Barnett’s Prayer

The most moving and memorable part of the memorial service for Barnett was a kind of closing prayer that Frank Barrett wove together out of Barnett’s own writing, with a frame of his own.  I’m replicating it below, following the photo of the little knot of us heading out to the sea before sunrise the morning after the memorial.  The italics are Barnett’s words; the others are Frank’s.

Prayer is a conversation, but a particular kind of conversation.  Prayer might be considered an invitational gesture that welcomes mystery.  Barnett was one of the few social scientists who wrote openly about mystery as the highest context.  Since Barnett encouraged us to use the language of “conversation partner,” I invite you to enter into this prayer – with whatever conversation partner you can imagine as a higher power.

Barnett was deeply trained in religious traditions.  As he grew wiser, he became more spiritual than religious, and while he disliked the hierarchical order associated with any of the religious institutions, he never invalidated a spiritual tradition.  He studied the Hebrew Bible in Hebrew, studied the New Testament in Greek, studied Buddhism and probably read every word that the Dalai Lama ever published.

We will end with Magnum Mysterium (“Large Mystery”) to honor Barnett’s increasing interest in “mystery” and what it means to live a life that is open to mystery.

This prayer originates from Barnett’s own writing – his essays, blog, emails he sent to me.  These are essentially all his words.  I’ve cut and pasted, added a few connective phrases here and there, and took the liberty to design this as a litany.  But these are his words.  This is Barnett’s prayer.  If you look closely at his writing over the years, I think you might conclude that Barnett was implicitly saying this prayer most of his life.

Barnett’s Prayer.

During whatever time we have, how can we live well?  There was a time, not so long ago, when none of us existed.  And there will be a time when we won’t exist. 

Will it have mattered that we existed?  

We live within a limited horizon.  Help us to see the limits of our horizons more clearly.  

Help us to remember that we can develop the ability to shift the boundaries of our thinking and change the horizons within which we live. 

Help us to remember that if we get the pattern of communication right, the best possible things will happen.

We have been invited to develop wisdom.  Help us to create and find a home in the universe. 

Help us to be gentle but firm when people do wrong. 

When people wrong us help us not to confront them, but to create a scaffold for them to evolve to a new sense of scale. 

Help us remember that every conversational turn can be a moment of grace. 

Help us see the costs of fighting and the consequences of winning.

Help us notice that even our bitterest foe might be virtuous.  Help us to move forward together even though we may not like each other. 

Help us to remember that English is a language spoken by people who don’t speak the same language. 

Help us to remember that words can work magic

Help us to remember that words are never enough and words escape us and vanish when we most need them.

Help us to remember that we are always, in each passing moment, living into and out of multiple stories. 

Help us to occasionally raise questions about the effects of our own actions on ourselves and our environment.

We have experienced the inadequacy of words, the shyness of words, their tendency to vanish when we most need them.  And yet help us to remember that our words can live again.  Our words can live in speech and in silence.

Above all, help us to be open to mystery.  Help us to remember that the world is so much greater than any expression of it. 

Help us to remember that there is more to the other person than we can know. 

Help us to remember that if we perceive mystery we will be drawn to moments of grace, acts of kindness, beauty and joy.

Help us to remember that when we appreciate mystery we develop mindfulness, compassion, and empathy and we experience love, peace, and happiness. 

Help us to remember that the creation of the universe did not stop with Genesis; the creation of the universe did not stop with the Big Bang.  Creation continues

Help us to remember that when we are open to small “m” Mystery or big “M” mystery we are expanding horizons and creating worlds. 

Help us to keep the universe more compassionate, filled with beauty, kindness, and joy.

Help us remember that when we make the universe more loving we are continuing creation itself.

Help us to remember that the universe is changed by what we do. 

Help us to remember that every one of our responses is just one among many.

With every gesture, every utterance we are inviting a response, asking to continue a conversation.  May we continue it with grace. 

Help us to remember that if we can stay open to mystery we are more likely to experience liberation, freedom, joy, awe, wonder, compassion, kindness, love, mindfulness, empathy, and peace. 

Sometimes our head hurts when we ponder big Mystery.  So thank you for reminding us of the little mysteries that surround us.  Our whole horizon can change, we can feel more at home in the universe simply by noticing an apple, hanging on a tree, pregnant with possibilities. 

A Blessing for Barnett

Barnett said several times that CMM is one tool among other tools that could help us transcend our horizons.  He invited us to use these tools as scaffolds that we can abandon once we are open to new contexts.  Once these tools have helped us, he wrote, we can let them go.  We can let the scaffold drop.

In some ways we need to do that with Barnett.  He was a scaffold.  He invited us to transcend our own constraints and invited us into larger worlds.  Now we need to let go of his physical presence and be grateful for the many ways he invited us into larger contexts.

There’s a Hebrew and Christian tradition of benediction and praying for the dead as a way of letting go and assisting their transition into the next state.  Part of Hindu tradition says that it’s important to let the dead person go so that his/ her spirit can live on.  Taken together these traditions suggest that we must let go in order to welcome something new but different.

I invite us to offer Barnett a parting benediction.  The word “benediction” means “to speak well of.”  As we let Barnett go with gratitude, we hope that his grace continues to live in us.

I invite you to extend your hand in a blessing, part of which is borrowed from the Book of Numbers in the Hebrew Bible, a blessing I’m sure he offered several times for others.

In gratitude for the gifts that he offered us. . .

May his questions continue to live inside of us.

May our questions open us to the mystery that he has now entered.

May the life force that brought him here bless him and keep him.

May the universe shine its countenance upon him, be gracious to him, and grant him eternal peace.



3 thoughts on “Barnett’s Prayer

  1. This is beautiful.

    At first reading this, I felt ashamed of times I have gotten caught in pettiness and fighting, but the passages on compassion got the better of me, and I remembered that compassion isn’t just something we exhibit for others.

    Thank you for passing on these lessons that invite rather than teach.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Cate. I could meditate on this each day for the rest of my life and only embody a modicum of Barnett’s generosity and clarity. How wonderful to have his aspirational work and words to spur us to continue to create a better world in each conversation. Thanks, too, to Frank for so beautifully curating Barnett’s words.

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