May 2 – Denise Levertov – Agnus Dei

May’s 1st Wednesday   “What terror lies concealed
in strangest words, O lamb
of God that taketh away
the Sins of the World”

Once again, as so often now 4 years deep in poetry posts and c. 2500 readers strong, a reader and friend, living through a hard time, concluded a stark lamentation email with this timeless question:  “How is it that the Lamb of God bears the sins of the world?”   Whenever, it seems, this hard question comes into focus, adults find it hard to acknowledge it, find it hard to recognize that the time and circumstances can transform the words “Lamb of God” toward an unavoidable hard place.

When a soul friend placed the question,  here at mid-week in what begins to feel like spring, s/he brought poet Denise Levertov to mind.  Like every great poem, the poet transcends the boundaries of any single faith tradition, opens the imagination and takes the reader to a demanding place where some rebirth can happen.   Best to read “Agnus Dei” out loud, with pauses.
Have a blest mid-week,


john st sj

Today’s post – Denise Levertov & the words “lamb of God”

Given that lambs
are infant sheep,
that sheep are afraid and foolish, and lack
the means of self-protection, having
neither rage nor claws,
venom nor cunning,
what then
is this ‘Lamb of God’?

This pretty creature, vigorous
to nuzzle at milky dugs,
woolbearer, bleater,
leaper in air for delight of being, who finds in astonishment
four legs to land on, the grass
all it knows of the world?
With whom we would like to play,
whom we’d lead with ribbons, but may not bring
into our houses because
it would spoil the floor with its droppings?

What terror lies concealed
in strangest words, O lamb
of God that taketh away
the Sins of the World: an innocence
smelling of ignorance,
born in bloody snowdrifts,
licked by forebearing
dogs more intelligent than its entire flock put together?

God then,
encompassing all things, is
defenseless? Omnipotence
has been tossed away,
reduced to a wisp of damp wool?

And we
frightened, bored, wanting
only to sleep ‘til catastrophe
has raged, clashed, seethed and gone by without us,
wanting then
to awaken in quietude without remembrance of agony,

we who in shamefaced private hope
had looked to be plucked from fire and given
a bliss we deserved for having imagined it,

is it implied that we
must protect this perversely weak
animal, whose muzzle’s nudgings

suppose there is milk to be found in us?
Must hold in our icy hearts
a shivering God?

So be it.
Come, rag of pungent
dim star.
Let’s try
if something human still
can shield you,
of remote light.

Denise Levertov
b. October 1923  d. December 1997

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April 30 Jim Janda mystic – pilgrim – poet

Monday,  April 30 “The Town in March”

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.


John sj

The Town in March  – 1st posted to this list March 19, 2014

a wind smelling
of grass
and wet earth
was coming
off the prairie
and blowing
through town

you could hear
Mr. Buffalo Robe
playing marches
on his piano
from the open door
of his shack

Mrs. Big Dog
sitting on the
stoop of her trailer
was squinting
in the sun

kids were shouting
about the dead
badger they found

he does not play
the piano any more

some men broke his
hand and arm
when he was drunk

some men blinded
John Red Feather too

this is not spoken of
in town

Jim Janda   d. August, 2010

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April 27 improbable play

Sometimes joy after grief awakens slowly, filled with stillness and soft footsteps.  Sometimes joy after grief runs so hard it messes your hair and makes you giddy.  Today’s poem is that 2nd kind of joy.  Whenever I hear what William Carlos Williams pulled out of his magic poet’s bag, I cannot help repeating it.   Exams on our McNichols Campus are wrapping up,  buds are opening all around.

Have a blest week.


john sj

Today’s Post:     The Manoeuvre

I saw the two starlings
coming in toward the wires
But at the last,
just before alighting, they

turned in the air together
and landed backwards!
that’s what got me —
to face into the wind’s teeth.

William Carlos Williams

September 17, 1883 – March 4, 1963

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April 25 – David Hinton, a poet new to me — “Desert”

Wednesday April 25  “gazing out, the old
masters say. It
seems easy
enough.           But . . . ”

This habit of beginning three work days a week with a poem often stretches my imagination; David Hinton’s few words in today’s poem also stretch me.   Reading “Desert” outloud, strong because of its flint-hard word choices, provides a stop during the work day.  Perhaps it can offer a break in the crowded pace of the day’s agenda.  But that’s what poems do.  Some of our c. 2500 readers tease me about the mantra “read outloud . . . with pauses”  but in a world where so many messages pulse with anger and fear and over-statement, that’s what poems are for.

Have a blest day this mid-week of final exams on the McNichols Campus.


john st sj


“To celebrate Poetry Month, we are sharing a poem from our forthcoming collection of original poetry, Desert by David Hinton.” ~Shambhala Publications

Today’s Post:  “Desert”  David Hinton

Empty mind
is a mirror
gazing out, the old
masters say. It
seems easy

enough. But all
night long, stars shimmer
deep in my gaze. Who

could be that

vast? And at dawn
I’m sure
it’s not me

desert, but wide-
open desert
mirroring whatever

it is
I am.


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April 23 It begins to smell like spring

Monday, April 23,  “What is all this juice and all this joy?”

Gerard Manley Hopkins, sj wrote  “Spring” in language alive with sensual delight, a breath of  fresh air after this April’s ice storms and cold winds.  “Risk some delight” says Hopkins.   Best to read every poem out loud, with pauses.   Hopkins rewards the reader’s attention more than most.

Have a blest week,

john sj

Today’s Post   “Spring”  

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

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April 18 – Mary Oliver “starling in winter”

Wednesday   April 18 – a song for very late winter

My sibs and I gathered at Mary’s house on the edge of northern Wisconsin for a weekend.  A delicious and shocking visit from two back-to-back 12” blizzards, hurried along with pretty constant wind gusts from 25 mph on up.  Magical, even though we ate from the freezer for the 3+ days the snow locked us inside the house, now and then peeking out the front door over the 5 ft drifts.  That’s my other sister, Mary.

A magical time for us.   For me, the best blizzards in a long time.   This morning, back on campus, I looked for a Mary Oliver poem that was new to me and found one about a very late winter storm.   It’s exciting to find a new Mary Oliver poem.   Yes, definitely good to read it out loud, with pauses.

I hope it blesses this mid-day in the work week.


john st

The pic on the bottom is a van outside my sister’s garage;  the woman on the top is my sister Midge.


Today’s Post –  “Starling in winter”

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

From: Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays

Copyright ©: Mary Oliver

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April 16 – David Whyte between winter and spring

Monday, April 16, 2018

“To hear
another’s voice,
your own voice”

This post first appeared here in February 2017 during an in-between time with hints of spring in a winter context.  I am writing from my sister Mary’s snow-bound home where 20+ inches of snow was blown around for 2 days of blizzard winds (c. 25 mph).  Lovely for sure; every few minutes a car drives by the river front road

For a few weeks David Whyte has been on my mind, wanting my attention.  I am pretty sure I bought one of his books of poems and scrambled around my office looking enough times that to doubt that any of his books ever made a home here after all.   Nudged by such little intuitions, I web wandered and stopped with the first DW poem that was new to me.

This poem by David Whyte does me good as the work week begins.  I hope it helps you too.

Have a blest weekend.


john sj

Today’s Post:  “Start Close In”

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way to begin
the conversation.

Start with your own
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something

To hear
another’s voice,
your own voice,
wait until
that voice

becomes an
private ear
that can
really listen
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

from  River Flow: New & Selected Poems
Many Rivers Press

David Whyte b. 1955



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April 12 “Three Cairns”

April 12 – Three Stone Cairns and One Bird – Andy Goldsworth and Emily Dickenson
Posted on April 19, 2017 by mission-and-identity

Thursday, April 12 — Three Cairns –

This little boy exploring a large stone egg got me wondering the way art does. Two artists here, the sculptor and the mom with the camera. So I emailed his mom back asking about the egg. She’s a close friend living in La Jolla, CA: “it’s a sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy, called “Three Cairns,” in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art; my son calls it the ‘egg rock.’”

I found an explanation on the website of the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation ( Just below is their great picture of the central cairn at the Des Moines Art Center. “Cairns,” Public Art tells us, are “stone structures [or markers] that identify a place of great importance. Their dry-stone construction represents an engineering feat as well as artistic creativity. The process of shaping and stacking the stones into a simple oval shape is challenging and intense. The form symbolizes fullness and ripeness, time and energy, loss and endurance.” The Foundation also tells us that this is the largest project in the Western Hemisphere by British artist Andy Goldsworthy.

The photo, by Doug Millar, shows the central cairn at home among Iowa grass and trees. Goldworthy’s placement of the two hollow-out stone frames isn’t random. One points toward New York, a matching cairn outside the Neugerger Museum of Art; the other points west to the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla and the cairn my friend’s son showed off for us. The limestone for each comes from long before its physical home was inhabited by people calling their place “Iowa.”

Lots going on here. Not one place but three, not three places but a continent, not one time but millennia, all crafted with the precise skills of a contemporary worker of stone. I like to imagine the work we do at the university like that. These are exam days, demanding precise thinking and some memory. But, our Mission Statement reminds our students, the point is not the exam or the grade; the point is a lifetime of their citizenship in a world that is vast and beloved of God.

While getting reacquainted with the Cairns, I opened a poem feed that lands in my inbox each day to find a gift from Emily Dickenson. Just below my signature, you will find Emily Dickenson’s 12 line poem about an unnamed bird. Which form of beauty opens me to deeper stillness this mid-April day in 2017, the trans-national sculpture of this poem from the 19th century? Answer? “yes.”

Looks like spring rains today, encouraging grass and flowers and trees to do their thing.

Have a blest day.
john st sj

p.s. Emily Dickenson

by Emily Dickinson
December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

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Monday April 9 Mary Kelly rsm – days of a deep goodbye

April 9 – Saying goodbye to your soul friend and sister

I’ve finally opened Denise Levertov’s last book, The Great Unknowing: Last Poems.  She is one of my go-to poets and her final book daunts me; why I am not sure.  Perhaps because the finality of her death, now so long ago (December 1997), interrupts years of savoring her body of work, expecting surprises and wonder again and again.  Today’s post, the first poem in her final book, fits my sense of what this week in Detroit calls out of me.    I find myself among the many women and men who are preparing our imaginations for the finality of death’s moment in the vibrant and resilient life of Mary Kelly, rsm.   Those of us who can make it will gather,  Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, at Mercy Center to live our goodbyes with stories and song.   Levertov’s “From Below” helps me into this week of stillness;  the poem surprises me deeply in this time when so many of us will do our best to say goodbye to Mary.

The poem may offer you an inner place in which to learn your way into the place of Mary’s absence from our busy world, into grief and beauty, life-long memories and wonder.    Reading out loud, with pauses can help.

Have a blest week.

john sj

Today’s Post  –  “From Below”

I move among the ankles
of forest Elders, tread
their moist rugs of moss,
duff of their soft brown carpets.
Far above, their arms are held
open wide to each other, or waving

what they know, what
perplexities and wisdoms they exchange,
unknown to me as were the thoughts
of grownups when in infancy I wandered
into a roofed clearing amidst
human feet and legs and the massive
carved legs of the table,

the minds of people, the minds of trees
equally remote, my attention then
filled with sensations, my attention now
caught by leaf and bark at eye level
and by thoughts of my own, but sometimes
drawn to upgazing-up and up: to wonder
about what rises so far above me into the light.

  Denise Levertov

Mary Kelly, rsm

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April 6, Mary Kelly rsm

Sr Mary Kelly, RSM  + April 6, 2018

We are a university.   Here, people listen, take each other seriously.  Teachers listen to students.   Some students once told one of our master teachers that s/he was most scary when one of them would say something and s/he would turn around and write that student’s words on the board, circle one and turn around and ask: “Why did you choose that word?”  Teachers do that.  Listen for the student’s voice, call it forth; expect respect for words.   Not only teachers though.  Universities call on students to listen to each other, to expect meaning from each other.  Also,  administrative assistants,  staff in the registrar’s office,  nurse practitioners in the student wellness center,  campus security officers, coaches;  lots of listening.    On good days, each of us knows that.  And on hard days, maybe one of our peers will notice and ask how we are doing, and listen to our story.

Sr. Mary Kelly led and taught by listening, by expecting risk-taking; she noticed fellow members of the university and, in noticing, helped them to believe that she/he has a voice worth listening to.   She died about 6:30 this morning.   Just as she listened to other people’s voices, all over this university for years, so her voice was a source of grace all those years as well.   We will miss her.

 Today’s poet, Rabindranath Tagore wrote a pocket-size book of 100 poem-prayers, Gitanjali.  Some people say that the Gitanjali 100 are one reason he received the Nobel Prize in Literature on December  10, 1913.

Have a blest weekend.

john sj

Today’s post:  –  Tagore # 2

When Thou commandest me to sing
it seems that my heart would break with pride
and I look to Thy face
and tears come to my eyes.

All that is harsh and dissonant in my life
melts into one sweet harmony
and my adoration spreads wings like a glad bird
on its flight across the sea.

I know Thou takest pleasure in my singing
I know that only as a singer I come before Thy presence
I touch by the edge of the far spreading wing of my song
Thy feet which I could never aspire to reach.

Drunk with the joy of singing
I forget myself
and call Thee friend
who art my lord.

Tagore  Gitanjali  # 2

Rabindranath Tagore

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