Sept 14 – Jim Janda – “Crying for a Vision”

Friday, September 14  “ to cry for a vision
is a sacred task”

The Lakota expression “hanblechia” means “he or she cries out for a vision.” It is the name of one of the most sacred Lakota rituals.  It begins with a sweat bath, singing begging prayers as the bodies of the people in the sweat lodge welcome supersaturated steam from igneous rocks,  which won’t explode when they have been fire heated to deep red; the people in the dark lodge have broken a sweat before the singer pours the first dipper of water onto them.  The lodge has the shape of a half circle, the singer does not pour the first water until the door flap is closed and the people have all taken a position sitting cross legged and naked.  In that posture the roof of the lodge is only a few inches from the top of your head while you have bent forward to be close to the red hot stones which are a few inches from your face.

When the one seeking a vision finishes the sweat, s/he lets the holyman lead them to a place to pray alone, sometimes for 4 days of complete fasting, crying for a vision to help you, “a pitiful human” receive a vision to live by.

It sometimes occurs to me that this ritual of begging for a vision can make a powerful prayer in these times when anger and danger and fear want to cloud our sense of our sacred lives.   Jim Janda, a mystic poet and once a mystic Jesuit, wrote this poem out of his awareness of  “hanblechia”  Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest weekend,

john sj


Today’s Post

To cry for a
is a sacred

after hearing
a holyman
after taking
a sweat bath
with sage and
sweet grass

one must climb a
mountain alone—

here a song
may be heard
here a vision
may be given
here a dance
may be learned—

one must then
the mountain

to sing the
to live the
to begin the

J Janda


Jim Janda   d. August, 2010

Jim Janda lived as a mystic pilgrim for most of his 74 years. He died August 7, 2010 in Salt Lake City, a priest of that diocese since 1996. Jim also lived for a quarter century as a Jesuit which is when we met. Jim was “well known for his gentle and generous heart. . . . During his life he wrote and published a series of short religious stories for children, school plays and books of poetry.” So reads his obituary in the Salt Lake Tribune. The obit is accurate, as was the stated cause of his death, emphysema; I think he smoked too much. I can’t remember ever visiting with Jim without feeling bathed in wisdom and tenderness, and in his awareness of how deep grief runs in human beings, right there along with whimsy.

The Tribune’s evocation of “stories for children, school plays and books of poetry . . .” does not even hint at the flint-hard prose and fine-tuned ironies that throb and flow through his poems. Today’s post comes from the 1970s when Jim lived on the Lakota Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Like many of his poems, “The Town in March” is homey and close to the grass without flinching from pain.

Jim Janda reminds me of Joy Harjo. I am glad I thought to pull his book off my poetry shelf.


{from the April 30, 2018 poetry post “The Town in March”}

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Sept 12, “Some 400 expats and local guests are expected” Crain’s, September 9, 2018

Wednesday,  September 12, 2018   “Flocking back to the D: Detroit Homecoming 2018”

Is this the third or the fourth Detroit Homecoming?   3 high-profile days when former Detroiters, now successful and resourceful, are invited back for a three day pitch to re-learn (and re-invest in?) the city.  Among other events last year, expats took one of three immersion tours in three neighborhoods (outside downtown and Midtown) where serious revitalization efforts are underway.  University District (see below) is one.   I can see it out my office window.   The excitement of a busload of expats with “real money” coming to our neighborhood, plus Brightmoor, and Dexter-Linwood is real.   It’s worth the effort to show off this come-back city.

It is also worth the effort to remember the decades when the wounds in these neighborhood emerged;  to remember the blight of fear of violence and of contempt for the city.  These thoughts led me to bring back Detroit poet Jamaal May’s blunt “There are Birds Here.”   Like every strong poem, the poet’s search for precise, flint-hard words can renew a reader’s imagination and vocabulary,  that, along with work on our neighborhood across the street, also counts as  rebirth.

Every poem does best when read aloud, with pauses.

Have a blest day,
john sj

Today’s Post  “For Detroit”  Jamaal May

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)


p.s.  University District

  • Private investment: $3.4 million
  • Home renovations: 276
  • Homes: 1,252
  • Home sales (2016): 71
  • City-owned commercial properties: 1

Overview: This area, anchored by the University of Detroit Mercy and Marygrove College, has been a key target in the city’s redevelopment efforts outside the greater downtown area. Development interest has been robust.  The Live6 Alliance, an effort by Detroit Mercy, Kresge and the Detroit Economic Growth Corp.,  was launched three years ago to bring economic development to the Livernois-McNichols area, which includes the Fitzgerald neighborhood targeted by The Platform and Century Partners.



Motor City Mashup  2018

“Organizers previously held an annual pitch competition, but this year startups and entrepreneurs will mingle with the visiting Detroit natives through a networking fair called Motor City Mashup.

Created based on community research by Challenge Detroit and led by Medvis Jackson, a Challenge Detroit fellow, and Sheu-Jane Gallagher, an experienced startup coach, Motor City Mashup will bring 50 small businesses. Many will set up in booths, displaying signs showing what kind of advice they may need from industry experts.”

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Sept 7 – “small & fond & local”

Friday,  September 7,  the first full weekend in September

In Detroit where I live, a Northeast weather path brought an end to gummy sticky air that hindered breathing.  This poem happened to me during the same week when many of us are still negotiating modest compromises between summer’s best and its worst.  This morning, when I stepped out for some errands,  fresh,  chilly air greeted me.  Tiny changes in weather patterns, much like an evanescent smile exchanged with a passing friend,  well . . . .  such small events refresh my spirits and imagination.  Yours too I hope.

Micro events, that’s what today’s poet sees and savors.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.   More next week.

john sj

P.S. Thanks to Mary Catherine Harrison who introduced me to poet Mary Karr with this poem.

Today’s Post  “The Voice of God”

Mary Karr

Ninety percent of what’s wrong with you
could be cured with a hot bath,
says God from the bowels of the subway.
but we want magic, to win
the lottery we never bought a ticket for.
(Tenderly, the monks chant, embrace
the suffering.) The voice of God does not pander,
offers no five-year plan, no long-term
solution, nary an edict. It is small & fond & local.
Don’t look for your initials in the geese
honking overhead or to see thru the glass even
darkly. It says the most obvious crap—
put down that gun, you need a sandwich.

Karr speaking at the St. Louis County Library on September 8, 2016

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Sept 5 – Shiraz is more than a wine; it is an ancient city in Iran and the home of the first great wine

Wednesday  September 5 – “My city is that cup of sunshine. . .”
{My laptop has just emerged from the EMS unit and I did not have time to write a new one, so this is a favorite from four years ago.}

Professor Fatemeh Keshavarz, University of Maryland’s Roshan Chair of Persian Studies, is a poet and a scholar. In September 2014, she welcomed us into our academic year by reading a poem she wrote a few days before September 11, 2001 — before she or we knew about the 9-11 attacks on New York, Washington DC and a field in western Pennsylvania. This first Monday of October, national news led with a story of a violent mass shooting in Las Vegas. It is hard not to go numb with what feels like a relentless rush of hatred carried out with precise killing weapons. Fatemeh locates that same violence in a vast universe of creative intensity and serenity. If you were not there in 2014, and even if you were, it’s worth reading again (

Here is another of Fatemeh Keshavarz’s poems. She celebrates “Shiraz,” her home city in Iran, which has lived as a center for art and beauty for c. 4000 years. Wikipedia tells me that “The oldest sample of wine in the world, dating to approximately 7,000 years ago, was discovered on clay jars recovered outside of Shiraz.”

Detroit is only 316 years old, but I am using the poem to celebrate Motown today. The beauty of taste and the pause that good wine inspires, can help put terror in its much larger context of the human condition over centuries. Lift a glass when you get off work.

Best read “Shiraz” out loud several times, with some pauses. Have a blest day.


John sj


Held up to gods
In the palm of a giant’s hands
A rare handcrafted marble cup
Brimming with sunshine
Defined at the outer edges
With tall cypress trees
That line up at dawn reverently
To interpret the horizons
In their meticulous green thoughts

My city is
That cup of sunshine
I can drink to the last drop
And be thirsty for more.


Shiraz, Dec. 21, 2000

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Aug 29 Maria Ibarra Frayre – “what it means to be Catholic when you’re a young, liberal, feminist . . . “

Wednesday August 29
“ But how can they believe me?
When sometimes I don’t even believe myself.
Maybe it’s time to be loud.”

Today’s Post –  “Being Catholic”
I wear my faith quietly,

like a pebble in your pocket

Smooth and cold,

Comforting when you hold it tight in your hand.

But to be more honest,

I wear my faith secretly, cautious of who

to tell the truth because

I’m not sure how my circle

of liberal, leftists, almost

socialists would take it.

How could I, a feminist who uses reason,

logic, and kindness, follow a church

that doesn’t let women be leaders?

Follow a God

who believes LGBTQ loved ones will rot in hell?

follow an institution

that rapes children?


I want to tell them that

that isn’t my church, isn’t my God.

My God lives in jails and detention centers,

in water bottles left in the desert,

and school teachers who work too much for too little.

My God is in parents who love their gay

and trans kids as reflections

of God’s own image.

My faith is the holiness of women, the life

in service for others.

My God is liberation.

She is the power of the storm

and the stillness of it when it’s over.

She is Brown laborers

rebuilding a city,

and the sweat of their foreheads

feeding their families.

But how can they believe me? When

sometimes I don’t even believe myself.

Maybe it’s time to be loud.

As loud as the annoying (and wrong) fetus

fanatics who are pro-life without

really being pro-living.

Maybe it’s time to let my faith breathe. Take

my pebble and let throw it

in the water.

Let it make ripples.


Let it make a fucking tsunami.



p.s.  Maria is the Southeast Michigan regional organizer for We the People Michigan. She immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico when she was nine years old and grew up Southwest Detroit and Dearborn. Maria has been fighting for immigrant justice for almost a decade, including grassroots organizing and political advocacy. She works closely with grassroots organizations to create alternative systems of immigrant-centered support and working to put people of color and women in positions of leadership. Maria graduated from the University of Detroit Mercy with a degree in English, and then went on to get a Masters of Social Work at the University of Michigan. On her free time Maria likes going for hikes, drinking expensive tea, and after reading Maria’s poem three or four times today, I came upon Karen Tumulty’s Washington Post column, “Why am I still a Catholic.”

She, in her own voice, is as compelling to me as Maria’s “young, liberal, feminist.”  Both writers helped me be anointed in these wounded days of grief and anger.

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August 27 – “There is good news” — Mark 1:15

Monday,  August 27  “committed to being surprised”

When I pray from Mark or Matthew or Luke (the three “synoptic gospels”),  it helps me to treat the evangelist like a poet, to allow the surprise buried in the text to stop me in my tracks,  like a strong poem does.

When I wrote this poem based on Mark 1:15 about the time I took a job here in 1980, I found the challenges facing the university daunting.   Sayings like this one: “Repent and believe the good news” began to get my attention, like a strong poem should.   The teaching of Ignatius, that I ask to grow in “intimate knowledge of our Lord who has become human . . .” (in Latin “intima cognitio”)  began to challenge me;  to become human means, among other things, being born in some particular place with its own history.  Jesus, my history told me, was born in one of the world’s meanest, poorest, and most violent places — the Roman Empire’s grinding police state where crucifixion of people who opposed that state became horrors up and down that small country (e.g., as many as 2000 rebel fighters during one period in the early childhood of the boy Jesus).  Sometimes it took a day or two for a strong man to suffocate to death;  crucifixion was intended to intimidate and subdue opposition.

For me that became the surprise of taking the saying of the young man Jesus, “Repent and believe the good news” as meant seriously.  What could the poet mean?   And that led me, little by little, to notice that where I was born  (Marinette, WI, 1939) was a much less frightening place than where Jesus was born.  More, for example, like the lives of immigrant children torn away from their mothers and fathers at U.S. borders the past few months.  It helps, when I read this saying from Mark 1:15, to be open to deep, shocking, life-giving surprise, like every strong poem.  Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Not everything about my Catholic faith makes me proud; but this teaching and men and women who have tried to live it often stops me in my tracks,  like any strong poem should.

Have a blest week,


john sj

Today’s Post  “Repent and believe the good news.”   {Mk 1:15}

Is our main repenting, perhaps, made of believing good news,
that there is news,
something new,
and it is good?

That what we already know is not all there is,
that we must approach the presence of God
knowing we will be surprised,
committed to being surprised
and so to living in a surprise-able way?

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“Young Voices” in the National Catholic Reporter — August 23

Friday, August 24

I just saw this “Young Voices Column” in the National Catholic Reporter.  Mark Piper’s explanation of the Mercy Associates organization is very helpful.  It appears as an early notice during the weeks running up into Mercy Week.    I also recommend Mark Piper’s open letter to Cardinal Baise Cupich at the end.

Have a blessed weekend,


john sj

Today’s Post  — from “Young Voices” in the National Catholic Reporter



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Aug 22 – learning to be welcomed

Wednesday, August 22  “strangers no longer”

The large bulletin board on our second floor, next to the copier, the fax, our snail-mail boxes, the car keys,  creates a public space for us 22 Jesuits to stop and see what one or another of us has pinned as a new message wanting our attention.   Yesterday, Fr. Tom Florek, sj posted an update about events which we host for “our immigrant brothers/sisters among us.”

The national conversation about immigrants in the U.S.  is fraught with competing languages — “immigrants,” “refugees,” “criminals.”  Pope Francis has used the public voice that follows him wherever he goes to call attention to the dangers for women and men who have had to leave their home places, where they learned to create a home for raising their children, a place to cook for one another, a place to sleep safely.  Francis repeatedly calls attention to the appalling numbers of people who have been forced to wander the roads of the world without the securities of what is called “home,” a common estimate runs to 60,000,000; Francis compares them to Joseph, Mary, and their child when they fled soldiers seeking to kill them.  His more disturbing challenge, perhaps, is the call to pay attention, to risk the knowledge of these people seeking a home.  Yesterday, Tom let us know of a gathering in our Fitness Center, a next step in “Strangers No Longer,”  (gatherings  of immigrants with native-born citizens to who try to get better at being welcomed by people other than oneself).  The Pope does not ignore the dangers that immigrant travelers risk when they have lost their place of cooking, welcoming, sleeping and playing safely.

The notice on our b-board reminds us Jesuits that “welcome” must flow from between those who are called “strangers” and “locals” all of whom risk the call to kinship in dangerous times.  It was a large gathering yesterday, another small step in the face of this massive challenge.

b-board notice from yesterday

“Tuesday, August 21 from 4:00 to 9:00 pm in the Detroit Mercy Fitness Center, the ad hoc Strangers no Longer (SnL), will gather 150+ ‘concerned Southeast Michigan Catholics’ from 20 parishes and organizations to help build a Archdiocesan network of parishes, Hispanic and non-Hispanic, to collaborate in the accompaniment, advocacy and education concerning immigrant families’ critical needs to maintain their family unity.

The numerous meetings held in our large Lansing Reilly parlor with your support has played a significant role in moving forward our collaborative response to this sign-of-our-times, our immigrant brothers/sisters among us.”


Today’s Post  “Love bade me welcome”  George Herbert

Herbert poses a question that lives at the heart of immigration debates century after century. “Who welcomes and who needs to learn to be welcomed?”  That we try to provide hospitality on our campus comforts me in hard times.

Have a blest mid-week,


john st sj


Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked anything.
‘A guest,’ I answer’d,’ worthy to be here’:
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful?  Ah, my dear
I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’
“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste My meat.’
So I did sit and eat.

George Herbert  1633

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August 17 – last day of this new academic year’s 1st week – David Whyte

Friday, August 17  “You are not leaving.

Even as the light fades quickly now,
you are arriving.”

This week, it seems, is packed with one-off start-of-the-year events:  a gathering of c. 1000 teachers from the Detroit Catholic school system,  Betsy, a soul friend of 30 years heads back to Philly to start her work year as I start mine here; how many friends return from hiking in mountains or in the high and deep places of their souls, bringing stories?  The President’s Convocation for the new  academic year;  a  6 hour conference call to consider two finalists to be the next President of the national Jesuit Volunteer Corps.   And this morning, about 18 new faculty from 5 colleges gather for our now-traditional half-day mission and identity retreat.   Next week begins with Colleagues Days and, for us Jesuits, concludes with two days at the Manresa Retreat Center for our begin-the-year retreat.   These are hardly routine times.

I ruminated about which of the list’s “go-to” poets might offer a voice from the surprises waiting this week to be noticed.   David Whyte came to mind.  Best to read him out loud, with pauses.  You can listen to him read the poem with a link and picture at the end.

Have a blest weekend.


john sj

ps. John Law, a dear friend who lives too far away in the UK for my comfort, wrote over night after reading Debra Spencer’s “The Discovery of Sex”

“The piece by Debra Spencer made me laugh, and reminded me of a friend of mine who said to one of his daughters: ‘Gee, if I’d known grandchildren were such fun I wouldn’t have bothered with children!’ (Her response: ‘Oh Dad!’)”

Today’s Post – David Whyte “The Journey”

Above the mountains

the geese turn into
the light again

Painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be
inscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

first, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes of your life.

You are not leaving.
Even as the light fades quickly now,
you are arriving.

from House of Belonging by David Whyte

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August 15 – “The Discovery of Sex” Debra Spencer

Wednesday, August 15 “Our parents look on in disbelief
as we pioneer delights they thought only they knew
before those delights gave them us.”

Perhaps I like this Debra Spencer poem the way I like several other of her poems. Or perhaps because the next generation of my family now pulses with parenting energy focussed on yet another generation; I love all three generations and enjoy them immensely. My niece, Terry, emailed me from Paris this morning, reminding me of her first time there when I was the middle generation, she and her sister on one end and my mother on the other. I didn’t just carry suitcases and drive our car though; I listened to my mom admiring and mumbling about her granddaughters both electrified by Paris with generous hearts and spirits but finding the Left Bank shops more revelatory than the centuries of Notre Dame cathedral’s life span. I traveled around with and listened to my two nieces in what I still remember as a wonderful 3-Gen living journey. Now, this week, Terry and her husband watch their children, alive with discovery.

Debra Spencer gets it about such essential humanity across generations, our human capacity for wonder and discovery as well as embarrassment. Bet to read the poem out loud, with pauses. Have a blest Wednesday.

john sj

Poem: “The Discovery of Sex” by Debra Spencer, from Pomegranate. © Hummingbird Press. Reprinted with permission.

The Discovery of Sex

We try to be discreet standing in the dark
hallway by the front door. He gets his hands
up inside the front of my shirt and I put mine
down inside the back of his jeans. We are crazy
for skin, each other’s skin, warm silky skin.
Our tongues are in each other’s mouths,
where they belong, home at last. At first

we hope my mother won’t see us, but later we don’t care,
we forget her. Suddenly she makes a noise
like a game show alarm and says Hey! Stop that!
and we put our hands out where she can see them.
Our mouths stay pressed together, though, and
when she isn’t looking anymore our hands go
back inside each other’s clothes. We could

go where no one can see us, but we are
good kids, from good families, trying to have
as much discreet sex as possible with my mother and father
four feet away watching strangers kiss on TV,
my mother and father who once did as we are doing,
something we can’t imagine because we know

that before we put our mouths together, before
the back seat of his parents’ car where our skins
finally become one-before us, these things
were unknown! Our parents look on in disbelief
as we pioneer delights they thought only they knew
before those delights gave them us.

Years later, still we try to be discreet, standing
in the kitchen now where we think she can’t see us. I
slip my hands down inside the back of his jeans
and he gets up under the front of my shirt.
We open our mouths to kiss and suddenly Hey! Hey!
says our daughter glaring from the kitchen doorway.
Get a room! she says, as we put our hands
out where she can see them.

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