December 23 – “O Emmanuel” the 7th and final O Antiphon

Tuesday, December 23  —   “my little heart loses its limits in joy”

Advent ends today: three plus weeks of prophecy daring us to see the world, realistically,  as  beautiful and beloved.   That dare can shake us when Advent’s antiphons compete with frightened and angry language as they surely do this election year.   Let’s match the 7th O Antiphon from a thousand years ago with the first prayer-poem in Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali,  a song of praise from the first decades of the 20th century.    Please consider them both as an offering to each of this list’s c. 2200 readers   Best to read out loud with some pauses.

Blessings during these these holy days.   One more post tomorrow on what Christians call “Christmas Eve.”


john sj

p.s.       Tagore died in the city of his birth, Calcutta, in 1941.  He vastly influenced poetry, sacred and secular, not only in India but around the world.  He is the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.  If you buy Gitanjali, a book of 100 short sacred poems, prepare yourself to only read one poem at a time so you can sit with it.  Here is # 1.   These poems have no titles, only numbers.

Today’s post –  Gitanjali # 1

Thou hast made me endless,  such is thy pleasure.
This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again,
and fillest it ever with fresh life.
This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales,
and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.
At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart
loses its limits in joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable.
Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine.
Ages pass, and still thou pourest,
and still there is room to fill.

The 7th O Antiphon,  “O Emmanuel”

O Emmanuel!  ruler  and giver of our laws,
Hope of the people from across the whole world,
Come to save us
O Lord our God.

To listen to the Antiphon sung in Gregorian Chant


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Dec 21 & 22 Antiphons 5 & 6

December 21 – winter solstice  Antiphon 5

Friday , December 21  –  O Oriens”

At Detroit’s latitude we will have 9 hours and 3 minutes of daylight, 14 hours and 57 minutes of night time. Our shortest day. Today’s O Antiphon, “O Oriens” (“O Rising Sun”) tells us that the long-ago writers of these sung-blessings for Advent’s last days lived in the northern hemisphere. Deeper & deeper into the days of diminishing light they sing to human longing for liberation and dawn. Tomorrow the day will be 3 minutes longer (I think that’s accurate), the dawn of the majestic march of sunrise back from it’s southern-most point of Oriens.

“O Dayspring
splendour of light and sun of justice:
Come and bring light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.”

These days are full of tenderness, of giving and hospitality, of forgiving old wounds, of allowing someone to forgive and welcome me when our connection had been wounded. Days, too, of longing for the healing of the world’s wounds, days of taking our places in the fatigue and longings of the whole human family.

Daring days of courage. “O Oriens” is quite a prayer.

john sj

Dec 21 – 5th Antiphon O Oriens – O Dayspring

Today’s Post: “O Dayspring”
To listen to the Antiphon sung in Gregorian Chant


Saturday December 22,  Antiphon 6

“I have found you in the story again”

Joy Harjo published another book of poetry two years ago, “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings.”   A young friend — living in immediate grief when one of his soul friends died suddenly, age 24, while out running — he,  one of a close group of young friends living this same loss  —  pointed me toward this new poem from one of my oldest soul friends.  “Fall Song,” is a new song alongside “O Antiphon 6:  O Rex Gentium,” one of the oldest writings that have appeared in the Work Day/Hard Time poetry list.  Joy Harjo and the anonymous medieval artist both touch vulnerable contact points that require tenderness to work their mysteries in a demanding world.

Best to read both poems out loud, with pauses.   Blessings this 22nd of December, the day when, in our northern hemisphere, daylight begins to tip a little bit longer after touching its deepest darkness yesterday  – – the first day a little longer and the sun a little higher in the sky for us who live in the northern hemisphere.

Today’s Post –  Joy Harjo, “Fall Song”

It is a dark fall day.
The earth is slightly damp with rain.
I hear a jay.
The cry is blue.
I have found you in the story again.
Is there another word for ‘‘divine’’?
I need a song that will keep sky open in my mind.
If I think behind me, I might break.
If I think forward, I lose now.
Forever will be a day like this
Strung perfectly on the necklace of days.
Slightly overcast
Yellow leaves
Your jacket hanging in the hallway
Next to mine.

poem by Joy Harjo – Nov 13, 2015
The New York Times Magazine

john sj

Antiphon #6   “O Rex Gentium”

O Leader of many peoples,
O Leader desired by many peoples
O Corner Stone who holds such different peoples together
Come and save us human beings whom you formed out of the earth’s clay.

To listen to the Antiphon sung in Gregorian Chant

p.s. I’m posting these two antiphons from Baden PA, home of many soul friends of 40 years, sisters of St. Joseph and former sisters of St. Joseph and some dear friends populate the Motherhouse cemetery with tender memories.  I’ll leave for home tomorrow morning c. 10:00.  Depending on weather I should pull into our driveway on campus about 4:00.   Have a blest weekend, anointed with the loves of your life and with stillness.

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Dec 20 – Antiphon # 4 – “O Key of David”

Thursday  December 20
“Come and lead us who sit bound with chains in the prison house”

This morning I’ll be driving the Ohio Turnpike to a working class suburb down river from Pittsburgh, Baden.  Spending some of the days deepest into Advent hanging out with 6 or 7 Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, soul friends of 40+ years.  We will tell each other stories of the year as it winds down towards the Christmas feast,  some of them playful, some tender, some alive with grief or anger: storytelling as prayer and kinship. These days are a seasonal grace as 2018 turns toward 2019.  It’s only a short visit;  I’ll savor Ohio’s northern turnpike again on Sunday when I head back to Motown and our campus.

Have a blest day, the last before Winter Solstice with its graceful turning in the dimmest light of the year.

john sj


O Antiphon #4   O Clavis David – O Key of David

“O Key of David,
and scepter of the house of Israel,
you open and no one closes,
you close and no one opens

Come and lead us who sit bound with chains in the prison house,
sitting in darkness and the shadow of death.”

To listen to the Antiphon sung in Gregorian Chant

Cam nose to window December 16, 2007
Sometimes we get lucky and get good snow

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Dec 19 – Antiphon # 3 “O Root of Jesse”

Wednesday,  December 19

Today’s Antiphon, “O Root of Jesse,” grew out of two Biblical texts recounting the genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:23 and Matthew 1:1).  Both versions locate the new born baby as Jesus, a human being, more than as The Christ, the Divine Lord of the all reality.  The human Jesus had ancestors who were heroes and ancestors who were criminals (just like the long stories of ancestors for each reader of this post).  That, I take it, is the teaching embedded in the visual depictions of the “Jesse Tree.”  When teaching courses in the history of U.S. technological practice, I sometimes began a semester inviting students to write one story about one of their ancestors.  I’ve forgotten which student wrote about a long-ago great (great-great?) grandmother who lived with her husband on the then mostly unsettled shore of Big Bay de Noc at the northern edge of Lake Michigan.  He had a habit, it was said, of taking his boat out on Big Bay in the night to visit and have sex with another woman.   The student’s grandmother, one dark night, turned off all the lights so that her unfaithful husband got lost in the dark and, if I remember the story accurately, drowned.

Ancestries, if one traces back far enough, carry the nobility and the venality of human beings.  So too with the tree of Jesse announced in Luke and Matthew to locate the new born Jesus deep within the human condition.

Our university has taken on the stillness of mostly empty parking lots as students and most faculty settling into a time for rest, naps, and kinship times.  I’m getting ready to head out tomorrow afternoon to drive I-80 across northern Ohio to visit kinswomen of 45 years, Sisters of St Joseph who live mostly down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh –  good cooking, even better story telling.   These late Advent posts will keep on coming.

Have a blest day.

john sj


Today’s Post:  O Antiphon #3   O Radix Jesse – O Root of Jesse

A 17th-century oak carving of the Tree of Jesse
from St Andrews CastleRoyal Scottish Museum


“O Root of Jesse’s,
Who stands as sign to the peoples
in whose presence rulers close their mouths
to whom the Gentiles send their prayers
come to set us free, hurry.”

To listen to the Antiphon sung in Gregorian Chant:


p.s. A note from Wikipedia for more background
Depictions of the Jesse Tree are based on a passage from the Book of Isaiah.
“And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots” (King James Version).
In the New Testament the lineage of Jesus is traced by two of the Gospel writers, Matthew in descending order, and Luke in ascending order. Luke’s Gospel’s description in chapter 3 begins with Jesus himself and is traced all the way back, via Nathan to David and then on to “Adam, which was [the son] of God.”. (Luke 3:23-38Matthew’s Gospel opens with the words: “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Matthew 1:1) With this beginning, Matthew shows the Abrahamic and royal descent, passing through David, but then through Solomon

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Dec 18 O Antiphon # 2 – Robert Frost — sun or stars?

Tuesday, December 18  –  “to ease attention off when overtight”

We are 4 days out from the winter solstice, (   But that’s for the future.  Now is a time to treat long nights with respect (today: sunrise 7:56 am – sunset 5:01 pm).   Robert Frost writes about dim light more as an essential need than a grinding burden; when he writes “more divine than any bulb or arc” he refers to arc lights and light bulbs.  Arc lights were the first economically feasible source of electrical power based artificial light.  Immensely bright, they hurt your eyes to look at and so were hard to manage.  Hard to breathe around them too because they gave off what people often called “noxious fumes.”  Back in 1875, though, people thought of them as the march of progress.   R Frost had another idea, as poets often do.

December 18’s sings,  in  “O Antiphon # 2”, of Adonai the Lord and Leader appearing in the fire of the burning bush of Moses in the Sinai.    Today’s wise American poet, Robert Frost, instead, sings praise of the stars and the night.  Best to read the poem out loud,  with pauses.   Today’s early winter sky is going to be alive with brilliant sun.  Enjoy this bath of light and, when it arrives,  may the long night anoint you.


John sj

Today’s Post:   Robert Frost “The Literate Farmers and the Planet Venus”

Here come the stars to character the skies,
And they in the estimation of the wise
Are more divine than any bulb or arc,
Because their purpose is to flash and spark,
But not to take away the precious dark.
We need the interruption of the night
To ease attention off when overtight,
To break our logic in too long a flight,
And ask us if our premises are right


O Antiphon # 2  – “O Adonai

“O Lord above and ruler of the house of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the flaming bush,
who gave the Law to him on Mt Sinai
Come and save us with your strong arm’s reach.

Today’s Post:  “O Adonai”

To listen to the Antiphon sung in Gregorian Chant

Robert Frost 1874-1963

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Dec 17 – the first day as Advent folds toward Christmas O Antiphon # 1 – – “O Sapientia” (O Wisdom)

Monday December 17  — “It is the 3 strange angels . . . ”

The “O Antiphons” are one of the few song sets from the seven monastic liturgical hours.  Their poetry and song bring Advent wisdom to bear on this  season of fear and meanness; they can open our imaginations out into hope for the wide world.   They remind us that our hard times come to us as only part of a vast historical fabric, that hope runs deeper by far than the weariness of the women and men among whom we live.  When I follow the news and bring my 2018 awareness into the antiphons, they help me walk the world a little taller and with more attentive senses.

May these prayers do something like that for you too.

Blessings for each of the coming seven “O antiphon” days.


john sj

Today’s Post  “the three strange angels”
D. H. Lawrence, of Lady Chatterley fame, wrote poetry as well.

Here is an Advent prayer if there ever was one.

“What is the knocking?
What is the knocking at the door in the night?
It is somebody who wants to do us harm.
No, no, it is the three strange angels. Admit them, admit them.”

Today’s Post  December 17  — “O Sapientia”  

“O wisdom, coming forth from the Most High, filling all creation and reigning to the ends of the earth; come and teach us the way of truth.”

“O Sapientia,  quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter,suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.”

To listen to the Antiphon sung in Gregorian Chant

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dec 14 “two starlings dancing” a summer poem blooming in December, like a daffodil in a snow drift William Carlos Williams

Friday, December 14
“that’s what got me to face into the wind’s teeth”

I woke this morning with a taste of joy on my tongue, that despite a gaggle of angry news competing for time as we work our commitments.  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 has pulled out of his magic poet’s bag; I cannot help repeating it.

Try it for this mid-day in final exam week on McNichols, a poem so short, so improbable,  bringing two starlings into my imagination, alive and dancing.  Maybe he will surprise you too.    Short poems work best when read slowly and with pauses & repeated at least once.

Have a blest weekend at the end of the 2nd Week of Advent.

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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Dec 12 – Remembering Bill Pauly, sj – who died suddenly on Nov 29, 2006 age 59

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

“have a cup of tea and rejoice”

These days of Advent — 4 weeks that dare us to imagine hope without denying violence, loss, and fear. Year by year, they stir my blood and fill me with wonder — work day cars moving women and men in a hurry, their driving more confident in the light traffic. Me? I love the early dark, and the full moon, when the skies clear, hanging over the West side of our campus. Today’s post is partly an homage to a Jesuit soul friend who died too young and partly an homage to a gift he gave me by introducing me to the poet Mary Oliver on one hot summer day in Oglala South Dakota. November 29, was the anniversary of Bill Pauly’s sudden death at 59 of a heart attack while taking a lovely sabbatical after years of demanding pastoring on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation in western South Dakota. Before Pine Ridge, Bill was pastor in a South Milwaukee Latin@ parish. I miss him especially at this time. This Mary Oliver poem captures his earthiness and urgency and his passion for the sacred ordinary.

Advent blessings can open a reader to joy even in a time of mean and frightened ranting. You may have read Mary Oliver here before. Best to read her poetry slowly, with pauses, anticipating surprise.

Welcome to these last days of Term One on our McNichols Campus in Detroit.

john sj


Today’s Post “Wage Peace” (1st posted December 2, 2013)

Wage peace with your breath.

Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.
Breathe in terrorists and breathe out sleeping children and fresh mown

Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.
Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.
Make soup.

Play music, learn the word for thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.
Wage peace.

Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious.
Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Don’t wait another minute.

Mary Oliver
September 10, 1935

P.S. Today, December 12, Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is also celebrated by Sisters of Mercy around the world as Foundation Day. [Foundation Day is the day in which Catherine McAuley and two other sisters took their vows as the first Sisters of Mercy in 1831.]

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December 10 dates I remember

Monday, December 10, 2018

Over the years on my birthday, Dec 10, 1939; I’ve noticed some dates — one birth – Emily Dickenson in 1830, 3 deaths, and the Nobel Peace Prize award today in Stockholm.

Here are three death anniversaries:

1910 – Red Cloud,   Lakota war leader; until Vietnam I think, the only war leader who formally defeated the U.S. military (signed a treaty of surrender;  later broken alas). Our Jesuit grade and high school on Pine Ridge takes its name from him: “Red Cloud Indian School.”

1968 – Karl Barth,   one of the great Christian theologians of the 20th century  (from my Roman Catholic theological perspective, of the same theological stature as Karl Rahner).

1968 – Thomas Merton,   died while visiting Asia, it seems that he accidentally electrocuted himself while taking a bath: faulty wiring in an electric fan.   Merton has had the greatest influence on me of all these.  Think of his one paragraph prayer as a poem that would reward reading, with pauses, several times.

Have a blest day.


john sj

Today’s Post

Thomas Merton “Thoughts in Solitude”

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.


January 31, 1915 – December 10, 1968

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Dec 7 – Pearl Harbor . . . . Dom Helder Camera, Advent Journeys

Wednesday  December 7
“. . .  cares for weary companions . . . “

Back home from 3+ days with my sister Midge and her family in Carson City.  Out the window we had some lovely snow + a couple mule deer & several large raptors (I think perhaps a golden eagle).  Here at home we have a lovely dusting of snow and hints of sunshine.

This morning I fished from 2015’s Advent posts and found Nov 30, 2015’s note on Dom Helder Camera, a saint in my book and worth a re-read.  Yes, it is also the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.  Whenever I read this saying, this sacred old man stops me still with his delicacy and his flint-hard courage.

Have a blest weekend.

john sj

Today’s Post – Dom Helder Camera

“It is possible to travel alone, but we know the journey is human life
and life needs company.
Companion is the one who eats the same bread.

The good traveler cares for weary companions, grieves when we lose heart,
takes us where she finds us,  listens to us.
Intelligently, gently, above all lovingly, we encourage each other to go on
and recover our joy
On the  journey.”

February 7, 1909 – August 27, 1999


p.s. Advent often reminds me of one of the saints in my life.  Here’s a meditation about Dom Helder Camera I wrote early in Advent two years ago.

Dom Helder Camera was archbishop of Recife and Olinda from 1964 to 1985 during military dictatorship in Brazil.  He interpreted Catholic teaching with a consistent, fierce attention to the violence of systems maintaining brutal poverty.  He made serious enemies.   It is said that some of them hired a hit man to remove him.  Like the professional he was, the hit man stalked Dom Helder for some time, learning his habits, seeking a place and time apt for killing.   In the process, he listened to him speak a number of times until, one day, he fell at Dom Helder’s feet, weeping, and begged for the grace to change his profession and his life.   When he walked this earth, Dom Helder’s presence engaged the world’s wounds.

This unblinking attention to the violence of poverty was matched by legendary playfulness.  Here is one story among many, this one I witnessed.  Once Dom Helder was speaking to about 1500 people who sat on the St. Louis levee overlooking the Mississippi River (by the Arch); in the middle of the talk, a helicopter took off right behind him filled with tourists taking a ride with a bird’s eye view of the river and the city.   It made enough of a racket that it was impossible to hear what the Dom Helder was saying.  He paused, turned around to the helicopter, and gave the tourists a puckish little wave.  When the helicopter got a little farther out on its trip, he turned back to us.

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