Nov 22 Rumi — “When I die”

Wednesday, November 22   Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi  —  “When I die”

Wednesday before Thanksgiving,  work, for many of us, begins to shift from professional skills to hospitality arts – calculating the weight of a large turkey in terms of cooking time,  family-special recipes, families gathering across generations.  Last minute grocery shopping runs,  the small-scale excitements of family and close friends with the oldest of rituals, cooking for familiar company.   Wednesday opens into a Thursday that has three Saturday-like days in a row.  Breathing time, nap times, time for old stories re-told, for the City’s massive Parade, for football.

I looked for a poet from outside the U.S. — a voice as deeply domestic and human as the ones many of our readers grew up with in what we learned to call America, a voice to remind us as we gather that this country of immigrant-set tables with foods from around the wide world.

I came upon this, to me new, poem by Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi.  He opens us readers into awe and mystery and playful teasing.   Lots of free time these coming days so reading two or three times should fit into some open spaces.

Happy Thanksgiving, may your hospitality return to anoint you.  See you on Monday.


john sj

Today’s Post, “When I die”

When I die
when my coffin
is being taken out
you must never think
i am missing this world

don’t shed any tears
don’t lament or
feel sorry
i’m not falling
into a monster’s abyss

when you see
my corpse is being carried
don’t cry for my leaving
i’m not leaving
i’m arriving at eternal love

when you leave me
in the grave
don’t say goodbye
remember a grave is
only a curtain
for the paradise behind

you’ll only see me
descending into a grave
now watch me rise
how can there be an end
when the sun sets or
the moon goes down

it looks like the end
it seems like a sunset
but in reality it is a dawn
when the grave locks you up
that is when your soul is freed

have you ever seen
a seed fallen to earth
not rise with a new life
why should you doubt the rise
of a seed named human

have you ever seen
a bucket lowered into a well
coming back empty
why lament for a soul
when it can come back
like Joseph from the well

when for the last time
you close your mouth
your words and soul
will belong to the world of
no place no time

Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi

(30 September 1207 – 17 December 1273)

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Nov 20 — Jamaal May “Shift”

Monday, November 20   “I don’t know
if it’s better to be good at a bad job or bad at a good job”

What’s sweet about Thanksgiving, at least one of the sweet things, is a 3 day work week followed by a 4 day weekend.  It’s a reminder that an ordinary 5 day week teaches people to be strong, develop staying power, especially when one 5 day adds onto another, something to be proud of, our work rhythms.  Interrupting them now and then, like this week, puts a light on their ordinary strength and beauty.

I hadn’t posted a poem from Detroit poet Jamaal May in a while.  He writes “Shift” with the same subtle density of language that characterizes his poetry.   “Shift” asks a reader to read two or three times to find a way into a world of growing up into an adult’s awareness while learning the honor of showing up and doing a job.   It’s worth the 2nd and 3rd read, better out loud with pauses.

Have a blest week.


john sj


Acting on an anonymous tip, a shift supervisor

at a runaway shelter strip-searched six teenagers.

Mrs. Haver was taping shut the mouths

of talkative students by the time she neared retirement,

and Mr. Vickers, a skilled electrician in his day,

didn’t adapt when fuses became circuit breakers,

a fact that didn’t stop him from tinkering

in our basement until the house was consumed by flame.


I used to want to be this bad at a job.

I wanted to show up pissy drunk to staff meetings

when the power point slides were already dissolving

one into another, but I had this bad habit

of showing up on time

and more sober than any man should be

when working audio/visual hospitality

in a three star hotel that was a four star hotel

before he started working there.


When the entire North Atlantic blacked out,

every soul in the Hyatt Regency Dearborn flooded

the parking lot panicked about terrorists and rapture,

while I plugged in microphones and taped down cables

by flashlight—you know, in case whatever cataclysm

unfolded didn’t preempt the meetings. Meetings,

before which I’d convince a children’s hospital

to pay fifteen dollars to rent a nine dollar laser pointer.

Thirty-five bucks for a flip chart,

extra paper on the house. Is it good to be good at a job

if that job involves pretending to be a secret service agent

for Phizer’s George Bush impersonator? I don’t know


if it’s better to be good at a bad job or bad at a good job,

but there must be some kind of satisfaction

in doing a job so poorly, you’re never asked to do it again.

I’m not saying he’s a hero, but there’s a guy out there

who overloaded a transformer and made a difference,

because in a moment, sweating through my suit,

groping in the dark when my boss was already home,


I learned that I’d work any job this hard, ache

like this to know that I could always ache for something.

There’s a hell for people like me where we shovel

the coal we have mined ourselves into furnaces

that burn the flesh from our bones nightly,

and we never miss a shift.



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Nov 14 – Mary Oliver “making the house ready for the Lord”

Tuesday,  November 14

After some wet and gray days, today just knocks me out with classic November sun on crisp November air.  Mary Oliver writes of buttoning down for winter’s coming.  Her poem is all about welcoming improbable visitors into one’s life.

I missed yesterday — my new MacBook pro only got operational (thank you Mark Paulik) last night.  Very sweet to have a fresh working system.

I’ll be flying to Santa Clara tomorrow, so no post then.  One more post one day this week, I hope.   Next week back to normal until Christmas break.

john st sj


Today’s Post,  “Making the House Ready for the Lord”

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but

still nothing is as shining as it should be

for you. Under the sink, for example, is an

uproar of mice – it is the season of their

many children. What shall I do? And under

the eaves

and through the walls the squirrels

have gnawed their ragged entrances – but it is

the season

when they need shelter, so what shall I do?

And the raccoon limps into the kitchen and

opens the cupboard

while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;

what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling

in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly

up the path to the door. And still I believe

you will

come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,

the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering

sea-goose, know

that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,

as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in,

Come in.


Mary Oliver

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November 8 Looks different from Detroit at 6, 000 feet and 30 degrees Fahrenheit

I’m helping with a silent retreat at the Jesuit retreat house on the prairie just south of Denver.  Each morning and evening a small herd of mule deer is outside my window grazing in our very large yard (circa 250 acres).

I’ll be back on Monday.

john sj


Today’s post —   Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali # 5

I ask for a moment’s indulgence to sit by thy side,
The works that I have in hand
I will finish afterwards.

Away from the sight of thy face
my heart knows no rest nor respite,
and my work becomes an endless toil
in a shoreless sea of toil.

Now is the time to sit quiet,
face to face with thee
and to sing dedication of life
in this silent and overflowing leisure.

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Nov 3 – Denise Levertov “Ancient Airs & Dances”

Friday,  November 3   –   “Greyhaired, I have not grown wiser, unless to perceive absurdity is wisdom.”

The sun came out for Friday in this work week.   Autumn’s about 1/3 finished (if you count from the equinox in September to the winter solstice in December);  these past days of blustery (some might say “cold!”)  tough winds  began to feel like November.      Today though,, announces a surprise blessing;  bright sunshine, light wind gusts, clean dry air.

Why does all this end-of-work-week beauty remind me of Denise Levertov’s poem about falling in love as an elderly woman?   The poem is as improbably playful, as are these days while the season begins to dance away from the last bits of summer and into serious autumn —  leaf-poetry above where we walk.  Maybe that’s why Denise caught my attention.

Best to read the poem out loud with pauses.   Have a blest weekend.

john sj

today’s post  “Ancient Airs and Dances”


I knew too well
what had befallen me
when, one night, I put my lips to his wineglass
after he left–an impulse I thought was locked away with a smile
into memory’s museum.

When he took me to visit friends and the sea, he lay
asleep in the next room’s dark where the fire
rustled all night; and I, from a warm bed, sleepless,
watched through the open door
that glowing hearth, and heard,
drumming the roof, the rain’s
insistent heartbeat.

Greyhaired, I have not grown wiser,
unless to perceive absurdity
is wisdom. A powerless wisdom.


Shameless heart! Did you not vow to learn
stillness from the heron
quiet from the mists of fall,
and from the mountain–what was it?
Pride? Remoteness?
You have forgotten already!
And now you clamor again
like an obstinate child demanding attention,
interrupting study and contemplation.
You try my patience. Bound as we are
together for life, must you now,
so late in the day, go bounding sideways,
trying to drag me with you?

Denise Levertov – Evening Train

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Nov 1 – The Feast of All Saints

Wednesday, November 1
Three saints in my life

I’m posting All Saints Day like a Jesuit Homie –  three Jesuits: one I lived with for years before he died, Art McGovern.  The second lived a barely recognized life in the 1500s and was named a Saint in formal Catholic fashion,  St. Alphonsus Rodriquez.  Today’s third saint is familiar to most readers: Gerard Manley Hopkins, another non-famous person during his life.   Hopkins’ poem in honor of Alphonsus, whose feast was yesterday, is a tribute to a compelling human being and the wonder of his seemingly un-noteworthy life as a college door-keeper hundreds of years ago.

Mid-week, November chills, blessings as you go.

john sj

p.s. My laptop selectively interrupts this writing by losing its memory unpredictably.  That’s why Monday’s post played hooky and today’s is pretty late.


Posted on November 2, 2015
Monday November 2 – a saint who lived with us,  Art McGovern, sj

This time of year Art McGovern seems to come and find me.  Yesterday was, in the R Catholic calendar, the feast of all the saints.  At the opening of the Sunday 12:30 mass, I invited the congregation to think of some one person who had touched their life and pay attention to her/him as we worshipped.  I hadn’t chosen my own person yet but as we listened to the readings, I settled on Art, who died at 70 in 2000.  Art lived close to the ground — at home with play (“health food is the kind you like so much you feel good while eating it:  my 3 are pretzels, ice cream, and bacon.”) and grief, at home with losses and wins, at home  leading difficult committees, at home with impeccably prepared classes laced with kind teasing and learning (“Fr. McGovern is like feathers; he makes you laugh while  you think hard.” said a student one time).  If someone can be a world class scholar, a beloved teacher, a rabid Ohio State football fan and a kinsman day in and day out . . . .    No surprise he came to mind yesterday.

john sj


In honour of
St. Alphonsus Rodriquez
Laybrother of the Society of Jesus

HONOUR is flashed off exploit, so we say;
And those strokes once that gashed flesh or galled shield
Should tongue that time now, trumpet now that field,
And, on the fighter, forge his glorious day.
On Christ they do and on the martyr may;
But be the war within, the brand we wield
Unseen, the heroic breast not outward-steeled,
Earth hears no hurtle then from fiercest fray.

Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.

Gerard Manley Hopkins  28 July 1844 – 8 June, 1889

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Oct 25 – John Keats “to Autumn”

Wednesday, October 25 “ . . . Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.”

One of the list’s readers responded to Monday’s post, an all-time favorite from Gerard Manley Hopkins who pretty regularly knocks me flat with wonder. The email contained John Keats’ early 19th century romantic poem without comment. But he reminded me, list readers often do, of a poet I had not noticed for a while. No scolding either, as in “how can you have overlooked Keats’ “To Autumn”! Keats worked on my imagination since the email landed. I’m in his debt. I bet you will be too; a near perfect read for day three of mid-autumn bluster and rain. More than most, I think you will find reading this out loud will capture your imagination.

This Friday will be filled with the university’s October board meeting. Back on Monday.

Have a blest weekend.

john sj


Today’s Post “To Autumn” John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821

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October 23 – Hurrahing in the Harvest – Gerard Manley Hopkins, sj

Monday, October 23 — “ Summer ends now, now
barbarous in beauty the stooks arise around”

Getting ready for a rainy day — sun rises at 7:55 and sets at 6:37: each day a little shorter and the sun a little lower in the sky, sunrise a little farther to the south. This is a season when how far north or south one lives can get our attention. I love it that we have a large open space in the north east corner of the McNichols Campus and that McNichols Road (aka 6 Mile) makes our northern boundary a true east-west survey line, keyed to 8 Mile road (which dates to the 1789 Northwest Territory survey mapping project). All that makes it easier to locate this campus against the majestic march of sunrise all through the year, and can remind us, too, that Detroit has been around a while. Do I go a little nuts in autumn? Sure do. You?

19th century Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, loved autumn also (see today’s poem just below). Even more than most great poets, GMH rewards investment in the sounds of his language. Best to read out loud, with pauses, several times and, maybe, enjoy the sky? (p.s. “stooks” in line one? “a group of sheaves of grain stood on end in a field.”)

Have a blest day.

john sj

Today’s post — “ Hurrahing in The Harvest”

Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks arise
Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour
Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier
Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?

I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,
Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
And, éyes, heárt, what looks, what lips yet gave you a
Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?

And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder
Majestic—as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet!—

These things, these things were here and but the beholder
Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart rears wings bold and bolder
And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet.

g m hopkins, sj
July 1844 – June 1889

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Oct 18 – The Connecticut shore while leaves change color

For me retreat offers stillness and a soft pace for breathing.   One of my neices sent me a new poet, for me that is, Lisa J Starr’s Mad With Yellow was published in 2008.


john sj

Today’s Post   My Inner Voice Speaks to Me in Mid-October“Listen, dear one,” it whispers.


“You only think you have

forgotten the impossible.


Go now, to that marsh beyond

Fresh Pond and consider how the red

burgeons into crimson.


Go see how it’s been preparing

forever for today. Notice the stirring,

silent beauty of bog;


watch how summer lingers at the door.

Get there as the heron makes its lacy landing

and consider, then, the possibility


that for ten thousand years, that sleek,

white whisper of bird has been waiting for you

to arrive — so it could land just like that,


just then.”

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October 16 ” . . . a moment . . . to sit by thy side”

Monday October 16    annual retreat days

If you emailed me this week, you would receive this auto-response message.

“From Sunday Oct 15 until Sunday Oct 22 I will be making my personal retreat in New England.  I will occasional check emails to catch important messages, but for the most part stillness gets my attention.

Time to breathe in and out slowly, almost like reading a poem for 8 days.

Have a blest week.”


john st sj

Today’s Post   Rabindranath Tagore  Gitanjali # 5

I ask for a moment’s indulgence to sit by thy side. The works
that I have in hand I will finish afterwards.

Away from the sight of thy face my heart knows no rest nor respite,
and my work becomes an endless toil in a shoreless sea of toil.

Today the summer has come at my window with its sighs and murmurs; and
the bees are plying their minstrelsy at the court of the flowering grove.

Now it is time to sit quite, face to face with thee, and to sing
dedication of life in this silent and overflowing leisure.

Tagore,  Gitanjali # 5

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1913
Rabindranath Tagore

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