Jan 21 – Martin Luther King Jr

Tuesday, January 21  “Deeds, not words.”

I have heard this thought expressed many times recently. It’s spoken with a conviction that words have done little to change things in desperate need of change. Words are empty or, worse, they are smokescreens used to cover over unforgivable deeds. And yet, when thinking today of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it seems impossible to separate the man of action from the man of words. I can’t envision the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom without hearing in my mind the cadences of Dr. King’s Dream. I can’t read “Letter From Birmingham Jail” without recalling the narrow cell in which King was imprisoned when he wrote.

“Beloved community,” “a single garment of destiny,” “I have a dream”—these are words of inspiration. These are the first words my daughters will hear in their grade school assemblies this week. But they are words of challenge, too—to us, and for us. How are we to think of violence and nonviolence in the wake of Ferguson, or New York, or Southfield? “I am at war with myself / Having trouble finding the Martin in me,” reveals Obasi Davis, a young poet from Oakland, CA, “Too much anger / Not enough tolerance.”

And yet, today people are gathering to speak with one another. People will come together to remember, and wrestle with, and re-vision communities in which so much is in need of change. I think of Dr. King, and I am both confronted and inspired by the thought it might always take both words and deeds.

Dr. Rosemary Weatherston, from her guest editorial January 19, 2015


I Have A Dream . . . ,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., August 28, 1963
Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., April 1963


Have a blest day,

john st sj


Today’s post “Precious Lord”  Mahalia Jackson

Wikipedia tells us that Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey (1899-1993) wrote “Precious Lord” in response to his inconsolable grief at the death of his wife, Nettie Harper, in childbirth, and his infant son in August 1932.” It was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s favorite song and he often invited Mahalia Jackson to sing it at civil rights rallies. At his request, she sang it at his funeral in April 1968.

Here is a five minute version sung by Jackson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=as1rsZenwNc

“Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me on, let me stand.
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.
Thru the storm, thru the night,
Lead me on to the light.
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

When my way grows drear, precious Lord, linger near,
When my life is almost gone, hear my cry, hear my call,
Hold my hand lest I fall;
Take my hand, precious Lord, Lead me home.”

Mahalia Jackson
October 26, 1911-January 27, 1972


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Jan 15 Rumi – “The Guest House”

Wednesday, January 14— “The Guest House” – Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (جلال‌الدین محمد رومی‎)
“The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.”

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 place alive with realism and laughter, grief and joy.   Best to read this out loud with pauses.

john sj

p.s. I am flying across Lake Michigan this morning for a few days with my three sibs.   I expect that I will post from my home town, Marinette, WI on Friday.  Have a blest day.


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.

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Jan 13 – Jane Kenyon “Happiness . . . the way it turns up like a prodigal. . . “

Monday, January 13 – Jane Kenyon – “There’s just no accounting for happiness”

I’d not met Jane Kenyon until David Grubin caught my attention with her “Happiness” in an email back on a February 2017  morning.   Kenyon gets it about understated, even outrageous, joy emerging from tough work-a-day realities.  She reminds me of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” and W. H. Auden’s “Song.”  It happens that during these days of angry news, I’ve been looking for subtle poems that show us readers playful delight that has paid its dues in grief but are not locked down there.

In severe and dangerous times, strong poetry is more important than in softer times.  Kenyon makes space for both in “Happiness.”  She died young, from leukemia;  her eye for joy stays in our midst.

“Monday, Monday”  – –   Best to read out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest day.

john sj

Sunrise after wind & heavy snow on Pine Ridge   –  March 17, 2019


Today’s Post:   “Happiness”

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.

It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.


Jane Kenyon (b. 1947 – d. 1995 )

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Jan 6 – – Poet Laureate Joy Harjo “Talking with the Sun”

Joy Harjo blessing her 4th grand child near Manhattan’s tall buildings
Monday January 6, 2020

“I hear from my Inuit and Yupik relatives up north that
everything has changed.  It’s so hot;
there is not enough winter.
Animals are confused. Ice is melting.”

Poets who have come to inhabit my imagination since I began the Work Day/Hard Time list in fall of 2013 .  .  .  , each carries her/his own voice, each voice so resonant and particular that on these Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays when I walk around among them, one of them waits to surprise me.  Today is no exception to that rule.  Since we met in 1968 at The Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, Joy Harjo has never stopped surprising me.  This morning, with my ear tuned to so much grief and fearsome angers in the world, “Talking with the Sun” speaks of realism and deep down hope, not unlike a favorite passage from Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings;  it speaks of improbable mirth in a hard time.  Treat it as a second poem perhaps, or as opening access to Today’s Post.

In the wizard’s face he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow;
though as he looked more intently
he perceived that under all there was a great joy:
a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing
were it to gush forth.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest week,

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 Becomes The 1st Native American U.S. Poet Laureate 

June 19, 2019
Heard on  All Things Considered
3 minute listen: https://www.npr.org/2019/06/19/733727917/joy-harjo-becomes-the-first-native-american-u-s-poet-laureate

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

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January 3 – two poems from Mary Tobacco

Friday, January 3  —  two poems written by Mary Tobacco, my soul friend for years; one about coaching a promising young man;  one a birthday poem Mary wrote to me

Post # 1  “a note to a high school boy’s basketball coach”

he is good young man,
yes, his grades aren’t the best, yet.
sure, he is skinny
but, why not give him a chance?
maybe, an opportunity?
help me keep him going in the right direction,
use your influence to motivate him

coaches don’t just choose the obviously best kids that come already made
great coaches recognize potential and bring it out

* * * *              * * * *              * * * *

Post # 2   “you are my dad,  I know what it means because of you and it doesn’t mean I love him any less
                                    my dad wouldn’t mind
                                    he would be thankful.”   [Steve Tobacco died in 1968 in a car accident when Mary was c. 1/2 year old.]

Mary has a record of understanding how to coach Rez children on their way toward maturity as basketball players, and maturity as emerging adults who can live their ways toward a strong and graceful adult presence in their worlds.   She wrote the second poem for my 80th birthday.

you told me a lot of stories and I like hearing them, including the hard ones
it bothers me that that guy hit you with a buckle
it bothers me that the school didn’t support you
but, I like that you didn’t let it keep you away from the rez, away from mom
you came back anyway and all of the good you’ve done!
and the kids are safe, and they’re doing so well  (Legend needs something more, but he’s trying and we’ll keep working on it)

what you do is important and the stories are important
all of those memories are to be shared
and, you’re still creating memories!
like, coming to the rez and sitting by Black Elk, visiting J. Sheehan and being greeted by a meadowlark on a perfectly beautiful day in Manderson, SD

and I don’t mind if you call me your daughter
you are my dad, I know what it means because of you and it doesn’t mean I love him any less
my dad wouldn’t mind
he would be thankful
and mom would love it
she would be the most happy

have a good day!

Mary with two of her kids



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

Monday, 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 contentious 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. 2700 readers.   Best to read out loud with pauses.

Blessings during 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 24 – Christmas Eve, 1946, Marinette Wisconsin

This photo was taken, probably by my Dad, in 1946.  Dr. Redeman, a family friend, was Santa. He visited the homes of parents with children on Christmas Eve in our small town. Three of us four children sit in little chairs, adults behind us, waiting for Santa’s silver chimes outside our front door. Midge, the baby, sits on Mom’s lap on the left. Santa came in and took his black book out of its pouch. He read to us from the gospel of Luke and talked with us about the coming of Jesus into the world. The photo captures our stillness, our attention fixed on this mysterious person. How did Dr. Redemon move us to stillness? Perhaps by the depth of his voice, and its cadence; perhaps by the way he moved, a solemn dancer, with no sign of hurry as he and his Eskimo partner took presents out of large cloth bags, read our names, and placed each one under the tree.

Whoever took the picture captured my attention. The lighting takes me first to Santa’s face and beard and to his hand raised in a good-bye blessing; his poise, mid gesture, makes the entire photo hold its breath. The children show how focused we felt that night, absorbed with wonder. Dr. R taught us that sacred mystery is story telling with no hint of hurrying. All my life since, the pace of my life helps me recognize when I have found the grace to pay attention and not to interrupt.

All of us are better when our life’s pace makes us as still as the children in this 1946 photo. Writing about a moment from childhood makes me grateful for the “Work Day/Hard Times” poetry list. When I write, imagining all of you who read fills me with gratitude and wonder.


john st sj

p.s. It turns out my home-town paper ran a short article, by Larry Ebsch, about Dr.  Redeman, seen above in the 1943 photo.  Here are couple quotes:

“While all Santa’s are special, Dr. Redeman, a dentist, was the star Santa of his era who was honored by the community  with a special tribute in 1952 with a party attended by 210 people at Riverside Country Club.  . . .  His love affair with the Christmas season began in the Northern Marinette County community of Amberg while visiting children of relatives and friends in his Santa Claus suit.  He expanded his performance in 1937 with visits to 41 families dressed in a special fur trimmed costume. . .  announcing his coming by ringing bells . . . the colorful yard decorations attracted national attention during the Great Depression years of the 1930’s.”

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Dec 22 – 6th Antiphon O Rex Gentium – O King of the Nations

Sunday, December 22

Sunday before Christmas

O Antiphon #6   O Rex Gentium – O King of the Nations

O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!

Today’s Post:  “O King of the Nations”

To listen to the Antiphon sung in Gregorian Chant -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwDdEQCtIF4


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Dec 21 – Solstice 5th O Antiphon

Dec 21 shortest daylight = solstice

Saturday, 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.

Have a good day,

john sj

Dec 21 – 5th Antiphon O Oriens – O Dayspring

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


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

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

I am still in the working class suburb down river from Baden, PA.  The Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden and I 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 2019 turns toward 2020.  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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