March 24 – Rumi “The Guest House”

Friday,  March 24
“some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.”

One of my soul friends of many years emailed Rumi’s “Guest House” yesterday.   When readers send poems, they create a place of stillness in me and sometimes change my plans for a given day’s post.  So it is this morning.

Rumi’s poem creates a still place alive with realism and laughter, grief and joy.   Aloud with pauses.

Blessings on our weekends.


john sj

Today’s Post “The Guest House”

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī  (جلال‌الدین محمد رومی‎)   Persian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic 1207-1273.

Posted in Mission and Identity | Leave a comment

March 22 – a repeat request “Kindness” (from March 3) + how to find any poem or poet

Tuesday night, March 21
A couple days ago one of our readers wrote asking about a specific poem:

“please remind me who was author of the poem of Kindness, I saved it as a word document failed to acknowledge author.
It has touched me and its part of my journey,”

Her/his request reminds me to remind all 2283 of you that  you can find any poet, poem, or word on our permanent archive blog.   All 458 posts since the first one are available at    in chronological order (most recent one on top, first one ever, Sept 25, 2013, on the bottom).  So to answer this reader’s query about “the author of the poem of Kindness” I went to the archive, wrote “kindness” in the search box, found c. 20 poems that use the word.  But, since this was a recent poem, I found it 2nd from the top,  easy.

You can do this too.

Here is Naomi Shihab Nye’s compelling poem, “Kindness”  again.  I’ll use it for today’s post.  (n.b., I wrote this about 11:15 Tuesday night.  Tomorrow morning I’ll be making coffee for 12 people coming for the Half-day Mission Retreat.  Responding to our reader’s question can serve as a reminder of the list’s  search tool and at the same time, re-up a wonderful poem only 2.5 weeks since it first appeared.  I am reading it as my last thing before saying goodnight to the city.  It will be in your mailbox tomorrow morning. 😊)

Sure,  it helps to read a strong poem “out loud .  .  .  with pauses”


john sj

Posted in Mission and Identity | Leave a comment

march 20 about laughter to begin the work week

Monday, March 20, 2017  

— “laughter begets liking,

and liking begets joy, and joy begets love”

Meister Eckhart  (c. 1260 -c. 1327)

Meister Eckhart, a German Dominican, theologian, philosopher and mystic, was known along with his writings for sermons addressed to ordinary people as well as to women and men more visibly active in Church life.   Eckhart died just twenty years before the peak of the European pandemic known as The Black Death which killed 30% to 60% of Europe’s people.  One might be inclined to set his intuition about the identity of God as embodied in laughter and affection as an antidote, before the fact, to address the terrified and violent fears that convulsed Europe in the mid-14th century;  the living worked to bury some 100 to 200 million of those who died around them.  A grim time badly in need of the rebirth of Europe’s sense of humor and playfulness.

How does a university simultaneously challenge its students to risk the terrors of self-discovery and of attention to the whole fabric of human behavior while encouraging in those same students a resilient sense of humor about that same human condition?   It is one of the great challenges of teachers and one of the great gifts that great mentors offer their students.

This saying of Meister Eckhart might make a good short text to read out loud in front of your mirror when winter grows overlong or students show their less attractive sides when under pressure, from fear that they do not have the inner stuff to find their voice and engage the real world with generous desires.

Have a good day.


john st sj

Today’s Post — This saying is attributed to Meister Eckhart.

Indeed I say, the soul will bring forth Person
if God laughs to her and she laughs back to him.
To speak in parable, the Father laughs to the Son
and the Son laughs back to the Father;

And this laughter begets liking,
and liking begets joy, and joy begets love,
and love begets Person,
and Person begets the Holy Spirit.

{first posted Feb 18, 2014}

Posted in Mission and Identity | Leave a comment

St. P’s Day — remembering an immigrant from long ago

Friday. March 17  — an immigrant story from decades ago – “her real name was  – – – – >  Silvia:  S-i-l-v-i-a”

John McPhee’s brief, tightly woven, contemplation of an Irish immigrant dear to him, first appeared on the list one year ago yesterday.  Think it has something to do with St. Patrick’s day in the U.S.

The poem is one of the shortest of the 458 posted since September 2013 when the list began.   Even more helpful, with a brief poem, to read out loud with pauses.

Have a blest weekend.


john sj

Posted in Mission and Identity | Leave a comment

March 15 – Lance Swain’s story from March 2014

Wednesday  March 15  —  is it spring yet?

A clean sky & a bright moon, 17 degrees, sun and wind on the way.  My university hosted a Conference of Mercy Higher Education site visit from Sunday afternoon until yesterday about noon.  To prepare, a seven person university host team searched the three campuses for evidence that when we do what universities do — research, teaching, mentoring, service —  Catherine McAuley and her successors are alive as leaven and vision.   The searching yielded a 21 page self study we sent to the four visitors a month ago.  It organized & framed five months of conversations among students, faculty, staff, and trustees, the fruit of some disciplined attention.  When they delivered their exit observations, they and lots of us Detroit Mercy regulars felt the work was worth it.

The late Nor’Easter along the Atlantic coast required some nimble adaptations,  the search team lost their DC area chair to the snow and a street-smart veteran of such visits stepped in a couple of hours before the opening dinner at Detroit’s Traffic Jam and Snug.  By departure time,  the foursome reminded me of a well coached hockey team which can manage line changes quickly.  Here in Detroit our snow has been notable and beautiful but less an attention-getter than back East.   For winter lovers though,  each below freezing day garnished with wind and sun can make you want to go out and play like a kid.

Meanwhile, the wearing tensions in the President’s 100 days continues to stir fear and contention.  Paying attention to both my university’s strengths and challenges, and this country’s as well led me back to a wonderful story posted in March of 2014.    Strictly speaking,  it’s not poetry but what Lance Swain did fill that day with beauty.  Reading it three years later refreshed my spirit; yours too I hope.

Have a blest day.

john sj

Posted in Mission and Identity | Leave a comment

March 13 – snow and a poet new to me, Dunya Mikhail

Monday  March 13

“If anyone stumbles across it,
return it to me, please.”

Last Friday I spent the afternoon visiting with, and an evening listening to, Joy Harjo at the University of Michigan’s Michigan League.   Joy emailed on Wednesday to explore the possibility that I could drive to Ann Arbor.   It worked out because I had a free afternoon and evening, an unanticipated grace.  She read mostly from her most recent book  Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings.  Listening took me into stillness for c. 2 hours;  to the language of her poems and of her flute, and her sax.  Definitely worth the 45 mile drive from our campus to Ann Arbor.

That night Joy introduced me to the Chaldean poet Dunya Mikhail.  Dunya and I share some of the sprawling space of Metro Detroit and we share the Catholic faith, hers Chaldean, mine 1840’s immigrant European.  When I got home, I looked for some of her poetry and found  “I Was in a Hurry.”

Best to read out loud,  with pauses.  It’s snowing here    Have a blest week.

john sj


Today’s Post:  “I Was in a Hurry”


Yesterday I lost a country.

I was in a hurry,

and didn’t notice when it fell from me

like a broken branch from a forgetful tree.

Please, if anyone passes by

and stumbles across it,

perhaps in a suitcase

open to the sky,

or engraved on a rock

like a gaping wound,

or wrapped

in the blankets of emigrants,

or canceled

like a losing lottery ticket,

or helplessly forgotten

in Purgatory,

or rushing forward without a goal

like the questions of children,

or rising with the smoke of war,

or rolling in a helmet on the sand,

or stolen in Ali Baba’s jar,

or disguised in the uniform of a policeman

who stirred up the prisoners

and fled,

or squatting in the mind of a woman

who tries to smile,

or scattered like the dreams

of new immigrants in America.

If anyone stumbles across it,

return it to me, please.

Please return it, sir.

Please return it, madam.

It is my country…

I was in a hurry

when I lost it yesterday.

“I Was in a Hurry” by Dunya Mikhail, translated by Elizabeth Winslow, from The War Works Hard,

copyright 1993, 1997, 2000, 2005 by Dunya Mikhail. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.


Posted in Mission and Identity | Leave a comment

Joy Harjo in Ann Arbor

Friday, March 10
“It’s so hot; there is not enough winter.
Animals are confused. Ice is melting.”

Joy Harjo emailed me while I was in Canada talking about my life with Bill Clarke.  She arrived in Ann Arbor yesterday afternoon to read, make music, and speak.  We worked our calendars for some face time this afternoon.  Sweet!

I posted Joy’s, for me, master piece “Grace” at the end of February.  Here’s a more recent poem, “Talking with the Sun.”  Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest weekend.


john sj

Today’ Post   Joy Harjo  “Talking with the Sun”

I believe in the sun.
In the tangle of human failures of fear, greed, and
forgetfulness, the sun gives me clarity.
When explorers first encountered my people, they called us
heathens, sun worshippers.
They didn’t understand that the sun is a relative, and
illuminates our path on this earth.

After dancing all night in a circle we realize that we are a
part of a larger sense of stars and planets dancing with us
When the sun rises at the apex of the ceremony, we are
There is no mistaking this connection, though Walmart
might be just down the road.
Humans are vulnerable and rely on the kindnesses of the
earth and sun; we exist together in a sacred field of

Our earth is shifting.  We can all see it.
I hear from my Inuit and Yupik relatives up north that
everything has changed.  It’s so hot; there is not enough
Animals are confused. Ice is melting.

The quantum physicists have it right; they are beginning to
think like Indians: everything is connected dynamically
at an intimate level.
When you remember this, then the current wobble of the
earth makes sense.  How much more oil can be drained,
Without replacement; without reciprocity?

I walked out of a hotel room just off Times Square at dawn
to find the sun.
It was the fourth morning since the birth of my fourth
This was the morning I was to present her to the sun, as a
relative, as one of us.  It was still dark, overcast as I walked
through Times Square.
I stood beneath a twenty-first century totem pole of symbols
of multinational corporations, made of flash and neon.

The sun rose up over the city but I couldn’t see it amidst the
Though I was not at home, bundling up the baby to carry
her outside,
I carried this newborn girl within the cradleboard of my
I held her up and presented her to the sun, so she would be
recognized as a relative,
So that she won’t forget this connection, this promise,
So that we all remember, the sacredness of life.

Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo 2012.
(b. May 9, 1951)

Posted in Mission and Identity | Leave a comment

March 8 – Terri Breeden about time with her grandmother

Wednesday, March 8  “I was nine that summer . . . “

A mid-week break during our campus’ Spring Break:  some house-keeping time:  a big load of laundry, Nordictrack in the basement work out room, tending personal emails, and most of all, at about 2:45 I’ll drive up I-94 to the Blue Water Bridge into Canada to spend the evening with Bill Clarke, sj in Guelph.  I first met Bill in Omaha the summer of 1980 when he directed my silent 30 day retreat, something Jesuits do two times in a life time.  St. Ignatius called the 30 days “a school of the affections,”  a long time inside which you re-learn the patterns of your feelings:   what dis-affections distract you, what affections open you to a wider, deeper world of the heart, a school of your affections.   A wise Jesuit once told me, as I was getting ready for my second thirty days at age 40, “The thirty days are not to teach you how to pray; you already pray or you wouldn’t be here.   The thirty days are to teach you how you already pray, so you can trust that in yourself, good days and hard days both.”   That summer Bill mentored me, to trust the graces of my life.

Every few months, this four hour drive gives me time with him; it’s worth every mile.  Oh yes, and as I drive over the Blue Water Bridge, I sing “O Canada.”

“Octogenarian” appeared on this list twice before, most recently February 3, 2016 – – my niece Terri Breeden’s recollection of learning new words while playing cards with her grandmother on her front porch, learning of gratitude and mortality.  Best to read out loud, with pauses.

Breathe a little even if it’s a work day.  Back Thursday late morning.


john sj


Today’s Post   “Octogenarian”


I was nine that summer

when you taught me satiated.

It came after precocious

and pernicious, but was obviously

and immediately the best word yet.


We refill the drinks with extra ice, cool ourselves

with condensation, that slick of sweat dripping down

our glasses. You proffer crackers; I decline,

satiated and smug about it. You shuffle and deal, while the sun

slowly loses its glower in the Menomonee River.


I place each card carefully, fingers splayed,

intent.  I hunch a bit, slanting my anticipation

toward the deck in those gnarled fingers, toward

the sheen of sun on water, the road and the bridge,

the cities on the far side, toward you.


It doesn’t matter what we play: 66, gin rummy,

cribbage, even two hands of solitaire, laid out

like opposing armies or fields fresh planted, seven shirts

spaced out on each side of the clothesline, falling straight,

quiet in the fading heat.


You hold your cards loosely, competent,

a word from last summer, but you don’t

always win.  I learn to bridge the cards without

spraying any into the porch screen,

dragonflies darting toward the river.


I learn about matrimony from the thin band

embedded in the swollen skin of your ring finger, about eternity

from the way you refer to Grandpa as though

he were still here. And I learn about gratitude

without noticing, even how to spell it.


Some things though I didn’t learn, like when you taught me

octogenarian and I thought it meant

a person eight decades old, thought

it meant you at your next birthday, never comprehending

that it really meant

you would leave me someday.


Terri Breeden

Posted in Mission and Identity | Leave a comment

March 6 – – an old man walking with two dogs . . . . in a city

Monday, March 6 “of weather, of corners,
of leisurely tensions between them
and private silence.”

Spring Break on McNichols Campus:  the youngest half of the university’s population is mostly invisible and inaudible.  For us employees there’s still plenty to do but I find somehow, even so, there’s more breathing space.  Maybe it’s the excitement of our women’s basketball team playing its tournament downtown in “The Joe,” and winning number one and gearing up for number two this afternoon.  “The Joe,”   a fixture, home for decades to the Red Wings but in its last year as the huge new arena rises a mile to the north in the growing cluster of stadia — the Tigers, The Pistons, The Lions, The Red Wings, another sign of the pulsing new energy in the city.  When she prayed with the team before yesterday’s game, Sr. Beth Ann Finster told the players:  “This is our building; our name is on the playing floor; you own this building.”  Made the team crazy excited as Beth often does.  They are, along with other men’s and women’s teams, staying at the refreshed 72 story Marriot hotel rising above the 4 office towers of GM’s world headquarters, looking out over the Detroit River and, off to the north-east, Belle Isle and Lake St. Clair and to the south, Windsor Ontario, the only city in the US where you go south into Canada.    A reborn waterfront and international border: for the players, a classy moment.  We are looking for another win today.

Maybe it’s the courage of the undergrad Alternative Spring Break teams who’ve headed off to their week long commitments in demanding places of various U.S cities.  When they come back at the week’s end, there will be new stories to tell.  Maybe it will be the less-public stories of faculty using the week to dig deeper into their research projects.

Whatever the sources, Spring Break has its own sound, its own pace.   Maybe that’s what led me to this Denise Levertov poem, one new to me.  An old man in a city walking his two mongrel dogs.   Sweet.   I hope you like it.   Out loud with pauses.

Whether for  you  this is break time or you are slamming high pressure work, have a blest day.

john sj


Today’s Post   “the Rainwalkers”

An old man whose black face
shines golden-brown as wet pebbles
under the streetlamp, is walking two mongrel dogs of dis-
proportionate size, in the rain,
in the relaxed early-evening avenue.

The small sleek one wants to stop,
docile to the imploring soul of the trashbasket,
but the young tall curly one
wants to walk on; the glistening sidewalkentices him to arcane happenings.

Increasing rain. The old bareheaded man
smiles and grumbles to himself.
The lights change: the avenue’s
endless nave echoes notes of
liturgical red. He drifts

between his dogs’ desires.
The three of them are enveloped –
turning now to go crosstown – in their
sense of each other, of pleasure,
of weather, of corners,
of leisurely tensions between them
and private silence.


Denise Levertov
b. October 1923  d. December 1997

Posted in Mission and Identity | Leave a comment

Friday, March 3 – – “you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.” – – Naomi Shihab Nye

Wednesday, March 3, 2017  “Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,”

Four days ago, a friend emailed me some lines from Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Kindness.”  The poet finds words to connect kinship and love with those elements of living in the world that wear us down.  Meanness and violence become a context for enduring kindness.  No wonder my friend thought to send “Kindness” in these times; no surprise either that it found a place in “Work Day/Hard Times” so soon after the poem landed here. Naomi Shihab Nye is becoming a welcomed presence here.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Friday, a delicate dusting of snow in the parking lot, early, before any of us 22 Jesuits had left footprints.   Not the 20” blizzard I’ve been hoping for, but pretty damn beautiful even so.  Have a blest weekend.

john sj


Today’s Post  “Kindness”

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.


Naomi Shihab Nye
(b. March 12, 1952)

Posted in Mission and Identity | Leave a comment