May 25 – a Memorial Day Contemplation

“To attach oneself to place is to surrender to it, and suffer with it.”

Fear and anxious anger may be the primary distraction of this current cluster of years, pretty much all over the world.   St. Ignatius, my mentor of 500 years ago, teaches that the main temptation of “the enemy of our human nature” (his term for the devil) is distraction  — to absorb my inner attention about something that isn’t so very important, to draw my inner eye away from my deepest graces, replacing joy with anxiety and to fuss about the wrong things.

Maybe that’s why Kathleen Norris came to mind today.   She writes words that open deep into ordinary living.   In 1974, after learning her way into New York City’s world of poetry with mentoring from the legendary Betty Kray at the Academy of American Poets (, Kathleen and her husband shocked their East Coast peers by moving to Lemmon in northwestern South Dakota where Kathleen had inherited the family home of her grandmother.  They stayed a long time.

In 1993, her Dakota: A Spiritual Geography took the literary world by storm.  Took me by storm too.  If a book of micro essays, some only half a page, ever approaches the taut, lean focus of strong poetry, for me this is the book.  In those South Dakota years she became friends with vast horizons, and with Benedictine monks at St. John’s Monastery in Minnesota.  She’s written more than one memoir about the intersection of her secularity with the roots of Benedictine prayer and wisdom.

Think of the following four quotes from Dakota as poems.   Best to read them out loud, with pauses in between.

Have a blest day,


john sj

Today’s Post:  Four texts from Dakota

“Once, when I was describing to a friend from Syracuse, New York, a place on the plains that I love, a ridge above a glacial moraine with a view of almost fifty miles, she asked, “But what is there to see?” The answer, of course, is nothing. Land, sky, and the ever-changing light.”

“Maybe the desert wisdom of the Dakotas can teach us to love anyway, to love what is dying, in the face of death, and not pretend that things are other than they are. The irony and wonder of all of this is that it is the desert’s grimness, its stillness and isolation, that brings us back to love.”

“To be an American is to move on, as if we could outrun change. To attach oneself to place is to surrender to it, and suffer with it.”

“For me, walking in a hard Dakota wind can be like staring at the ocean: humbled before its immensity, I also have a sense of being at home on this planet, my blood so like the sea in chemical composition, my every cell partaking of air. I live about as far from the sea as is possible in North America, yet I walk in a turbulent ocean. Maybe that child was right when he told me that the world is upside-down here, and this is where angels drown.”

meadowlark on a fence,   Fog Basin, SD  2008

Kathleen Norris
(born in Washington, D.C. on July 27, 1947)

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