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

Thursday,  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 with students and most faculty settling into a time for rest, naps, and kinship times.  I drove out yesterday morning 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, deep into December’s winter,  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 calls the interruption of the night “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.  The O Antiphon sings of Adonai as Lord and Leader appearing in the fire of the burning bush of Moses in the Sinai.

Best to read the poem out loud,  with pauses.   Today’s early winter sky dawns with crystal clear sunshine and a medley of gusty winds and traces of cloud.  When the winter night’s dance arrives,  may its precious dark 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.

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 with O Antiphon 1: “O Sapientia”

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 and dawning joy.   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 ourselves and of the women and men among whom we live.  When I follow the news and bring my 2019 awareness into the antiphons, they help me walk the world a little taller and with attentive sensual awareness.

May these prayers do something like that for you too.  D. H. Lawrence, of Lady Chatterley fame, wrote poetry as well.  Here is an Advent prayer if there ever was one.   Blessings for each of the coming seven “O antiphon” days.

john sj

Today’s Post  “the three strange angels”

“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 16 — the last day before the Seven “O Antiphons” begin

Monday, December 16  –   “I am going to smuggle some more of your laughter into this poem”

Today has a feeling of wrapping things up for this semester — even though academic work remains in many parts of the university for next week.  When undergrads finish exams, most of our younger citizens at Detroit Mercy pack and head out to Christmas break.  More and more faculty finish all their grading labors and begin to taste the fresh air of break time.  And, for someone who has loved the great seven O Antiphons (December 17-24) today opens toward a thrilling place in the year’s seasons.

It’s a good moment to post  Dr. Fatemeh Keshavarz’s “O Highly Praised One” (i.e., “English translation of “Mohammad”) with its playful jokes in the heart of the sacred, a contemplative prayer of praise.   Placing it immediately before the seven “O Antiphons” celebrates this university’s Roman Catholic roots as well as our place in Detroit where the wide world’s faith traditions live together.

“O Antiphons” begin tomorrow and end on Christmas eve.  No promises about when the next post will appear, but last year the next poem was posted on New Year’s eve day.

Have a blest break, alive with surprises,  grateful memories,  deep affection.


john sj

Today’s Post:  O Highly Praised One! 

My poems are silent about you, o highly praised one!
Where I live
You are exiled to impossible conversations walled up inside sound bites
And among not so funny cartoon figures that smell of ominous things
Divested of your famous smile, soft clean hands, and rose-scented perfume
You order your dim-witted followers
To hide bombs inside the folds of an oversized turban that history does not remember you to have worn … ever

History says you had curly black hair resting playfully on your shoulders
Gentle but penetrating eyes
An upright figure
A firm – but not haughty – voice
And a somewhat reserved – even bashful- personality
I was not surprised to read about your habit of sitting with your legs folded under and saying “I am not a proud king.”

No one had bothered to tell me that you recommended kind words to be the best type of alms for Muslims to give.

I never thought collections of your sayings would have funny anecdotes like when you said to this man who prayed too loud “Do not hurt your throat my son, the all mighty is not deaf.”
Then you added wisdom to laughter
“He lives in you … and knows how you live your life.”

Few biographers speak of your humor
They figure blood, blind anger, and other heart wrenching things go better with the war on terror
But I am going to smuggle some more of your laughter into this poem anyway:
One day, a dying woman asked you “Would a sick old retch like me be allowed into paradise?” “No” you answered with a straight face “you will be young and healthy by the time you get there.”

We need your humor, O highly praised One!
We need it now more than ever
Teach me how to smile
As I tear the veil of despair to reach your figure obscured
By that of Ben Laden and other “Abu”s and “Ibn”s
Obscured by the yellow mushroom clouds manufactured with anxiety and ignorance,
layer upon layer of not knowing and not wanting to know

Teach me to take in and cherish every glimmer of hope
The rays of tranquility that emanate from the perfect diction of peace be upon you!
Teach me to be that peace

Let me dream about flaunting my friendship with you
The way grandma publicized the perfection of your arched eyebrows which she saw in a dream so long ago she could not remember when

In her dream, you stood upon a hill far and near – and luminous with daylight
She stepped close
And closer to the foot of the hill and fragrance in the air overwhelmed her senses
From that point on she remembered little
Except the perfection of your bright face and arched eyebrows
Which echoed in the soft tremor in her voice
As she whispered under her breath:

Dr. Fatemeh Keshavarz
A poet and scholar, she holds The University of Maryland’s Roshan Chair Persian Studies


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Dec 11 — e e cummings, “a little church”

Wednesday, December 11  “around me surges a miracle of
birth and glory and death and resurrection”

A  mid-December day:  lots of scrambling these days inside and across our work lives. Here’s one of e.e. cummings’ poems praising the timeless beauty that underlies our generosities, our anxieties, and the demands they make on us. It could be called an Advent poem, interrupting today’s agenda, inviting attention and stillness.


Have a blest day.


john sj

p.s. Consolations:  small, medium and large yesterday as soul friends from my life took the occasion of my 80th birthday to remind me that they see beauty in my life.    I woke today tasting their beauty in mine.


Today’s Post: “i am a little church (no great cathedral)”

far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
–i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth’s own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying) children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope, and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish) at peace with nature
–i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring, i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)

e. e. cummings

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Monday of Week 2 of the Advent Season

Monday of Week 2 of the Advent Season
“Companion is the one who eats the same bread.” -Dom Helder Camera

Monday, December 9, 2019

This show stopping photo was not taken this year; predicts a rain-drenched day, temps touching the 50s; so the view outside my window this year doesn’t take my breath away; just an ordinary work day.   This Monday, though, begins the second week of Advent, a season of outrageous promises mostly from Isaiah.  Advent’s prophets are meant to be read out loud, taken seriously, placed in tension with our gloomiest predictions of the mean world’s worst.   Here are some verses from Isaiah 35, the prophecy for the beginning of Advent’s second week.

“The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”

The pic at the beginning of the post was taken four years ago on this same second Monday of Advent (December 9 that year).   Sometimes Detroit is gloomy; sometimes exquisite.  For more than 4 million people, metro Detroit is home no matter its weather.

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 some years ago.

Dom Helder Camera February 7, 1909, FortalezaBrazil – August 27, 1999.  He 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 Sisters of St. Joseph 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 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.

Here is one of his sayings.    Read it like a poem, out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest work week.

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.”

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Dec 6 – David Whyte – “The Journey”

Friday, December 6

David Whyte introduces this poem as leaving and losing,  divorce of a dear friend as she leaves her marriage.  How many losses of a deep love have readers of the Work Day list lived?  Not all are divorces;  some tearing losses begin with dying.   Is there any grief more powerless than when I come to tell a soul friend goodbye, when I must be the one to look my soul friend in the eye and we hold our look a long time; but finally, I must walk out the door where s/he continues to die.   No matter the loss, we find ourselves living our way into the vast absence that opens in us.

David Whyte first explains how this poem came to him;  then he reads it.  Perhaps listening to his introduction (, then let him read “the journey,” then step away from where you have been listening, breathe a while, then read the poem in your own voice, with pauses.

Have a blest Advent weekend.

john sj


Today’s Post:   The Journey

Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again

Painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be
inscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

first, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes of your life.

You are not leaving.
Even as the light fades quickly now,
you are arriving.

November 2, 1955 –

House of Belonging by David Whyte

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Advent Wednesday Week I

Wednesday,  December 4
“imagine grief as the
outbreath of beauty”

November 29 was the anniversary of Bill Pauly’s sudden death at 59, 2006, of a heart attack.  That year Bill played inside a lovely sabbatical after years of demanding pastoring on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation in western South Dakota.  Before Pine Ridge, Bill had been pastor in a South Milwaukee Hispanic parish.  Bill is a soul friend and I miss him at this time.   He loved beauty, and hospitality, and play, and sacred stillness.   Partly because of the date he died and partly because of the way he lived, Bill lives in my imagination as an Advent figure.  He did not fear grief or fatigue.

Bill also introduced me to the poet Mary Oliver.  There’s a lot of him in today’s post, “Wage Peace,” and a lot of Advent too.  Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest Wednesday when the weather looks to be teasing winter from a safe distance.

john sj


Today’s Post – Mary Oliver – “Wage Peace”

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 fields.
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.


Advent Creche

Advent Angel, Hummel;  Lakota medicine pouch, Don Montileaux;  Celtic cross, Waterford


ps Today is Art McGovern’s birthday;  he is another Advent saint for me.  On May 25, 2000, I posted this eulogy from Chestnut Hill, MA where I was finishing two years as the Gasson Chair at Boston College.

My buddy Art died this afternoon.

He had breakfast as he normally did but by lunch time he had clearly taken a turn toward dying.  By 2:00 when I heard about it, he did not seem to be very conscious.  Two Jesuits, John McGrail and Pat Kelly, anointed him and were with him as he died.   It happened that I called his room, in the hope of saying goodbye should he be able to hear me still, just moments after he died.  The nurse, a Jesuit named Harry Sanford whom I’ve just met and like a great deal, was kind enough to put the phone by Art’s ear anyway and I told him goodbye.   I will miss his company very much.

john sj

Art McGovern’s tree near the Jesuit Chapel, 2014

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Dec 2 — brave women, the anniversary of their violent murders 1980 El Salvador

Monday, December 2, 2019
“turned in the air together
and landed backwards!
that’s what got me —
to face into the wind’s teeth.”

On days offering anniversaries of courage and violence,   flint-hard poetry can recall bravery to match meanness.  On this date, December 2, 1980, four American women, Maura Clark and Ita Ford (Maryknoll sisters), Dorothy Kazel (Ursuline sister), and Jean Donovan a single young woman, were raped, murdered, and buried in Salvadoran shallow graves by out-of-uniform Salvadoran soldiers. Their murders evoked a response in the U.S. that galvanized opposition to U.S. funding for the Salvadoran military.  

Today’s poet, William Carlos Williams almost certainly never met Ita, Maura, Dorothy and Jean, but he would have recognized them.  His metaphor of two acrobatic starlings, in so short a poem, helps me to breathe, and “face into the wind’s teeth” again now in 2019.    Perhaps these women,  39 years after they gave up their lives, can dance onto the wires and refresh our imaginations in our hard times.

Have a blest week . . . and a blest December, home of my favorite season, 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


Brave women.                         


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Tuesday, Nov 26, deep into November – Gerard Manley Hopkins sj

Tuesday, Nov 26, deep into November

This delicate and demanding Hopkins speaks of the power and beauty of ordinary human sadness.  Pretty much every work day in the year invites our attention to work-pressure but also to what we notice when we pause, breathe, and invite stillness into the pace of living.  “Have you breathed yet today”?  This has been a question many women and men, soul friends, plant lightly in the hustle of my life,  and I plant in theirs.  This morning, that question brings me back to Len Waters, sj.  Len taught me and other college age young adults in his classes and challenged us to believe that our lives are alive with beauty, that sadness opens us to beauty as fresh as playfulness does.   Len taught us to keep what he called a “Commonplace Book,”  small enough to fit in a shirt pocket so that when some extraordinary sound or sight or memory or piece of poetry catches our attention, we could stop where we are, take out our battered little book, find words that want our attention precisely then and there so that the commonplace moment can come alive with remembering, again and again.

The “Work Day in a Hard Time,” now in the list’s sixth year, comes from Fr. Waters teaching when he taught me in my early twenties.   I miss him still.   Reading this Hopkins poem slowly, with pauses, reminds me of what I owe this great mentor.  Let me tip my hat to Len and to a host of great teachers who have anointed generations of students and their peers here at Six Mile and Livernois.

Have a blest week as we catch a hint of Thanksgiving.


john st sj


Spring and Fall
By Gerard Manley Hopkins
   to a young child

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Near the Jesuit cemetery, Colombiere Center November 28, 2006


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