Sing, O Barren, Sing.

I’ve been delving into religious tracts and scripture lately, reading very widely. I finished reading the Book of Mormon a couple weeks ago (fourth reading of it) and started reading both the Koran and the various books in the Nag Hammadi Library, a collection of Christian Gnostic writings from the early centuries of Christianity. Along the way in this spiritual/literary journey, I’ve come across phrases, sentences, and whole paragraphs that resonated. For example, the phrase “gardens beneath which rivers run” appears repeatedly in the Koran referring to the inheritance of the righteous. Of course, this refers to an oasis in the desert, but the image and meaning is greater when you consider the feeling that one has when stopping to rest in an oasis after a difficult journey through the desert.

In the Book of Mormon, I came across this longer passage taken from Isaiah 54 (the Hebrew prophet Isaiah is quoted substantially throughout the Book of Mormon), which stood out as quite poetical in comparison to the paragraphs surrounding it. Like an oasis of poetry in a desert of prose:

Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord. Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thy habitations; spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; for thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities inhabited. Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded: for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood anymore. For thy Maker, thy husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; the God of the whole earth shall he be called.

–Isaiah 54, quoted in the Book of Nephi, Chapter 10

The poetry of this comes through more clearly when we add line breaks:

Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear;
break forth into singing and cry aloud,
thou that didst not travail with child:
for more are the children of the desolate
than the children of the married wife.

Enlarge the place of thy tent,
and let them stretch forth
the curtains of thy habitations;
spare not, lengthen thy cords,
and strengthen thy stakes;
for thou shalt break forth
on the right hand and on the left;
and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles,
and make the desolate cities inhabited.

Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed:
neither be thou confounded:
for thou shalt not be put to shame:
for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth,
and shalt not remember the reproach
of thy widowhood anymore.
For thy Maker, thy husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
and thy Redeemer,
the Holy One of Israel;
the God of the whole earth
shall he be called.

 

In the Gospel of Thomas, which is one of the books in the Nag Hammadi Library, Jesus tells his disciples to “be passersby,” which I interpret to mean that we should not get bogged down in the world around us, but continue on our journey. The Gnostics saw the material world as imperfect and corrupt; the goal of our journey was to achieve knowledge of the spirit, the divine spark within each of us, and ultimately to reach unity with God.

All of this reading and thinking led to the following poem, built off of and incorporating some of the words in the passages I’ve read lately:

SING, O BARREN, SING

Sing, O barren, sing.
Cry into the arid night,
you who bear the emptiness,
you who seek the light.

Fear not, but neither let comfort guide.
Do not worry about the right hand
or the left, for the world we see
is the mere shimmer of illusion.

Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch forth the curtains; spare not,
invite your fellow travelers in to rest,
and together you shall dwell
in gardens ’neath which rivers run.

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