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Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire

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Dear Vern,
     Congratulations on creating a masterpiece! 
     I read your book with increasing wonder and appreciation. It is better than therapy, as it analyzes sexual-spiritual yearning more thoroughly than any of the therapists with whom I tried to discuss this persistent, insistent, overwhelming issue in my early adult life (age 16 to 45).
     In fact, therapists actually refused to directly discuss the topic.  Instead they would redirect my focus to what they considered to be "reality."
    During those years I had been writing poetry, but after therapy I ceased to do so as I felt it was too self-indulgent.  In fact the last line of my last poem was this question: "is poetry sublime or merely masturbation of the mind?"
     Thank you for your inspiration and courage!
--With permission, withholding name
Greater Kansas City area


I am really enjoying reading my friend Vern Barnet's new book Thanks for Noticing.  I am reading and reflecting on one sonnet every day. Reading the sonnet, the epigraphs, and footnotes is like taking an interdisciplinary course on world religion, liturgy, spirituality and sexuality. Often the thoughts stay with me throughout the day and I return to the sonnet at day's end. 
     I have know Vern for several decades and continue to be amazed with his wisdom, insights, and ability to invite me to grow in understanding and appreciation of the human agenda.
     I just watched the YouTube video of Vern reading the Opening Sonnet.  It is great. I just posted a link on Facebook and already have a couple of "likes." 

--The Rev David E Nelson, DMin
president, The Human Agenda
Gladstone, MO


Enjoyed the you tube link.....very nice and professionally done. Congrats!!

John Gregory
Kansas City, MO


Very interesting web page, blog, and offer. Impressive. As is your wonderful book. I go through it slowly, only a couple at a time, savoring this essential Vern, romantic f***er mystic.

--The Rev Brad Carrier, 
Ashland, OR

from Comment added to YouTube video
Dear Vern:
     Like most ministers I know, I have struggled with being honest about this.   In my a book of poetry I wrote,  SEX IS THE KEY TO LIFE ITSELF AND LOVE IS THE KEY TO LIVING.   AND IF YOU WOULD A TRUE LOVE FIND, SEARCH WITH THE HEART AS WELL AS MIND.
     As I know postage to England costs a good bit more, my credit card payment is more than you asked. 
     Love, and a prayer for peace in the Middle East. 
--Richard  Boeke
Horsham,  West Sussex, United Kingdom


Perhaps no more than ten or twelve people might read Thanks for Noticing all the way through and really understand it all, but if it's the right ten sets of eyes, it could win a Pulitzer Prize for poetry. It really is that good. 

--Mark Scheel,
editor, writer, and former library information specialist. His 1997 book, A Backward View: Stories and Poems, was chosen for the J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award. His latest book is The Pebble: Life Love, Politics and Geezer Wisdom.

Byron Bradley
(Byrd) Carrier
Ashland, OR

January 7, 2016

Reviewing Vern’s Sonnets: Thanks for Noticing

I wouldn’t have read Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire  by the Reverend Doctor Vern Barnet were he not my friend from seminary. Vern was a bold visionary, too much for the staid faculty at our University of Chicago seminary, Meadville/Lombard. His three-volume D. Min. thesis on The Void may have perplexed and overwhelmed them. True to his brilliant mind and audacious quirks, he brings his encyclopedic knowledge of trans-cultural mytho-religious facts into his penchant to link the sacred and the sexual.

I’m impatient with poetry, especially sonnets. The odd phrasing and obscure words have to be dwelt upon slowly and repeatedly to tease out their gifts. Then the “Aha!” comes. Then the bemused smile fills the inner face via some pun or double-meaning. Then we share in his passion for passion – sexual and religious. For the reverend doctor, these two are not opposites; these play in union, each fulfilling the other. 

For instance, in “Holy Words” he considers a friend’s caution to back off from the sexual side in his religious poem:

I want an honest, open world, so I 
must keep the holy law to consecrate: 
my friends and every form of love I try,
each sacred chance, some fleshy, gay and straight. 

From shame and shade these sonnets seek to pluck
such ancient holy words as “love” and “fuck.” 

For Vern, a great sin is the expulsion of sex from spirituality. He goes round the world and back through time to gather wider, wilder humane advice. Some he puts in his sonnets (which he recommends we read aloud to pull out their rime, meter, and meaning) and some in the interesting facts he provides at the bottom of each page. For instance, he finds Father Matthew Fox quoting Richard Rohr, “Of all the world’s religions, Christianity has the biggest bias against the body. This is a disastrous theology. If I were Satan, and if I wanted to destroy Christianity, I would work overtime to tempt Christians to hate the flesh.” (Pg. 192) 

In “The Cosmic Christ” Vern puts it in the positive:

The world entire is Christ, distressed, alone, 
a way of painting all we see and know, 
the damned, the saved enjoined with laugh and moan,
a metaphor chamfering loved and foe. 

So I’ll be hurt to heal, be bound to free, 
change ache to kiss and wrench eternity.

In a note at the bottom of a poem he writes: “God’s playful delight is to behold us, to know us as we are, beyond human moral criteria. Similarly, when we love without need, intention, agenda, compulsion, claim, judgment, or dependency, but simply love by noticing, by witnessing, by beholding, loving freely as God does, we become like God. (Pg. 101) 

This reminds me of a poem he used to use in his liturgies: “We are God, and eternally we rejoice and moan; the freedom scares us, the responsibility is immense.” Vern has lived into his freedom and up to his responsibility, and I’ve noticed. 

Do you like words and word-craft, far-flung theology, unusual facts and bold sex-positive affirmations? Do you like sonnets and Shakespeare? Can you read his gay stance into your preferred attraction? Then notice how opening his sonnets opens you. He’d like that. 

--Brad Carrier
Ashland, OR

Sonnet 11 "Kitchen Cockroach"

I've just begun reading Vern's sonnets and I have to say that, among the many laudable aspects of his poetic style, what I find most intriguing is his ability to imbue mundane, oft overlooked moments in daily life -- a cockroach loafing in the kitchen unaware of its impending immolation -- with a sense of cosmic importance, philosophical profundity, even. This effect is as charming as it is existentially troubling for the unsuspecting reader who, upon reading "Kitchen Cockroach," for example, finds himself rooting for the death of the cockroach right up until the moment he realizes that by merely adjusting the magnitude, he too is a cockroach in the eyes of the universe.

This poem is a meditation on something so simple, yet so remarkable: a higher life form destroys a lower one, or, after billions of years of violent expansion, the universe coalesces into two distinct beings, man and cockroach, in order to comprehend what it means to sacrifice and to be sacrificed in the same instant. One action does not cause the other, they are dependent on one another for the continuity of the universe. We are left wondering, as Vern puts it, "Is this fire hate / or love . . ." or is it something distinct altogether?

If this poem is any indication of what's to come in the rest of the volume, then I have no doubt that Thanks for Noticing will prove to be a worthy read!

Philip Noonan


The footnotes are themselves worth the price of the book! And they are on the same page as the sonnet so you don't have to fumble in the back of the book looking for them.

--Jerry Grabher
Kansas City, MO

Sonnet 84 "Postmodern Faith -- What is Truth?"

Is the earth 6,000 years old? Or is it 10,000? Who cares facts? A talking snake in the Garden of Eden? Who cares facts? My friends tell me that the Bible is the truth, the actual truth. But who cares facts? Evolution true? Global warming real?  Irrelevant. Who cares facts? Thinking of stepping on ice that is a quarter of an inch thick? You might care facts. The Incans, Aztecs, Mayans and others engaged in sacred, ritual sacrifice of human beings, including children, as part of their faith that such acts would insure the fertility of the crops, ward off evil, and nourish and propitiate the gods, among other things. (You have stated in your commentary that worship is the enactment of myth, and ritual is a form of sacred play. Some kind of sacred play here!) But such worship cannot fail. And the Inquisition? Thousands of heretics burned at the stake to rid the world of evil. (Worship cannot fail.) For the sake of one Truth? One Truth with a capital T is not postmodern, but fundamentalist. I have a friend and I have relatives who believe that I am going to hell. They worship a God that is going to send me there. Their worship cannot fail? Really? It would be hard to find a question more absurd or dangerous than the last line of this sonnet.

--Ron Ruhnke
St Joseph, MO

Sonnet 124 "Destiny"

I appreciate the beauty and sensuality of the piece. Descriptions are specific and clear. I find them exciting. I am there.

As a person who identifies as atheist, I reject what feels to me a need/desire for some diety's approval. I believe I understand the author's intent to blend the sexual with the divine, and in that sense, the objective is met. I, personally, stand with the men in the joy of their sexuality aside from a diety. Celebrate it! It's wonderful!

--M K Mustard
Lake Lotawana, MO

Sonnet 101 "Jesus Would Have Loved This Man"

Vern, I was touched by #101.  Yes, we are all against sex trafficking and the ugly side of the exploitation of women.  But I know that for many men, perhaps women, too, for whom there is great loneliness in not being able to have a partner or connect intimately with another human being. 

More important than just sex is to be able to have a conversation with another person, even if you pay for it. I see one of our important ministries the will to engage those who have no one to love or care for them. Particularly elderly men with no close family or little in the way of friends. 

I've always believed that, when you walk into an elevator, a kind greeting to the other person standing there may be the only time that day someone spoke to them.  You just never know. 

--With permission, withholding name
Kansas City, MO

Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire

"Vern Barnet is to sonnets what Robert Mapplethorpe is to photography."

--Ryan Gates
musician and composer

"I read a sonnet every night as a devotional practice." 
--Phil Kenin 
photo of Vern and Phil taken at a rehearsal of the Heartland Men's Chorus


I've been in ecstasies of delight while reading your sonnets! I can't express how much enjoyment I'm getting from them. Thank you!
     One experience that I wanted to say thank you for came from a sonnet of yours was with my [relative]. [Name] is in [his/her] early twenties and has experienced some sexual abuse and has some anger and confusion, partly from the experience, and partly from being simply young - and therefore, quite predictably angry and confused!
     Name has not experienced the empathy [he/she] needs from [his/her] parents and other adults, and has sadly drawn the conclusion that all religious people would view [his/her] heart-wrenching pain and honest questions negatively.
     I asked [name] if I could read some of your sonnets aloud in the presence of [him/her] and [other young people]. They opened up great discussions about love, sexuality, spirituality and interfaith dialogue over several days. My [relative] was in a state of marvel! Your poetry and the following discussions opened many new possibilities with [him/her], and gave [the other young people] and me an avenue to squeeze a little more empathy into [his/her] life, which [he/she] desperately needs. Thank you! —WITH PERMISSION

The View from This Seat
Reflections about Life, Love, Light, and Liberty (the 4-Ls) by Leroy Seat.

Barnet's Brilliant Book

Vern Barnet has long been one of the outstanding religious leaders of Kansas City. The accompanying picture was taken of him at the 2016 Annual Interfaith Community Thanksgiving Dinner, held for the first time on the campus of William Jewell College.

The Barnet Award

At that most enjoyable gathering on Nov. 13, the Vern Barnet Interfaith Service Award was given to Lama Chuck Stanford, a retired Tibetan Buddhist leader who has long been active in Kansas City.

Barnet founded the Kansas City Interfaith Council in 1989, and after his retirement as head of that organization, the Vern Barnet Award was created in 2010—with him as its first recipient.

(Last year’s recipient of the award was my good friend Ed Chasteen, former professor of sociology at William Jewell College. June and I enjoyed sitting at the same table with Ed and his wife Bobbie at last week’s Thanksgiving dinner.)

For many years Vern (b. 1942) served as a Universalist Unitarian minister, and he is minister emeritus of the Center for Religious Experience and Study (CRES), which he founded in 1982. In 2011, however, he was baptized in an Episcopalian church, and is now said to be an active Episcopalian layman.

His main love, though, still seems to be interfaith activities.

The Barnet Book

Vern is also an editor and author. He co-edited the 740-page Essential Guide to Religious Traditions and Spirituality for Health Care Providers (2013). The most recent book he authored, however, is not directly about religion.

Vern’s book Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire was published in 2015. He describes the book as a “prosimetrum of 154 sonnets, glosses, and other commentary, in which the sacred beauty of sex and love is explored.” (A prosimetrum is “a text composed in alternating segments of prose and verse.”)

Vern’s sonnets are consciously linked to Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. But, to be honest, I am over my head in trying to expound upon the meaning and significance of either Shakespeare’s or Barnet’s sonnets. But I have been moved by many of Vern’s sonnets I have read.

For full disclosure, I must admit that I have not read nearly all of Vern’s book, although I do intend to keep reading it little by little--which is the way it needs to be read. Thanks for Noticing is quite obviously a brilliant book as well as a very erudite one.

Barnet’s Sonnets 78 to 86

The 154 sonnets in Vern’s book are grouped into eight sections with titles taken from the parts of a Catholic mass. The most theological part is the one titled “Credo,” and those sonnets, numbers 78 to 86, are the ones to which I have paid the most attention.

(Many of the 154 sonnets are about sex and sexuality, and I will leave it to others to write about the meaning and importance of those.)

Sonnet 78 is titled “Advent,” and as next Sunday, Nov. 27, is the first Sunday of Advent I have read and re-read that insightful sonnet—although the Eucharist does not have the same meaning to me as it does to Episcopalians or Catholics.

“Postmodern Faith: What is Truth?” is the title of Sonnet 84, and it ends with this couplet:
      I know the Gospel is a pious tale,
     But who cares facts when worship cannot fail?

By these words Vern seems to urge us to a pre-modern/post-modern “mysticism” that is not fettered by facticity. Direct experience of God (Ultimate Reality) is more than, and far greater than, having (or seeking) only factual knowledge.

That is one important lesson bundled in Barnet’s brilliant book.

Leroy Seat, Ph.D
1307 Canterbury Ln
Liberty, MO 64068-3209
(816) 841-9586

Twitter: @LKSeat


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MAIN WEBSITE ABOUT Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire  
INDEX to these selections of sonnets + commentary
   The book's  Introduction -- Luke Guillory Welsh
   Sonnet 54 -- Patrick Neas, Geneva Blackmer
   Sonnet 78 -- The Rev Dr David E Nelson
   Sonnet 84 -- The Rev Anton K Jacobs, PhD


Jump to the comment by Patrick Neas on this sonnet:

54. Barcelona: Scrawl

     Renunciation is not enough. You must act.
     Yet action mustn’t dominate you. In the heart of action,
     you must remain free from all attachment.

     They told me to take a street-car named Desire, . . .
     and ride six blocks and get off at—Elysian Fields!

     Desire actually started across the street . . .
     to hear what Love might have to say.

YOU agonize and call me Krishna; walk
three times Las Ramblas and decide to yield
to rouge. Or pride in not. Your choice, such talk,
such sin, such vision of the battlefield!
Then humble when you held me late that night
in my pure yearning bed I now recall,
when in us trust and sleep could reunite,
field’s rounded rest, now feint in this traced scrawl:
Like Gaudí’s spires, this troth erects your touch
above the ground, though of the ground, the field
of faith. I quivered in your sky-filled clutch.
and wondered how it happened you were healed.
O Fields of Being, O Grounds of Praise,
O Arrows of Desire, make dance each phrase.

The EPIGRAPH is from Peter Brook’s production of the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, of which the Bhagavad Gita is the famous scripture in which Krishna as god advises Arjuna entering the field of battle. E2: from the Tennessee Williams 1947 play, A Streetcar Named Desire, Act 1. E3: from James Baldwin’s 1983? “Guilt, Desire, and Love.” Gaudí designed Sagrada Familia basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Barcelona. Under construction since 1882, the spires were, I found in 1994, terrifying to ascend. Theologian Paul Tillich called God the ground of being; see his 1951 Systematic Theology, v1, p238. A remote physical analogy is the Higgs field which gives mass to fermions. Las Ramblas is a Barcelona district of temptations where rouge cosmetics suggests prostitution. Feint/faint: feint means sham; faint means faded, timorous, unfounded, or a swoon. Sin: In Puccini’s La fanciulla del West, Minnie declares una suprema verità d’amore: fratelli, non v’è al mondo peccatore cui non s'apra una via di redenzione! — “a supreme truth of love: brothers, there is no sinner in the world to whom a path of redemption does not open!" Quiver is a pun. Arrows of Desire: from the Preface to William Blake’s 1804 Milton, often called “Jerusalem,” sung as a patriotic hymn written in 1916 by Anglican Hubert Parry. Also think of the arrow in Bernini’s St Teresa.


NEAS COMMENT ON 54. "Barcelona: Scrawl"
The Glory of the Gita, Gaudí and God Liberated

Vern Barnet, who has expanded my mind in so many ways over the years, has been especially enlightening when it comes to the concepts of NeoBaroque and Postmodernism. Vern’s collection of sonnets, Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire,
provides rich examples of both. 

My reading of Postmodern philosophy is limited, and my knowledge of its concepts is very basic. My impression is that it is skeptical of accepted truths and of the distinctions between so-called high and low art. Michael Daugherty’s Metropolis Symphony, which depicts various episodes in Superman’s life, seems to me to be a Postmodern work, with its combination of lowbrow comic strip and highbrow symphony.

I thought that Postmodernism doesn’t make judgments about works of art; but when I asked Vern about this, he said this is incorrect.

“Postmodernists are willing to make judgments, but they always say these judgments are not free of cultural prejudice or disposition,” Vern told me. “And the difference between the Postmodernist and the Modernist is that the modernist thinks that you can make a judgment free of cultural predisposition.”

The way Vern sets so many disparate cultural references side by side in prolific footnotes strikes me as Postmodern, but Vern disagrees.

“I think that's just modern,” he said. “Think about T.S. Elliot, who's certainly a Modernist. In 'The Wasteland,' his early poem of fame, he draws upon all sorts of things, Greek, Latin, German, Sanskrit. But he's definitely a Modernist. So Modernists are not always bad guys. Modernists do recognize diversity.”

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of NeoBaroque is Stravinsky’s ballet Pulcinella, which is his Modernist arrangement of music by various Italian Baroque composers. I think of NeoBaroque as being ornamental and curlicue in matters of design and thought, like the films of Federico Fellini or the writing of Jorge Luis Borges.

Likewise, the lavish and engrossing footnotes which Vern provides for  Thanks for Noticing have a baroque extravagance.

“The elaborate apparatus of epigraphs and glosses could easily be considered rather dense ornamentation of the sonnet itself,” Vern pointed out. “Shakespeare, a Renaissance writer, displays characteristics of the Baroque. He sometimes ornaments his sonnets with the repetition of a word in various forms in each part of the sonnet, each of the three quatrains and the couplet. This sonnet of mine plays with various forms of the word field within the same four-part placement: battlefield, field's, field, Fields. Part of the pleasure of NeoBaroque art is discovering such repetitions."

The role of the viewer is important in both PostModernism and NeoBaroque, as in Thanks for Noticing.

“My sonnets, like many poems, require the reader's engagement to construct the reader's own experience and interpretation; but unlike many poems, the demands (or various opportunities) I make are extraordinary in their complexity,” Vern said.

For a trivia hound like myself who loves going down Wikipedia rabbit holes, Vern’s footnotes are a veritable treasure trove. He says the notes and epigraphs are meant to be like the program notes at a classical concert, which help set the music in historical context and shed light on its composition.

“Reading one of these sonnets is like meeting a stranger with a friend,” Vern says. “If you want, you can skip the friend's introduction, the epigraphs, and meet the stranger directly by speaking the sonnet aloud. But if you want to know the stranger's background, consider the notes and the glosses that follow. There are people who have read my stuff and like to read the notes first, which is sort of getting a bio before you meet the new person.”

The notes for all of Vern’s sonnets are replete with wide-ranging cultural references. For "Barcelona: Scrawl," the notes reference Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia basilica, the Bhagavad Gita, a Tennessee Williams play, and an opera by Puccini. If, as Vern says, this is an introduction to a new friend, it is a highly cultured and spiritual friend.

The sonnet opens with three epigraphs, the first a quotation from the Bhaghavad Gita about renunciation. They are words that the charioteer Lord Krishna spoke to Pandava Prince Arjuna on the battlefield just as the Kurukshetra war between the Pandavas and Kauravas was about to break out.

“The advice that Krishna gives Arjuna is to act without attachment to the fruit of the act,” Vern says. “And what that means is that all we can do is what is set before us, given the circumstances, to do our duty, but not worry about the consequences. And the reason that's important is we never can know what the ultimate consequences of what we do is going to be anyhow. We're not in ultimate control. Krishna or God or the universe is ultimately going to determine that; we do not bear the weight of the universe on our shoulders. All we can do is the best we can do.”

For Vern, as for me, the other highlight of the Gita is when Prince Arjuna requests that Krishna allow him to see Krishna’s universal form as the cosmic universe.

“Arjuna receives a manifestation of the full nature of Krishna,” Vern said. “And there's this awe inspiring -- one might even say horrible -- revelation of the way the universe works, which includes the horrors of wars and disasters as well as the delights of love and beauty. All of that is part of the universe.”

Vern says that this God is a revelation of the universe and the way things work, and that's very unlike the Western notion of an all-loving God.

“This revelation is both beautiful, awesome, and horrible,” Vern says. “And learning to accept that, and loving the opportunity to be alive in all of its agony and bliss makes for a full life of affirmation.”

It’s curious, and maybe even a little jarring that "Barcelona" Vern opens with one of the most important Hindu scriptures, but then the second epigraph is taken from A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams’ steamy play about Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski. Also injecting a note of eroticism is the reference to Las Ramblas (La Rambla in Catalan), Barcelona’s most important thoroughfare filled with shops and religious institutions, but near the harbor end of the street, a red light district.

“So you have this place of sexual temptation in one part of the city and in another part of the city, you have this world heritage site of Sagrada Familia,” Vern said. “You have a tremendous contrast in Barcelona and that feeds into the background for the sonnet. I think some people, especially with the reference to Las Ramblas and the contrast with the sweetness of the experience of the companions together in bed, might see it as a contest between temptation of sexual attraction with a love imbued with a kind of transcendent loyalty.”

The third epigram, from James Baldwin, makes this match between desire and love explicit.

Vern has structured Thanks for Noticing after the liturgy of the Mass. "Barcelona," which Vern calls a “sonnet of bliss,” is, appropriately, in the Gloria section of the book. Although "Barcelona" seems to be based on personal experience, Vern says the sonnet does not necessarily depict an actual event.

“In my view, poetry is a revelation of an experience, not a news report,” Vern says. “So this is not a literal transcription of an event. It's more important for the poem to expose something transcendent rather than to record an incident. I'm not just fudging, I’m staking out a principle of interpreting poetry.”

Whether referencing the Gita, Tennessee Williams, or Baldwin, or causing us to ponder our place in the cosmos, Thanks for Noticing has a mind-blowing richness that, like the best writing, will reward rereading and contemplation.

For more than 20 years, PATRICK NEAS was program director and morning show host for Kansas City’s classical radio station, KXTR. Since 2009, he has written the weekly Classical Beat column for The Kansas City Star. His work appears in Classical Post, KC Studio and other publications. He also writes program notes for Guarneri Hall in Chicago and is proud to have been editorial assistant for Binding Us Together: A Civil Rights Activist Reflects on a Lifetime of Community and Public Service by Alvin L. Brooks.


BLACKMER COMMENT ON 54. Barcelona: Scrawl
Liberated from Judgments

Barcelona: Scrawl, Barnet invites us to abandon all dualistic thoughts and attachments that inevitably hinder us from encountering both our beloved and the Divine. These socially constructed divisions, entangled with false notions of the self, act as barriers to the most basic desire to know and be known. Barnet dances with the futility of such efforts, as the subject of the sonnet considers the consequences of yielding to their temptations, observing that one cannot be liberated from consequence, only from judgments.

As the speaker later finds oneself in a bed of “pure yearning,” Barnet seems to point to the yearning of a mystic -- the type of yearning which unites the sacred and the sexual in a moment of transcendence beyond the ordinary possibilities of our finite reality. Eliminating attachments around desire allows for the act to become a mirror; it is in this space alone that the mystic finds perfect union with the Divine.

This “troth,” arising from both temptation and the bed, points now “above the ground, though of the ground, the field of faith.” For Paul Tillich, the
ground of being is not a state which is confined by time and space, but rather encompasses the entire structure of meaning and aim of existence. Humanity’s ultimate concern is the ultimate to which it belongs, cannot be separated from, and continually longs for, but is disrupted by time and space. This “ground” can move between cause and substance because it transcends both.

In the end, the sonnet inevitably arrives at the natural conclusion of transcendent experience -- a hymn of praise.

Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire offers a profound invitation to immerse ourselves more deeply and intimately in love, in ourselves, our relationships, God, and the world. It challenges the separatism of the sacred in the West, revealing the Divine in even the most ordinary of human experiences.

I would argue that the fate of humanity deeply rests in our willingness to embark on this journey; how fortunate for us, that Barnet has opened the door and illuminated the path

GENEVA BLACKMER, MA, MESt, writes from the University of Bonn where she is a research assistant in the Department of Intercultural Theology. In 2025, she receives her PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies in the Department of Theology at Amridge University. Internationally, she is a Global Council Trustee, North America, for the United Religions Initiative. Her work in this country includes an internship with CRES, and positions with the North American Interfaith Network, The Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada, The Interfaith Center at Miami University, and several other local and regional faith organizations. She is the founder of The Kansas City Interfaith History Project.


Jump to the comment by David Nelson on this sonnet:

78. Advent

     Haec enim omnia signa carnis, quae a terra sumta est,
     quam in se recapitulatus est, suum plasma salvans.

YOU chose the bench with me to worship Him
this Advent Sunday, readying our souls
     for His new birth; we venture on time’s rim,
     our thews made free by ancient swaddled scrolls.
You grasped my hand and valid held it strong;
     then to the rail we went and supped with Christ,
     the sacred feast that makes all sorrow song
     when to His table we are thus enticed.
In skin he vests: God comes to us on earth,
     as He was born a mortal like us two.
     A stable was His place of sated birth;
     a tree makes art, this tract of troth, the pew.
What is beyond mere plat and plot is thus —
     the Mass begets his humble flesh in us.

The Irenaeus (130?-202) EPIGRAPH is from “Adversus Haereses” (Against the Heresies), 3:22:2: “For all these are tokens of the flesh which have been derived from the earth, which he had epitomized in Himself, disposing salvation to his own handiwork.” Advent Sunday is the first Sunday of the Christian liturgical season of preparation for Christmas, the nativity of Jesus. Bench is another word for pew, usually made of wood, as was the cross, the tree on which Jesus was sacrificed. Communion may be received at a rail after bread and wine become the sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus the Christ through their consecration on the holy table. “At the end of the Twelfth Century a Latin theologian, Berengarius of Tours, was condemned for his teaching on the Eucharist. He maintained that because the presence of Christ in the Eucharist elements is ‘mystical’ or ‘symbolic,’ it is not real. The Lateran  Council . . . condemned him and . . . simply reversed the formula. It proclaimed that since Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is real, it is not ‘mystical.’ . . . Western theology thus declared that . . . [the] ‘mystical’ or ‘symbolic’ is not real, whereas . . . [the] ‘real’ is not symbolic. This was . . . the collapse of the fundamental Christian mysterion, the antinomical ‘holding together’ of the reality of the symbol and of the symbolism of reality,  . . . a collapse of . . . Christian . . . ontological sacramentality.”  —Alexander Schmemann, 1963/1973 For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, p128-129. Alas, then, for those like Wittgenstein who, during the war, “saw consecrated bread being carried in chromium steel. This struck him as ludicrous.” —Lectures & Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology, and Religious Belief (n.d., LCCN 66-19347), p53. Vests: A priest, sometimes regarded as an image of Christ, wears vestments. Thews means muscle or sinew, hence bodily strenth. Art: “No one is more tiresome than the person who can . . . never . . . believe anything . . . unless it appears to be real. One must be willing to allow that symbolic things also mirror realities . . . .” —Aaron Copeland, 1939/2011 What to Listen for in Music, p179.


COMMENT on 78. Advent: What is Real?

Advent has always been a day and a season when my imagination kicks into high gear. As a child it had more to do with hanging stockings and wrapping presents to place under a decorated tree in the living room. Becoming a student of theology I learned a deeper meaning of waiting and celebrating the wonders of incarnation. My intellectual understanding continues to change as the years add up, but the gift and wonder of imagination never wanes. Next Advent, as a senior citizen, I want to be more like that child and allow my imagination to soar.  Imagination is the ability to create mental images, concepts, and ideas that are not present in our immediate sensory experiences. It allows me to visualize possibilities beyond what is currently known or understood. Advent someday, as I am led or supported toward the altar rail to taste the bread and drink the wine, may allow me to ignore arguments about “real presence”, “sacrament or symbol”, “mystical or real” and look into the Eucharistic mirror and see the Sacred wink back at me.  --The Reverend Dr David E Nelson



Jump to Anton Jacob's comment on this sonnet:

84. Postmodern Faith: What is Truth?

My God, is this a dagger that I see?
     Am I observing actors in a play?
     Is this a dream or film of tragedy?
     or just computer games where I’m to slay
     with it? Perhaps I’m high on LSD
     or wearing VR glasses that display
     an archetype if not a snickersnee.
     Is this getik, menok, or Judgment Day?
Oh no, no dagger but Christ’s cross, that tree
     which bares illusions in one Truth, one Yea!
     It tears and it repairs reality
     and wakes us to attend and watch and pray.
I know the Gospel is a pious tale,
     but who grabs facts when worship cannot fail?

Pilate put the question to Jesus; John 18:38. Perhaps anticipated by the ancient Jain teaching of anekantavada, the doctrine of multiple viewpoints, Jean-François Lyotard described Postmodernism as “incredulity toward meta-narratives” such as theological systems or myths regarded as literal reality. In the 1957 Opus Posthumous: Poems, Plays, Prose, p163, Wallace Stevens wrote, “The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction, and that you believe it willingly.” W H Auden wrote, “It is as meaningless to ask whether one believes or disbelieves in Aphrodite or Ares as to ask whether one believes in a character in a novel; one can only say that one finds them true or untrue to life. To believe in Aphrodite and Ares merely means that one believes that the poetic myths about them do justice to the forces of sex and aggression as human beings experience them in nature and in their own lives.” The client following a therapist’s suggestion to “place your father in this chair and tell him how you feel” may appear little different from one who prays. Religion is more about commitment than certainty. Perhaps Vico (1710) anticipated Postmodernism with his Verum factum principle: truth is not observed; it is  constructed. The first line derives from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, 2, 1, “Is this a dagger which I see before me?” An exquisite example of the problem of distinguishing dream from reality is portrayed in the Illustration to the Second Prose Poem on the Red Cliff by Qiao Zhongchang (Northern Song Dynasty, 960-1127) at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO. LSD is a psychedelic or entheogenic drug. VR is Virtual Reality. Key terms from pre-Islamic Iranian thought reinterpreted in the epistemology of Suhrawardi (1155-1191), “Sheikh al-Ishraq,” the Master of Illumination, are getik (the ordinary world) and menok (a heavenly realm, perhaps akin to Plato’s realm of forms, or archetypes as in the New Testament’s Hebrews). Judgment Day cf «Love Locket». The Christian Gospel includes the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, a figure paralleled in other religious traditions. A snickersnee is a large knife that can be used for fighting. Tree: cf «Barren Golgotha». Facts: “We are poor passing facts” —Robert Lowell, “Epilogue,” Day by Day, 1977. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1817 Biographia Literaria, XVI: wrote of the “willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.” This sonnet uses only three end-rimes.


COMMENT on 84. Postmodern Faith: What is Truth?
On Knives: Vern Barnet’s ‘Postmodern Faith: What is Truth?’

   Knives…. Dr. Vern Barnet’s sonnet titled, “Postmodern Faith: What is Truth?” plays with metaphors of the knife. It begins with a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, “My God, 'is this a dagger that I see?'” Raising questions pertinent to perception and conception, from LSD to VR (that might mirror archetypes), Barnet wonders if a snickersnee is displayed. Towards the conclusion of the sonnet, he takes us to “Christ’s cross” as no dagger but nevertheless as an instrument that “tears and…repairs reality,” thus waking “us to attend and watch and pray.”

    Every seeing is a seeing from some angle, and for human becomings, that is always and unavoidably conditioned by time and place in history and culture. One of postmodernism’s patron saints is Friedrich Nietzsche (Cahoone calls him “the godfather of postmodernism”), who argued that there are no facts, only interpretations, and that perspectivism is the only way to see. “Henceforth, my dear philosophers,” writes Nietzsche, “let us be on guard against the dangerous old conceptual fiction that posited a ‘pure, will-less, painless, timeless knowing subject’; let us guard against the snares of such contradictory concepts as ‘pure reason,’ ‘absolute spirituality,’ ‘knowledge in itself’: these always demand that we should think of an eye that is completely unthinkable, an eye turned in no particular direction, in which the active and interpreting forces, through which alone seeing becomes seeing something, are supposed to be lacking; these always demand of the eye an absurdity and a nonsense.” When we seek to freeze life in this manner, argues Nietzsche, it is a type of revenge on life.

    In other words, the quest for the one, pure, objective, correct, absolute, incontestable truth—metanarrative––a quest characterizing the history of much of Western philosophy, religion, and more—is a fool’s quest. Lyotard’s concern reflected the historical atrocities, which social critics from the Frankfurt School to postmodern thinkers saw as culturally rooted in the West’s drive for the one perfect, timeless, and unchallengeable truth, a drive that went on secular steroids during and after the Enlightenment in dialectical relationship with the priorities of capitalism’s instrumental reason. As Lyotard states, “The nineteenth and twentieth centuries have given us as much terror as we can take. We have paid a high enough price for the nostalgia of the whole and the one, for the reconciliation of the concept and the sensible, of the transparent and the communicable experience.” As I have written elsewhere, “Postmodernism is a highly varied movement of the last sixty years that promotes the idea that all human knowledge is relative to its historical and cultural context, and that modernism’s attempts to find the one true and rational blueprint for organizing human life has been misguided and contributed to some of the horrors of the twentieth century.”

    If I understand the argument of Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, the dialectic of Enlightenment on the cultural level between secular reason, on the one hand, and religious faith and mythology, on the other, resulted in the demise of religious mythology and its bastardization into fundamentalism and consequently to the disenchantment of life, the world, and the universe. However, that very triumph of Enlightenment reason in service to the alienating structures of bourgeois priorities resulted in a new mythological faith with a legitimation of domination and alienation. This has resulted in a dehumanizing world in which individuals measure themselves according to their monetary worth, while feeling controlled by powers of which no one appears in charge. Among the results are increased vulnerability to the resentments thereof which make fertile ground for fascism.

    Another intellectual development of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with some likeness to postmodernism was carried, primarily first, by the pioneer anthropologists and then deeply cultivated by what I’d call the metamythologists. These are the likes of Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell, Alan Watts, William Irwin Thompson, to a lesser extent Carl Jung and followers, and many others. Their cross-cultural investigations and correlations of humanity’s mythologies have helped us get away from the narrow and sometimes violent provincialisms and dogmatisms of so much of the world’s religions to appreciate the challenging and liberating aspects of nature’s and culture’s marks of transcendence. “An experience of transcendence has always been part of the human experience,” writes Karen Armstrong, and she echoes Campbell when she writes, “A myth…is true because it is effective, not because it gives us factual information.” In a footnote for a different sonnet, Barnet writes that “a myth is a story that reveals the nature and structure of sacred reality.” It might not be wrong to suggest that the metamythologists and postmodernists, each in their way in their respective venues in modernity’s alienated cultural segmentations, have been doing much the same thing. They have sought to contribute to the liberation of souls and bodies from the unnecessary spiritual and material brutalities of the societies of human becomings. These are not minor objectives.

    Barnet has fruitfully mined the canons of the metamythologists, whom he cites regularly, even having studied under Eliade. They serve him well for his, if you will, sonnetical remythologizing of human desire, including its erotic and mystical drives that, I think he suggests and, if so, I agree, cannot be separated. They come to us as two-edged swords, though, as mystics and lovers have always discovered. The ecstasies of human love and of mystical union are always shadowed by their opposites—whatever you want to call them at any given time—heartbreak, tragedy, loss, alienation, dark night, fear, anxiety, terror. Which brings us back to the dagger of Christ’s cross. “Indeed,” writes the unknown author of the Christian epistle to the Hebrews, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” At their best, so it seems to me, that is the project of the metamythologists and postmodernists alike. They exegete and deconstruct and interrogate to tear and repair human existence and open up to us the authentic realities of the thoughts and intentions of our hearts; and, perhaps, in the process, alongside the Gospel’s “pious tale,” waking “us to attend and watch and pray.”
The cornerstone, still, of any discussion of postmodernism, and which Barnet cites in a footnote, is Jean-François Lyotard’s statement, “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodernism as incredulity toward metanarratives.” However, the common core of postmodern sentiment is the insight that there really is no escape from an angle of seeing. Ironically or paradoxically, this insight at the center of postmodern thought is true of postmodernism itself. Defining postmodernism is near impossible, which the leading postmodern advocates acknowledge and probably embrace. Postmodernism is “contested terrain between moderate and extreme postmodernists,” notes Stephen Best and Douglas Kellner, referring to complete ultraskeptics and relativists, on the one hand, and, on the other, to those still in pursuit of constructs on which to do philosophy and social critique in light of that understanding that we cannot stand nowhere. Simply stated, there is no ultimately objective and infallible blueprint that can be imposed on reality or society without violence and atrocity.

Armstrong, Karen. A Short History of Myth. Edinburgh: Canongate, 2005.

Barnet, Vern. Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire. Kansas City, MO:
     La Vita Nuova Books, 2015.

Best, Steven, and Douglas Kellner. The Postmodern Turn. New York & London:
     The Guilford Press, 1997.

Lawrence Cahoone, ed. From Modernism to Postmodernism. 2nd ed.
     (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2003).

Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment.
     Translated by John Cumming. N.Y.: The Seabury Press, 1972 [1944].

Jacobs, Anton K. “Postmodernism.” In The Sage Encyclopedia of the Sociology of Religion, vol. 2. Edited by Adam Possamai and Anthony J. Blasi, 598-599.
     Los Angeles: Sage Reference, 2020.

Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.
     Translated by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Theory and History of Literature.
     Vol. 10. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984 [1979].

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ. Translated by
     R.J. Hollingdale. London: Penguin, 1968 [1889, 1895].

Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Genealogy of Morals. Translated by Walter Kaufmann
     and R. J. Hollingdale. N.Y.: Vintage; Random House, 1967 [1887]), 119.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. Translated by Walter Kaufmann and
     R. J. Hollingdale. N.Y.: Vintage; Random House, 1967 [1901].

     Radnitzky, Gerard. Contemporary Schools of Metascience. Chicago:
     Henry Regnery Co., 1973.

--Anton K. Jacobs, Ph.D., Instructor, Kansas City Art Institute 
Author of Religion and the Critical Mind; My Country, My Faith, & Me; and a few other things.

On the Introduction to
Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire
 by Vern Barnet

Commentary by Luke Guillory Welsh

Read the draft PDF Foreword  and Introduction to the book here.

It’s rare to find desire, the sacred, and playfulness in the same room together. Vern Barnet has them intertwined on the couch in Thanks for Noticing, exploring the raw material of love and sex while simultaneously taking the reader through a rich tour of many of the world’s great faith traditions. Sounds enlightening? Fun? Even daring? It is.

The Introduction serves as an exposition and an education on the themes displayed in the 154 poems — God, play, imagination, transformation, union, and indeed, desire. It also guides the reader through seeing the sonnet as an art form which, much like desire, has the potential to lead to transcendence. The collection considers desire as an expression of the soul’s yearning to know and be known by the Beloved, burned up and utterly transformed by Love’s fire. Barnet states that writing these sonnets “has been like praying, a way of discovering the shape of yearning, from petty selfishness to a vision of larger love, offering my longing, perplexities, and rejoicings to the Larger Context, and realizing where I am resisting or yielding to the Flow.” The Introduction formally initiates the reader into both the sonnet and a broad interfaith perspective where desire is sacred.

The Sonnet, Laid Bare

In his Introduction, Vern Barnet offers to the reader an accessible, rich understanding of the sonnet: its history including Shakespeare’s mastery of it, its structure and variations, and the interior principles and technical devices employed in verse. And in the sonnet Barnet has found a fitting chalice to uplift his soul’s outpouring. “Just as, for Ibn Arabi (the Muslim mystic and poet), God is pronounced by the gift of Imagination, so Poetry spells, entrances, and spills forth the higher Reality implicit in the appearance each creates for oneself and of the Friend.” Poetry, Barnet asserts, has the potential to co-create Reality, to conceive of sacred transformational unions, through creative and sensuous language. Because poetry is meant to be read out loud, poetry transforms how the listener relates to, and is capable of, experiencing oneself and the Divine. And the play of poetry dances with desire, which is another word for Imagination.

The poetic form and the sentiment are intimately related, heightening the meaning of each other. Again, Barnet is able to draw parallels between the co-creating of form and sentiment with God and Creating coming to know and be known by one another. As for the Sufi mystic, surrender (‘fana in Arabic) paradoxically leads to revival and even union (baqa) with the Divine, so the form’s parameters create the conditions for its own transcendence. The listeners are immersed into the river of many intimate faces of desire that are shaped by the earthen banks of the sonnet. The journey through the Introduction itself brings one to a new vantage point, sharpening the mind whilst perhaps softening and expanding the heart so that the voyage through the poems may transform the listener.

Sexuality (Sensuality, Desire?) as Sacred:
The Culture, The Mystics

    To talk about desire, and our experiences of it, requires considering how cultures and religions have fragmented sexuality, often limiting the acceptable spectrum of human emotions and emotional expression. Barnet calls out the severance of spirituality from our sexuality, stating that in our “so-called Christian culture sometimes appears to sever our sexual joys from the spirit.” For many Christians, even talking about or thinking about sexual desire is taboo, one enforced with shame and clouded in silence. It’s no surprise that so many young married Christian couples report struggling to overcome their negative emotions associated with their sexuality, with shame like a wet blanket smothering feelings of arousal and intimacy. These restrictions to our permitted wonder, Barnet argues, shape and direct our attention with fragmented and depersonalized prejudices. This he calls the trance of secularism, for which beholding the world in awe is the cure.

But love is natural and universal; it is our birthright to embrace everyone and everything. And while some sects steer toward repression, there has always been the undercurrent of direct experiential universal love in the mystical strains of many faiths. Barnet, in his Introduction and his poetry’s substantial footnotes, asserts that our desire is a Call to engage the Beloved, a heightening affirmation of the sacredness of desire. Barnet asks, “Why should sexual arousal and satisfaction in themselves be insufficient to kindle profound thanksgiving?” By considering the full spectrum of our desires as a part of God’s creation, to feel their calling, ecstasy, their propelling us to and through life, is a gift worthy of profound thanksgiving, Eespecially if you don’t judge it. Barnet provides a refreshing affirmation of the mushy, messy, burning, yearning dimensions of our tender human experience through his poetry, and his introduction makes the case for embracing the full range of human emotion (including our desires and even the sexual ones).

Fragmentation and the Reunifying Salve of Desire

Through these sonnets, sex is particularly valorized as an arena of the holy, a reclamation of our natural human birthright as part of what is. What keeps us from the divine is where we are split off, fractured, and fragmented, from ourselves. This shapes how we are with others, and ultimately affects how we relate to God. Rumi started the equation from the opposite end, saying “the way you make love is the way God will be with you.” To love requires vulnerability, surrender, something as dangerously scary as it is ultimately affirming, because vulnerability is that edge where we are open to truly connect with one another.

    And there’s the point. In a world fragmented and broken, the forms of desire “such as imagination, appetite, interest, curiosity, fascination, and yearning, bring us to encounter ourselves, others, and the world - personhood, community, nature.” Mystical traditions emphasize intimate communion, the personal relationship, with the Beloved, with Life in all Its many forms. To love the world, not in some detached and impersonal sense, but to feel deeply and passionately for it, inspires awe for nature, others, and self, which prompts care and service. Barnet’s role toward this end is to elevate sensation and experience, to offer a reframing that affirms the spectrum of human experience as Life-affirming. “My aim, like mystics in many faiths, is to transform and refresh secular, sacred, and even vulgar language into the lexicon of holy love.”

It begs the listener. In what ways would the rapture of experience (as noticed in the sexual realm) carry over and refresh the eyes through which we see one another, our communities, and our place in nature? How might responsibly honoring desire bring us into sacred union and give us newfound appreciation for life and mature into service? These are the questions Barnet has set out to answer, not by speculating from an armchair, but by allowing his desires to come and take form in these sonnets.


There is gratitude from the first word with Thanks for Noticing, realizing the lover is one who adores life. This sentiment was so beautifully captured by St. John of the Cross when he wrote “Tenderly, I now touch all things, knowing one day we will part.” Often in Barnet’s intimate poems, the one beheld is another man, sometimes parallel to Shakespeare’s “young friend”. Other times the Barnet the lover (Barnet) seems more zealous for God, overflowing with thanks.

There will doubtless be readers who will find the reunification of sex and spirituality as a bridge too far. Others may appreciate Barnet’s cross-cultural exploration of sex and the sacred, but still feel that worshiping the body, as it were, while comparing cathedrals to anuses, belongs in the private domain. Central to Barnet’s work is the notion of Beholding, or knowing one intimately as God “yearned to be known” according to the Muslim hadith. How can we Behold in such a way that we are completely enraptured with the other? It is where (and how) we direct our energy that creates our reality.

It is the spark of desire that drives people forward in family life, on career paths, and toward personal fulfillment. Imagine what might be possible were the hearts of lovers kindled our awe to soothe the crises of our world. How might we be changed by that love? Barnet is one such courageous example, as his life and work attests.

Luke Guillory Welsh

November 28, 2023