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 (http://dsmpublicartfoundation.org/public-art/three-cairns/). 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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April 4 – Not all April days are equal

Wednesday April 4, 2018

Last evening about 7:00 pm our first notable thunder-lightening storm swept through, pretty intense rain coming along for the ride.  If you love thunderstorms — I do — this might lead you to open windows and listen to some sounds of summer, dazzling lightning, pretty improbable thunder for early April.  If you have grown weary of this protracted delay of “spring-like” days — I have — this morning’s snapshot on weather.com {34º – snow shower/wind – feels like 22º three more chances for snow in the coming days) begins to get old.

So, as a mid-week emergency rescue kit snack, here’s the post from  April 18, 2016, unaltered.   Take it as an evocative fantasy tease and a promise of days to come before long.  {n.b., check this line from April 18, 2 years ago:  “Today’s dawn might be the seventh glorious morning in a row.”)

Have a blest mid-week day

john sj


April 18 – days that look like Spring should feel
Posted on April 18, 2016 by

Monday, April 18   —  leaves, & flowers waking up
Must be spring.  I checked Weather.com’s allergy tracker this morning, a respiratory seasonal ritual for me and for many others.  Worth it, though,  Today’s dawn might be the seventh glorious morning in a row.  Campus trees and flowers begin to show their stuff.  Adults and children skip and laugh.    Yesterday, two girls (8 years old?) played among older people come to watch Detroit Mercy’s women’s softball team play Green Bay’s.  The girls, one African American, one Caucasian, ran and laughed with reckless abandon and filled our urban space with . . .  with Spring.

A year ago on a similar morning the season’s sheer beauty led me to Gerard Manley Hopkins, s.j.   “The Windhover’s beauty of word and sound  match these days.  Even if it takes two or three readings to adapt your ear to his word play, it’s worth it.   Hopkins is  [in]famous for the packed meaning of his vocabulary.    His life-long friend Robert Bridges often ground his aesthetic teeth at what seemed to him to be GMH’s unnecessary complexity.   On November 6, 1887, Hopkins wrote Bridges, attempting to explain the density of his language.  Try reading GMH’s explanation out loud.   Did GMH tease his frustrated Poet Laureate friend by creating a single sentence that never seems to run out of breath?

“Plainly if it is possible to express a subtle and recondite thought on a subtle and recondite subject in a subtle and recondite way and with great felicity and perfection in the end,  something must be sacrificed, with so trying a task, in the process, and this may be the being at once, nay perhaps even the being without explanation at all, intelligible.”

Have a blest week,


john sj

Today’s Post:   “The Windhover: To Christ our Lord”

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in
his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy!  then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl
and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,–the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valor and act, oh, air, pride, plume here
Buckle!  And the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it:  shéer plốd makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, a my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

Gerard Manley Hopkins  28 July 1844 – 8 June, 1889
Posted on May 13, 2015 by mission-and-identity

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April 2 — a new poet the second day of Easter

Monday, April 2  – “Call yourself alive?”

Easter, like Lent in the Christian tradition, unfolds over 40 days;  its stories are alive with hope emerging from grim times.  A poet friend of 40 years lives in and around the wide world, turning what might appear as a blur of hustle and fatigue into depth and wonder.  She notices.  When she writes what has caught her attention, I expect surprises.

When I read her subject line yesterday, “an Easter poem for John,” I let myself slow down and breathe a little.  Then I read Nina Cassian, a new poet for me.  “Temptation” helps me awake into this year’s 40 days of Easter.

Best to read aloud, with pauses and breathing.  Have a blest day this second day of April.

john sj


from: “Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times,” page 48

Call yourself alive?  Look, I promise you
that for the first time you’ll feel your pores opening
like fish mouths, and you’ll actually be able to hear
your blood surging through all those lanes,
and you’ll feel light gliding across the cornea
like the train of a dress. For the first time
you’ll be aware of gravity
like a thorn in your heel,
and your shoulder blades will ache for want of wings.
Call yourself alive?  I promise you
you’ll be deafened by dust falling on the furniture,
you’ll feel your eyebrows turning to two gashes,
and every memory you have — will begin
at Genesis.

By Nina Cassian
27 November 1924 – d. 14 April 2014

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Holy Thursday – Naomi Shihab Nye – “Missing the Boat”

Thursday,  March 29

You could imagine that today’s poet, Naomi Shihab-Nye, had read Monday’s post where I tipped my hat and even bowed my head to remember my soul friend Connie di Biase.   About our long shared love, I wrote “Over 4 decades of kinship, Connie de Biase and I partnered in a mutual commitment to noticing.”  Noticing creates a habit of expecting that you live in a world alive with graceful surprises.   They open you to unexpected wonder and unlock hope when grief or fear or just mean crankiness seem to assume the power to lock down your imagination in a prison of dead-ends.

Like today’s poet, Connie loved to tease, or even scold . . . “You are stuck just now, aren’t you?  Missing your own beauty, treating your own self with meanness that you would never inflict on the people of your life.  GET A LIFE!  You are beautiful and beloved just as you are.”  Connie was never so alive with beauty as when she showed you that she noticed your own unique beauty, and she never scolded except when you were missing the boat and getting lost in gloom. When she noticed that, she rose to heights of insight and teasing that could fill your imagination for a lifetime.

No wonder so many people miss her voice.  No wonder, too, “Missing the boat” catches my attention during these days of Christian Holy Week,  makes me laugh and then apologize for the grace I’d been missing.  Have a blest Thursday.

john sj


Today’s Post – “Missing the Boat”

by Naomi Shihab-Nye

It is not so much that the boat passed
and you failed to notice it.
It is more like the boat stopping
directly outside your bedroom window,
the captain blowing the signal-horn,
the band playing a rousing march.

The boat shouted, waving bright flags,
its silver hull blinding in the sunlight.

But you had this idea you were going by train.

You kept checking the time-table,
digging for tracks.

And the boat got tired of you,
so tired it pulled up the anchor
and raised the ramp.

The boat bobbed into the distance,
shrinking like a toy—
at which point you probably realized
you had always loved the sea.

Naomi Shihab Nye Different Ways to Pray- Breitenbush Publications, 1980

Naomi Shihab Nye
(b. March 12, 1952)


Connie di Biase
(d. February 10, 2017)

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March 26 – Monday of Holy Week — > Connie de Biase ( † Feb 10, 2017, c. 6:15 pm)

March 26 2018  –  “a mutual commitment to noticing”

Over 4 decades of kinship, Connie de Biase and I partnered in a mutual commitment to noticing.   Now that she’s left us,  I miss her most on Saturday mornings when driving into center city to buy community bread.    While I drove home, we talked about the condition of our inner lives.  Through Connie’s last year, our talk was more brave and sad as she recognized her growing diminishment, her grief at losing the life in Madison that she loved and lived so gracefully.  Ignatius calls such talk paying attention to “inner disturbances,”  both  consolations and desolations.   Noticing.

originally posted January 23, 2017 (c, 2 weeks before she died)

Perhaps this Denise Levertov poem came to mind because I flew into JFK Saturday, braved Long Island’s expressways with their too tight turns matched by slightly-too-narrow lanes, to spend time with my dying soul friend, Sr. Consuela de Biase, csj.   Connie has become frail, like the ancient poet in today’s poem.  She misses nothing, I realized, but you have to lean in close to hear;  worn with fatigue, she whispers, and pauses to breathe.  We visited three times  (c. 90 minutes,  25 minutes, and 4 or 5 when we said goodbye before I headed back to JFK early Sunday).  I love it that the 40 mile drive on the parkway was wearing;  it reminds me that those miles and our 3 conversations are of a piece with decades of mutual listening, the fabric of Connie’s life.

Monday of Holy Week, 2018

In today’s poem Denise Levertov writes of an ancient poet whose frail strengths remind me of my friend.   This Monday of Holy Week, so fresh with sun and crisp winds might tempt you to open your window or step outside so you can read “In Love” while bathed in beauty, and breathing a little too.

Have a blest Holy Week.

johns sj

Today’s Post   “In Love”

Over gin and tonic (an unusual treat) the ancient poet
haltingly —not because mind and memory
falter, but because language, now,
weary from so many years
of intense partnership,
comes stiffly to her summons,
with unsure footing —
recounts, for the first time in my hearing, each step
of that graceful sarabande, her husband’s
last days, last minutes, fifteen years ago.

She files her belongings freestyle, jumbled
in plastic bags — poems, old letters, ribbons,
old socks, an empty picture frame;
but keeps her fifty years of marriage wrapped, flawless,
in something we sense and almost see —
diaphanous as those saris one can pass through a wedding ring.

Denise Levertov  1923 – 1997

Connie laughing,  smiling,  contemplative  August 2006

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march 23 – “Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things,” Naomi Shihab Nye

Friday March 23, 2018
“Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,”

Last year in early March, a friend emailed me some lines from Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Kindness.”  She  connects kinship and love with other elements of living that can wear us down.  In her poem, meanness and violence become a context for enduring kindness.  No wonder my friend thought to send “Kindness” in these times.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Still nippy here (20 degrees and sunny; the weekend dawns on us.  Our sister university, Loyola of Chicago has scrambled into the elite 8 after a show-stopper finish and their 98 year old chaplain Sr. Jean).

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)

post script: In another sister school  Loyola High School on 5 Mile in Detroit, Ann Riley has mentored these boys for many years and sent this picture.  (N.b.,  “Our guys” would be the boys carrying this homeless man to his funeral.  Posting the picture on Facebook gave him a name and connected him with his daughter.  Her post makes a footnote to Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Kindness.”)

Ann Riley explained in her post.  “Six of our guys volunteered to be pall bearers for a homeless man that St. Clare of Montefalco held a funeral service for.  We posted a picture of our guys on Loyola’s Facebook, and this is one of the responses we got.”

Marlita N. Chapman I am the Daughter of Henry Stanton…. and because of this Picture being posted on Social Media & by Patrick Harbin Jr my family was able to discover the loss of our loved one, who had been missing for quite some time…. on behalf of my brothers, myself and the rest of my family. We would like to say “Thank you” and extend our deepest gratitude to the young men of Loyola High School…who served as pallbearers, to St. Clare of Montefalco Parish and to Verheyden Funeral Home for providing a proper Burial Service. Although we are deeply devastated to discover the loss of our father this way… it gives us a little peace knowing he was laid to rest. Henry Stanton is Loved by his family and will be truly, truly missed. Please keep us in your prayers and thank you again to all who participated in his funeral services our hearts ache finding out a day too late. Daddy! Take care of Mom

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March 21 – in hard times beauty can take us by surprise

Wednesday March 20    “add texture and evoke delight”

The poetry list was born from an intuition that in hard times,  it’s important to watch one’s vocabulary.  Some days “hard times” come at us as relentless gloomy weather, sometimes with frightening news from some place in the world, sometimes savage grief from a terrible loss. Poetry engages our imaginations on good days and bad.

Here’s the lead theme statement that appeared on day one of the Post September 25, 2013.  It has served as the blog’s lead-off banner ever since, 565 poem-posts ago.

“In easy times you don’t have to be so careful about your language; you will spontaneously find playful words, wise with kindness.  In hard times it helps to pay attention to word choices lest we slide into cynical, frightened or bitter language that biases our imaginations.  The poems or sacred texts in these posts are beautiful, just the thing to pay attention to in hard times.” ~john sj

One of the list’s readers wrote this poem about 5 days ago and had the kindness to send it.  Simple, clean language that touches my heart.   Yours too, I’d bet.   It’s short; best remember to pause and breathe.

Blessings to you in mid-week.


john sj


Today’s post – anonymous

glowing barren branches

glisten in the dawn


the beauty of this morning’s light

transforms the disheveled state of the yard

and my spirit


leaves left to overwinter and decay on the lawn

add texture and evoke delight

not despair



february 26, 2018

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