You can no longer command us to ignore half of reality while crying ‘hosanna.’

‘Holy, holy, holy,’ you have demanded that we say.

No, I will stand my ground where Job wilted and lost his nerve.

I will teach my brothers and sisters to sing a new, fitting refrain:

‘Horror, Horror, Horror.’

You’ve got some explaining to do.

What do you have to say for yourself?”

 

Then God,

in a movement both decisive and unhurried,

leans forward,

revealing an unexpected twinkle in his eye,

betraying the pleasure he took

in each and every word of my irreverent rant.

Slowly rising to his feet,

filling canyons with thunderous laudation,

he unreservedly gushes:

“Bravo! Bravo!

Well played, my dear!

I was swept up by your performance,

repeatedly forcing myself to restrain my applause,

for fear that I might miss a single word

or delightful turn of phrase,

not to mention you didn’t seem too keen

on my attempted standing ovation earlier.

I love it when you get worked up like this,

your sass and your spunk reflecting my own!

It makes me wonder:

Might you be starting to grasp

just how much fun I find you to be?

And now, by way of response,

allow me to repeat the cliché:

‘I don’t believe in that God either.’

All those ‘explanations,’

mere type and shadow, at best,

most just downright misleading and misled.

I’m sorry you’ve been forced to endure

the decodings of men,

as though tragedy were something to be deciphered,

rather than held in stunned, sacred silence.

I take no offense,

for those ‘explanations’ were not ‘of Me,’

and I’m not very good at taking offense anyway.

I was too busy weeping to offer an explanation in the first place.

Rest, ‘my sweet, crushed angel.’

There is no ‘explanation’ with which to contend today,

no argument to retort,

no accusation either.

I happily concede victory to you,

my stalwart little one,

for it is my joy to be overcome,

and your war was never with me to begin with,

but with well-meaning, though toxic, misconceptions.

You have fought a good fight,

and I am so very proud of you.

You have performed splendidly, my dear,

daring to defy your Beloved.

And don’t be so hard on yourself as we waltz,

for as a dance-partner,

I am ‘notoriously difficult to follow.’

So let’s sit one out for now.

Just know that I agree.

And you can rest.”

 

I should’ve seen them coming a mile away,

but his words still somehow take me off guard,

that inexpressible way he has about himself leaving me breathless.

Standing on wobbly legs,

undone in ecstasy,

I try to play it cool,

delivering my response with a well-understood wink,

“Rest? But I’m not done with you yet.”

 

 

Reflection Question: How do you imagine God would respond to you if you were to release all the dampers and let if fly on “the problem of evil”?

 

Be Careful!

It’s a startling phenomenon:

If you don’t pay attention,

You’ll never so much as notice It.

But be careful!

If you do pay attention,

You’ll never notice anything else.

 

Reflection Question: How do you interpret the “it” of this poem? What are the transformed lenses through which the author seems to be viewing the world?

 

This May Sound Familiar

1 Salvation has never been very much about a legal transaction whereby your sins would be absolved in a heavenly court of law; it has always been much more about you dying to an old way of life, dominated by self-interest, and living out a new way of life, marked by other-inclusive, self-giving love. It has always been about your “false self” losing more and more of its control and your “true self” increasingly taking the reins—a type of death and resurrection, sound familiar? So if you truly desire this type of salvation, a type that demands inexpressibly more of you than the transactional model, though no less dependent on grace, then stay on course in learning to live it out.

2 Set your intention and strengthen your resolve to nurture your true self, while compassionately reminding your false self that he is no longer needed. Become committed to living a life of self-giving love, of finding your good in the good of others, of listening more to your prefrontal cortex than to your amygdala.

3 Regard the life ruled by self-interest as having died in you, and marvel at how the farcical barriers between your life and God’s are vanishing before your very eyes, even as you feel yourself “coming home,” that is, being dissolved into the life of God; and that in some mysterious sense, you always have been.

4 And some day, when Love has finally won out, when Its ways rule on earth “as they do in heaven,” you’ll be right there, celebrating and included in the victory.

5 Want to put things in starker terms? Why not perform a public execution of your old way of life? – that way in which you pried your own private good from the closed-fisted grips of others, convinced, as you were, that recognition, honor, purpose, meaning, validation, money, and even love, were all zero-sum games.

6 It’s this impoverished mindset that has sent so many on a downward spiral of self-and-other destruction, giving us the glimpses of hell on earth we see today, and insidiously wet-nursing those we fear to be looming just over the horizon.

7 Of these bitter truths you are well-aware. You’ve “been there, done that,” and you’re fed up with self-interest’s rule.

8 That’s why you set off on this new path to begin with, because every time you wrestled the fruit of self-interest from the bloodied, scrambling pile, successfully extracting and consuming your sordid meal for one, you were left hungrier than when you started. It simply wasn’t working!

9 So let’s not pretend like it ever did. Rather, how about we take our old, ill-fitting rags of privatized self-interest, toss them in a pile, and light ‘em on fire?

10 Who needs ‘em anyway, when the garments of self-giving love look so damn good on us? It’s as if we were made for these Royal Gowns!

11 Take a look around: Have you ever seen such a handsome bunch? Now keep looking: In this divine attire, can you even tell who’s who anymore, or where one ends and another begins? As we give ourselves in love to one another, doesn’t everyone and everything seem to breathtakingly, inexorably melt into God? In the end, what is there to see besides Him!?!

12 And as long as you’ve been given access to Mystery’s wardrobe, I want you to go all out. Try on all of Love’s accessories! Put on that crown of compassion. Don those bracelets of kindness. Sport that blazer of community. Flex those cufflinks of creativity. And get comfy in the plush robe of gentleness – gentleness not only toward others, but also toward yourself, dear one.

13 You and God both know what a miraculously tangled web of conflicting impulses your brain represents. So as you’re in process of carving out new neural pathways, of learning to preference neocortically-informed thinking and behavior, be as tender with yourself and others as you’ve always known the Spirit’s caress to be.

14 And above all, remind yourself often that God, from whom existence flows and in whom the dance itself takes place, is Love. Pay close attention to my choice of words. I didn’t say God is a person who is really loving, a concept we can wrap our minds around well enough. I said God is Love, a mind-bender that should keep us up at night, even as we blissfully lose ourselves in Its embrace.

15 May the peace of self-forgetfulness be yours, now and always. And may you be swept up by wonder, by awe – living in a state of perpetual amazement, that is, living spiritually.

16 Soak in Holy Scripture; seek out and apply the wisdom of those who’ve made “the journey” before you; and make use of every means at your disposal to express your heart to God. Write a poem, sing a song, drop a beat, dance your heart out, propose a toast. Get creative in your celebration of Love!

17 Do it all – and I mean absolutely everything – in Love’s indescribably precious name, which is to say, of course, in the name of the Most High God. And I’ll go first: you’ll find this letter embossed with Love’s seal.

 

Reflection Question: What concept or phrasing from these “verses” articulates something your soul has somehow “known all along”?

 

About the author: Richard Barry was born and raised in an evangelical Christian family in Southern California, though he has spent the majority of his adult life in religiously diverse contexts in both East and South Asia. He and his wife have raised their three children in India and still call that great nation home. Richard particularly enjoys and is benefited by putting the insights of modern-day neurology, cosmology, and biology in conversation with spirituality. His deepest sense of calling, however, revolves around living his life as a celebration of Mystery and being one who reveals the playfulness and shamelessness of God.
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