Sept 26 “The Windhover: To Christ our Lord” Gerard Manley Hopkins, sj

Monday – September 26  — A Treasure . . . “Buy the field”

People tell each other stories about what they see, and hear, and touch.  People listen to stories.   This ancient rhythm weaves humans together over and over.   We tell each other how we understand the wide world and little worlds.   At universities we talk about “research.”  And in my faith tradition, we tell each other what we perceive in words from scripture.   Telling and listening help make the world go round.   The passage of time sifts words, sorting out the not very good from the good and the very good.  But in a lifetime of listening you may notice a few sayings so compelling that they hold their shape as clear and unforgettable for decades.

Many people at the university have spent time and tears keeping vigil as Gerry Stockhausen, back in early January, labored with his dying in an Omaha hospital room kept company by some of the close women and men of his life.  After he died, some of Gerry’s soul friends gathered in Omaha, in Milwaukee, and here on campus in Detroit, to anoint him with our love after he had left us.  We told stories about him, sang songs he used to play and sing and lead for worship.  Once I heard Gerry preach a game-changer homily.   I write how I remember what he said then as a way of keeping vigil in these months since he died in that Omaha room.

Have a blest day,


john st sj

Today’s Post – a treasure in a field

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found; he hides it again, goes off happy, sells everything he owns and buys the field.”
(Matthew 13:44)

Gerry Stock’s homily, as I remember what he said that day:  “The saying tells of a treasure and a field.  Parables are not long and they reveal their meaning when you pay attention to the words.   This parable does not say, “He dug up the treasure, cleaned off the dirt, and carried the treasure away.”  If you want the treasure, Gerry told us, you have to take the whole field, everything in it, what you treasure and what you wish was not part of the deal.  It’s that way when you fall in love and decide to commit to each other: “For better, for worse”; good days and bad days; tenderness and fights; patience and impatience; grief and joy.  It’s that way, too, when you decide to take on a new job or move to a new city, or commit yourself to a process of reconciliation that invests you more deeply in some real and earthy person or place.”  This is how I remember what Stock said that one day some years ago.  I’ve not been the same since.

p.s.    One of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poems comes to mind thinking of Stock these 8 months since he died and blessed many of this post’s readers with his presence in our memories.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.  That’s especially true with Hopkin’s dense and demanding poems.   His poems open their meaning more after 3 or 4 readings.

  “The Windhover:  To Christ our Lord”

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in
his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy!  then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl
and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,–the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valor and act, oh, air, pride, plume here
Buckle!  And the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it:  shéer plốd makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, a my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

Gerard Manley Hopkins  28 July 1844 – 8 June, 1889



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Sept 23 – a Friday change of pace – Denise Levertov

Friday, September 23
“the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,” predicts a Friday and Saturday of mixed clouds and sun plus a sunny Sunday.    This Friday,  the last work day of this week, opens into its weekend.  Lots of people  — not just at the University, not just in this pulsing-groaning city, in this pulsing-groaning country, in this pulsing-groaning world —  feel fatigue.   Denise Levertov’s poem  speaks of refreshing mystery waiting to be noticed.

The Work Day blog hosts poets of many faiths and some who refrain from religious faith.  Denise Levertov celebrates a creator God whose attention is not easily distracted.  In this mode, she reminds me of Tagore.  Best read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest weekend.


john sj

Today’s Post  “Primary Wonder”

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; caps and bells.
And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes:  the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, 0 Lord,
Creator, Hallowed one, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.


Denise Levertov
b. October 1923  d. December 1997

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Sept 21 The House of Belonging

Wednesday, September 21

“this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love.”

This day, 109 years ago,  my grandmother brought my dad into the world with pain and courage: farm people who lived in the far east of Kansas, close to the Missouri River.  Dad lived long enough that we grew to be friends, to tell each other stories across our generational lines:  e.g.,  On rare occasions someone would bring candy from the store and each kid got their portion. But, one of his sisters told me years later, “Louis would eat his quickly and then go beg some more from the rest of us.”  When the family moved to central North Dakota,  he learned to swim in the Hart River by holding onto the horse’s tail;  so he told us.  He learned the responsibilities of an oldest boy so that when, in 1921 the family swapped farms with strangers in Wisconsin, sight unseen from a farm journal (!), his mom and dad packed the Model T to overflowing and drove east with the younger kids.  He, the oldest boy, took their small herd of dairy cows on the train, across the prairie, down through central Wisconsin into Chicago where he and the cows changed trains and headed north through Milwaukee and Green Bay to Marinette.  He was 14.  He told me a story thread once, when he’d gotten up before 5:00 so he could drive 2 hours to where I was staying for vacation .  .  . he picked me up at 7:00 when the Jesuits allowed him to pick up his Jesuit man-child for an overnight at home.   On the ride home he observed that he had worked his way through Marquette U law school in the depths of the Great Depression so that he would not have to spend his life getting up in the pre-dawn to tend cows.  And here he was, getting up on farmer hours to pick up his son.

Stories, lots of them to remember decades later in 2016 when stirred by David Whyte’s poem, in conjunction with a birthday 109 years today.  Is it deeper love to listen to a father’s stories or to live one’s own?  Yes.  All around me, on this university campus, in this city, in this hard-times world,  stories live.  At the university we teach precision skills;  we also teach listening and the conviction that everyone’s stories are worth the telling.

Have a blest day this mid-week.


john sj

p.s.  On their first (blind, set up by mutual friends) date, deep in The Depression in the fall of 1933, my mom told us kids that her date’s best shirt had a frayed collar.  “But he kept it clean,” a promising early sign she thought.  Stories.


dad b. 1907 – d. 1980;  mom b. 1903 – d. 2005



by David Whyte

I awoke
this morning
in the gold light
turning this way
and that

thinking for
a moment
it was one
like any other.

the veil had gone
from my
darkened heart
I thought

it must have been the quiet
that filled my room,

it must have been
the first
easy rhythm
with which I breathed
myself to sleep,

it must have been
the prayer I said
speaking to the otherness
of the night.

I thought
this is the good day
you could
meet your love,

this is the gray day
someone close
to you could die.

This is the day
you realize
how easily the thread
is broken
between this world
and the next

and I found myself
sitting up
in the quiet pathway
of light,

the tawny
close grained cedar
burning round
me like fire
and all the angels of this housely
heaven ascending
through the first
roof of light
the sun has made.

This is the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
I ask
my friends
to come,
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love.

This is the temple
of my adult aloneness
and I belong
to that aloneness
as I belong to my life.

There is no house
like the house of belonging.


“On Being,” with Krista Tippett  April, 7 2016

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Sept 19 – Dakota: A Spiritual Geography

Monday, September 19-  ” To attach oneself to place is to surrender to it, and suffer with it.”

Why post Kathleen Norris in almost the same words as last year’s September 16 post?   In September, lots of people in university worlds suck air, walk too fast, and try to manage and big and little start-ups.   Then too, the first Clinton – Trump debate shows itself just over the horizon.  Lots of people scramble and walk too fast, not just on campuses.   Maybe that’s why Kathleen Norris leads this week.   She writes words that open deep into ordinary living.   In 1974, after learning  her way into New York City’s world of poetry with mentoring from the legendary Betty Kray at the Academy of American Poets ( Kathleen and her husband shocked their peers by moving to Lemmon in northwestern South Dakota where Kathleen had inherited the family home of her grandmother.  They stayed a long time.

In 1993, her Dakota: A Spiritual Geography took the literary world by storm.  Took me by storm too.  If a book of micro essays, some only half a page, ever approaches the taut, lean focus of strong poetry, for me this is the book.  In those South Dakota years she became friends with vast horizons, and with the Benedictine monks at St. John’s Monastery in Minnesota.  She’s written several memoirs about the intersection of her secularity with the roots of Benedictine prayer and wisdom.

Think of these short quotes from Dakota as poems.   Best to read them out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest day.


john sj

Today’s Post:  Four texts from Dakota

“Once, when I was describing to a friend from Syracuse, New York, a place on the plains that I love, a ridge above a glacial moraine with a view of almost fifty miles, she asked, “But what is there to see?” The answer, of course, is nothing. Land, sky, and the ever-changing light.”

“Maybe the desert wisdom of the Dakotas can teach us to love anyway, to love what is dying, in the face of death, and not pretend that things are other than they are. The irony and wonder of all of this is that it is the desert’s grimness, its stillness and isolation, that brings us back to love.”

“To be an American is to move on, as if we could outrun change. To attach oneself to place is to surrender to it, and suffer with it.”

“For me, walking in a hard Dakota wind can be like staring at the ocean: humbled before its immensity, I also have a sense of being at home on this planet, my blood so like the sea in chemical composition, my every cell partaking of air. I live about as far from the sea as is possible in North America, yet I walk in a turbulent ocean. Maybe that child was right when he told me that the world is upside-down here, and this is where angels drown.”


meadowlark on a fence,   Fog Basin, SD  2008




Kathleen Norris (born in Washington, D.C. on July 27, 1947) is a best-selling poet and essayist. Her parents, John Norris and Lois Totten, took her as a child to Hawaii, where she graduated from Punahou Preparatory School in 1965. After graduating from Bennington College in Vermont in 1969, Norris became arts administrator of the Academy of American Poets, and published her first book of poetry two years later.[1] In 1974 she inherited her grandparents’ farm in Lemmon, South Dakota, moved there with her husband David Dwyer, joined Spencer Memorial Presbyterian church, and discovered the spirituality of the Great Plains.[2] She entered a new, non-fictional phase in her literary career after becoming a Benedictine oblate at Assumption Abbey   ND in 1986, and spending extended periods at Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota.[3] Since the death of her husband in 2003, Norris has transferred her place of residence to Hawaii, though continuing to do lecture tours on the mainland.


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Sept 16 morning stillness for a guest in the Jesuit house

Friday, September 16   “lovely as the roses are, I might rather
Hide, huddled in a cave”

Ordinarily, when people come to the Jesuit Residence for a few days of stillness and prayer, the house welcomes them with just that, stillness and hospitality that makes a place for prayer.   These last weeks, with heavy machinery and skilled construction workers creating new space for Detroit Mercy’s College of Health Professions,  one of our prayer guests found stillness anyway.  S/he wrote this poem to remember a morning’s prayer, when s/he tasted fatigue and the grief from several deaths that came too close in time and very close in the soul.

Right here on McNichols Road, s/he tasted grace.   Best to read the poem out loud.

Have a blest weekend.

john sj

Today’s Post – morning prayer in the city

October Poem

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Sept 14 – Catherine McAuley & David Whyte

Wednesday, September 7 – “All this tripping about”

Getting very busy around the university; lots of fast walking and flipping from thought to thought and task to task.  Except tomorrow morning, when the university’s sacred anointing of a new year takes the form of “Celebrate Spirit!”  in the University Fitness Center at 11:30.   We celebrate with a Catholic mass, a homily and a speaker, and beautiful rituals of our identity.

Catherine McAuley could have been writing about Detroit Mercy as our new year cranks up in this memorable saying from her over-busy life leading the fledgling Sisters of Mercy.  The Mercies were born in an Ireland made brutal by the Industrial Revolution of British textiles when the Enclosure Movement evicted subsistence farmers from small plots to open broad spaces for sheep grazing.  Dublin became a city where wealth flourished in the center while its growing periphery packed in desperate poor people driven off those small village plots.  She named her fast walking and flipping from task to task “tripping about.”

“Amidst all this tripping about: our hearts can always be in the same place
centered in God, for whom alone we go forward, or stay back.”
Catherine McAuley (December, 1840)


Catherine McAuley 1778 – 1841
Foundress: Sisters of Mercy 1831

Lovely expression, “tripping about.” Better to trip about, I guess, than to just trip.  Better to hustle and scramble with a moment of breathing here and there in the day.   Here’s a short poem to open a space for breathing  in  the middle of the early weeks of the academic year.  I’ve posted it three times before.

Have a blest day,


john sj

Today’s Post “Enough”

Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
until now.

David Whyte, Where Many Rivers Meet


p.s. An ordinary blessing from living in a community — perhaps especially an urban university community, perhaps especially a community in a city groaning with unpredictable and wild labor pains of birth all around the city — is that friends of many years sometimes turn up and you weren’t even the one who invited them;  another Jesuit did this time.    So this morning while making oatmeal for breakfast, a soul friend of many years, walked into our breakfast place.   We’ve talked a while about our lives and how we see the wide world in what this List calls “a work day in a hard time.”  We talked about posting to our blogs and poets we love.  She asked me if I ever posted David Whyte . . . .  yes.

Melanie Svoboda’s blog can be accessed here

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Sept 12 -“conviction must open me to taking action”

Monday September 12   Jim Wallis and Mary Oliver

I am taking liberties: linking Jim Wallis, founder of the Sojourners Community in Washington DC, and Mary Oliver, a poet of many decades, without asking them.  Yesterday afternoon, I came from Jim Wallis’ talk in our Gesu Parish across the street from the university’s campus.  He spoke of the “American Original Sin of White Privilege” with compelling biblical logic.  I may be mis-remembering a little, but memory suggests that he concluded his talk to a full house of believers by focusing what had gone before with words close to these: “Conviction must open us to taking action.”    Wallis meant, I think, that talking about the sin of white privilege and its consequences, and praying, is a work of grace; but insufficient.  We must let our conversations and our prayer move us toward taking action in the world.

Perhaps that’s why later this evening when thumbing through Mary Oliver poems for Monday’s post, her “What I have learned so far,” caught my attention, especially her last two lines.  Fresh from Jim Wallis’ talk, Mary Oliver’s trenchant words sound familiar to this day.

I found her poem requiring several readings, with pauses.  But I say that most days, don’t I?  Strong poems always do.

Have a blest work week.


john sj

Today’s post     “What I have Learned So  Far”

Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I
not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,
looking into the shining world? Because, properly
attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.
Can one be passionate about the just, the
ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit
to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.

All summations have a beginning, all effect has a
story, all kindness begins with the sown seed.
Thought buds toward radiance. The gospel of
light is the crossroads of — indolence, or action.

Be ignited, or be gone.

Mary Oliver b. 1935


Jim Wallis b 1948


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Sept 9 – a teacher’s contemplation of a student on a hard day

Friday, September 9  “Did I Miss Anything?”

The end of week two of this teaching and learning year.  A deft poem giving its word’s to a teacher’s voice, and the teacher within the poem imagining the voices of students on a hard day.   It’s another subtle piece of writing, warranting several reads.

Thanks to the friend who sent this to the list.

Have a blest weekend.


john sj

Today’s post 

Did I Miss Anything?

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 percent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 percent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring the good news to all people  on earth.

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human experience
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been gathered

but it was one place

And you weren’t here


Tom Wayman  1945 –



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Sept 7 – “there are birds here” Jamaal May

Wednesday September 7     ” And no
his neighborhood is not like a war zone”

We human beings who live and work in Detroit, 8 Mile down to the River,  live with many perceptions of Detroit.  Jamaal May’s “There are Birds Here”  was new to me before a friend sent it, suggesting if for the “Work Day/Hard Time” poetry list.  Every poem does best when read aloud, with pauses.   Today’s, perhaps, especially so by the 3rd or 4th reading.

Have a blest day.


john sj



Today’s Post  


There Are Birds Here

By Jamaal May

For Detroit

There are birds here,
so many birds here
is what I was trying to say
when they said those birds were metaphors
for what is trapped
between buildings
and buildings. No.
The birds are here
to root around for bread
the girl’s hands tear
and toss like confetti. No,
I don’t mean the bread is torn like cotton,
I said confetti, and no
not the confetti
a tank can make of a building.
I mean the confetti
a boy can’t stop smiling about
and no his smile isn’t much
like a skeleton at all. And no
his neighborhood is not like a war zone.
I am trying to say
his neighborhood
is as tattered and feathered
as anything else,
as shadow pierced by sun
and light parted
by shadow-dance as anything else,
but they won’t stop saying
how lovely the ruins,
how ruined the lovely
children must be in that birdless city.


Jamaal May, “There Are Birds Here” from The Big Book of Exit Strategies. Copyright © 2016 by Jamaal May. Reprinted by permission of Alice James Books.

Source: The Big Book of Exit Strategies (Alice James Books, 2016)


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Labor Day is a holiday

Monday, September 5  “I watch my grandmother”

Labor Day in Motown calls out people who work for wages, to organize so that their individual voices become collective, a union of working people.  Labor Day in Motown means to remind people who work for wages that influence in the public order does not come easy.

Labor Day in Motown means picnics and laughter, beer with brats grilling,  means cooking for each other.  Labor Day is a holiday: reminds us that not all our work is work for wages;  lots of it is work for family and friends.  Not all that family labor is cooking, though a lot of it is.

My mother cooked a lot and knew what she was up to when she did.  She also loved washing clothes in an old wringer-washing machine, she told us as she aged into her nineties that carrying clean wet laundry up 8 stairs from the basement to hang the clothes on the back yard line kept her aging body active.   One of my favorite poets, her youngest granddaughter, Terri, paid attention and wrote about her.

Here’s one of my favorites, an homage to my mother, a working woman on Labor Day.

This is so short I hardly need to invite reading it out loud.

Have a blest Labor Day.


john sj

Summer in Wisconsin

I watch my grandmother,
ninety years old and arthritic,
smearing Vaseline on the poles of bird feeders.
A squirrel climbs one despite,
shimmies up to steal seeds,
brazen in the sunlight.

Terri  Breeden

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