May 22 – Revolutionary Love

Friday May 22 – “Balancing Our Economic Realities with Our call to the Margins”  Heartland-Delta 7

Last evening 33 UDM women and men gathered in the Lansing Reilly front parlor area for a 3 hour conversation.  We came to prepare for next Thursday’s Virtual Heartland-Delta Conference.   Our invitation process included consultations from all three campuses.  We looked for a group that looked & sounded as much like UDM as possible.  We had faculty from most of the colleges, staff from all three campuses, some senior administrators, some old timers and some people very new to our world, some Mercy and Jesuit representation too.

After some schmoozing over a light supper — sandwiches and salads, beer, wine, coffee, tea, soda, icy water, and cookies — we introduced ourselves by name and budget area.  I don’t think anyone in the room knew everyone.  We had arranged people in 6 tables looking ahead to next Thursday and used last night to begin a communal life for the people of each table.    “Every person’s stories are worth the listening.  Story listening is maybe more important than story telling.” We suggested the following focus questions.

  • Why did I come to UDM?  Why do I stay?
  • What’s the heart of what I do here?
  • From the perspective of where I work and what I do, how do I see UDM’s relationship with its core defining adjectives — “Catholic,” “Mercy,” “Jesuit,” and “Urban.”
  • What encourages me?  What wears on me?
  • The theme of the conference is “Balancing our Economic Realities with Our Call to the Margins.”  How would you define “Margins”?  How define “our economic realities” and how define “our”?

No one, as far as I could see, wanted to stop.  When we gathered as a whole group for the last 20 minutes, body language said a lot: conversations in twos, in threes, in fours, people leaning toward each other in a room lively with listening.    I woke this morning with the feel of the room in those closing minutes, and looked for a strong poem.    Readers of this list will probably recognize today’s post as one of my soul poems.    Denise Levertov wrote this about the love between a woman and a man but last evening got me feeling that it works for a group of people who share life in a challenging university and a challenging city suffused with the beauty of kinship.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Have a great weekend.


john sj

Today’s Post – “Prayer for Revolutinary Love”

That a woman not ask a man to leave meaningful work to follow her
That a man not ask a woman to leave meaningful work to follow him.

That no one try to put Eros in bondage
But that no one put a cudgel in the hands of Eros.

That our loyalty to one another and our loyalty to our work
not be set in false conflict.

That our love for each other give us love for each other’s work
That our love for each other’s work give us love for one another.

That our love for each other’s work give us love for one another.
That our love for each other give us love for each other’s work.

That our love for each other, if need be,
give way to absence.  And the unknown.

That we endure absence, if need be,
without losing our love for each other.
Without closing our doors to the unknown.

Denise Levertov

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May 18 – Thomas Merton

Monday May 18 – “Let no one touch this gentle sun  —   In whose dark eye  —  Someone is awake.”

A weekly selection of 7 poems, from “A Year of Being Here,” confronted me this morning with a short demanding poem written by Thomas Merton.  More than many sacred writers, Merton dove deep into the secular west (Paris, London, New York), into Trappist monastic living (Gethsemani Abby from entrance on Dec 10, 1941 until his accidental death Dec 10, 1968), into Eastern Mysticism in creative tension with Western mysticism.    Mystics respect the poverty of human language. Words are not the author’s property, contained and owned.  Words are not the reader’s property either.  The poet’s words invite you to find yourself somewhere — mysterious and alive with awe.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.    Have a blest week.


john sj

Today’s Post – A Song to Nobody


A yellow flower
(Light and spirit)
Sings by itself
For nobody.

A golden spirit
(Light and emptiness)
Sings without a word
By itself.

Let no one touch this gentle sun
In whose dark eye
Someone is awake.

(No light, no gold, no name, no color
And no thought:
O, wide awake!)
A golden heaven
Sings by itself
A song to nobody.



“There is no way of telling strangers they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

                                                Thomas Merton                                   


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May 15 – Maine lives north of Detroit

Friday,  May 15 –  “I watch the spring come slow-ly”

Traveling north-south, south-north during season changing time lets trees and ground plants show their stuff to visitors.  Readers from where I live this Mid-May morning will recognize how much farther north it is in mid-Maine.  Sometimes if we get lucky and have time, we can catch three or four spring-unfolding times with a little traveling.   Poet Rhonda Neshama Waller offers readers to her south a taste of what down here was weeks ago — “warm sun, after a week of rain, hail, snow.”   In Detroit, we’ll touch 80º over the weekend, most of our leaves have spread to full size, tulips have already blown our minds.   Which part of spring is more beautiful?  “Yes.”

Have a great weekend.


john sj

Today’s Post  –  Rhoda Neshama Waller:

“Spring Comes to Maine”


Sonnet May 10

Almost mid-May, I watch the spring come slow-
ly day by day, pale lime-green moving up
from Sheepscot Valley towards my mountaintop,
up here the leaves still furled. Two eagles flew,
late afternoon, just past the east window.
Today, wild violets everywhere I step,
bright golden dandelions on the slope,
warm sun, after a week of rain, hail, snow.
Remembering to match my pace to this,
to note the details of each day’s new turn,
the distant hills still patched with lavender,
deep green of fir, the changing moments pass.
For dinner I’ll have buttered fiddlehead fern,
The daffodils are opening in the grass.

Rhonda Neshama Waller

“Spring Comes to Maine” by Rhoda Neshama Waller. Presented here by poet submission.

Art credit: “Two adults from the local Bald Eagle family,” photograph taken August 19, 2012, near Pembroke, Maine (USA), perhaps

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May 13 – full blown leaves, & flowers

Wednesday, May 13  “ a billion  times told lovelier”

Looks like a fine strong spring day — high pressure, breezy, leaves and flowering trees dancing all around.   A good morning to stand still a minute, breathe in deeply, stand still a little more, and read one of Gerard Manley Hopkin’s magical poems.

Hopkins’ poems are [in]famous for the density of their vocabulary.  If you want to catch all the descriptive meaning packed in these 16 sonnet lines, bring a good dictionary.  Hopkins’ 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 poetic language; try reading GMH’s explanation out loud.  For that matter, try reading “The Windhover” out loud as the poet intended.

“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.”

Don’t you wish you could write like that?  You’d have to have patient friends as readers though.

Have a blest day,


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



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May 11 – summer season begins

Monday, May 11 — “you had better get / your eyes checked / or, better, still, / your diminished spirit”

How many encounters could I remember if I worked at it, when someone took the trouble to tell me, bluntly and lovingly, to pay attention to the way I was not paying attention? — An old Lakota grandmother when I was just 24, her eyes alight with humor, knowing that I was just young. An older Jesuit telling me that I’d pushed too hard, a new priest daunting the congregation unnecessarily. An atheist scholar friend observing that when I spoke at MIT, I excluded my listeners from the heart of my thinking. This list is long and deeply refreshing, people who took the trouble to be allies to me. Their voices run as deep as those of people who worked to be precise when telling me I was beautiful. Mary Oliver writes of clouds to remind us of our allies, when scolding, when celebrating, our pilgrim selves.

Commencement is like that too. A campus full of memories when tough professors criticize and praise. Commencement gives graduates time to celebrate both as the voices of allies.
Every now and then Mary Oliver just smacks me . . . . to get my attention and helps me pay attention to the depths in my life.

Have a good week.


john sj

Today’s Post – Mary Oliver: “The Fist”


There are days
when the sun goes down
like a fist,
though of course

if you see anything
in the heavens
in this way
you had better get

your eyes checked
or, better, still,
your diminished spirit.
The heavens

have no fist,
or wouldn’t they have been
shaking it
for a thousand years now,

and even
longer than that,
at the dull, brutish
ways of mankind—

heaven’s own
Instead: such patience!
Such willingness

to let us continue!
To hear,
little by little,
the voices—

only, so far, in
pockets of the world—
the possibilities

of peace?
Keep looking.
Behold, how the fist opens
with invitation.


“The Fist” by Mary Oliver. Text as published in Thirst: Poems (Beacon Press, 2007).

Art credit: “Hand of Peace,” photograph taken on September 12, 2009, by Aidan McRae Thomson.
 “Peace sculpture on the seafront in Kusadasi [Turkey] town centre in the form of a giant white concrete hand releasing birds.”

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May 8 – Commencement Days

Friday, May 8  “Karim Wasfi . . .  had decided to play amid the wreckage . . .”


“My house is just behind that main street, so it was very symbolic for me to. wake up, grab my cello and walk to that spot, get my cello out of my case, sit by the rubble and the shrapnel and the whole scene of death and the scene of fire and the scene of human beings turning to ashes, and play.  .  .  .  . ”
“Iraqis needed to experience beauty, not just endure one bomb after another.”

These three days — Law, Dental, McNichols mark a pause in the year for the university to breathe and appreciate achievement.  Days about our students and their families, and about their teachers and the host of UDM employees who have mentored those students.  Days of play and pride.   Last night I came across this remarkable piece in The Washington Post.  It did not feel out of place during UDM’s days of celebration.  We base our commitments to teaching and mentoring on the principle that Karim Wasfi made real in the bombed street of his Bagdad city neighborhood.   All the excitement and beauty of commencement never means to whistle past the rubble and the wounds.  Like the Iraqis and life-long,  we need to experience beauty, not just endure . . . “   Commencement weekend’s dancing runs as deep as the years of  tests and assignments that required this year’s students to suck it up, all these years of learning.

To quote cellist Wasfi one more time:  “Why do we keep on doing this?  Because we appreciate beauty and we want to build, not to destroy.”

Blessings on these days.


john sj

Today’s Post: “After car bombs explode, an Iraqi musician shows up with his cello”  Loveday Morris  May 7 Washington Post

The Washington Post article is not very long & its video runs 4:36.   Listening to Karim Wasfi’s playing is today’s poem, wordless and exquisite.


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May 4 – “what fire Burns in him when he sees us move away.”

Monday, May 4    “From Baltimore to Detroit, same fears of police passed down”   Rochelle Riley 

“She spoke for mothers across Baltimore, across the country, including metro Detroit, when she described how so many families are raising their children in fear.  ‘It’s sad to me because I’m raising two black boys,’ Temple said Thursday, keeping her 12-year-old son Darrien close at one of several protests after 25-year-old Freddie Gray was fatally injured in the custody of police officers. His death sparked massive protests, left dozens of buildings burned and caused more than $100 million in damage” (R Riley, 2nd paragraph, Sunday May 3).

This last week of hard news from a sister city, Baltimore, stirs resonances in Detroit.  Damage is damage, wounds are wounds.  We humans are at our best when we carry them with grief and inner attention.   Word from Baltimore where my niece, Terry, her husband Dan, and their children, live and work, has helped me to pay attention this week.  Yesterday, in the Sunday Detroit Free Press, Rochelle Riley helped too; the rest of her column is linked below the poem.

These conversations that began last week in Baltimore and stir truth talking across the country may explain why Ned Balbo’s “Fire Victim” became today’s post.  If you read this poem out loud, Balbo’s flint-hard language can wear on you.  Worth the wear though.

Have a blest week.


john sj

Today’s Post:  Ned Balbo: “Fire Victim”

Posted by Phyllis Cole-Dai on Apr 29, 2015 12:00 am

Once, boarding the train to New York City,
The aisle crowded and all seats filled, I glimpsed
An open space—more pushing, stuck in place—
And then saw why: a man, face peeled away,
Sewn back in haste, skin grafts that smeared like wax
Spattered and frozen, one eye flesh-filled, smooth,
One cold eye toward the window. Cramped, shoved hard,
I, too, passed up the seat, the place, and fought on
Through to the next car, and the next, but now
I wonder why the fire that could have killed him
Spared him, burns scarred over; if a life
Is what he calls this space through which he moves,
Dark space we dared not enter, and what fire
Burns in him when he sees us move away.


“Fire Victim” by Ned Balbo, from Lives of the Sleepers (University of Notre Dame Press, 2005).
Art credit: “Empty BC subway car,” image by unknown photographer, posted on NYC the Blog (09/30/08).

Rochelle Riley, “From Baltimore to Detroit, same fears of police passed down” Detroit Free Press  May 3, 2015

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May 1, time for beauty and some stillness and some play

Friday, May 1, 2015  — time for a little rest

I posted this poem one year of Fridays ago, May 2, 2014.  Bet I am not the only one tired; and glad to see Friday.   A weekend after even campus parking lots get a rest from the press and hustle of student traffic.

I love Tagore, never seem to grow tired of what his poems work in my heart and body and mind.

Read him aloud and breathe a little.  Blessings for this weekend.

john sj

Today’s Post 

I ask for a moment’s indulgence to sit by thy side,
The works that I have in hand
I will finish afterwards.
Away from the sight of thy face
my heart knows no rest nor respite,
and my work becomes an endless toil
in a shoreless sea of toil.

Now is the time to sit quiet,
face to face with thee
and to sing dedication of life
in this silent and overflowing leisure.

Tagore 5

Daffodils at Sunrise – April 1, 2010


p.s.       After Wednesday’s post, one of the list’s readers wrote a cautionary note about spawning run fishing, a wisdom learned from his family of walleye fishermen.  Posted with a tip of my hat to enrich the depth of the original post from Wednesday.

As a Lake Erie walleye fisherman most my life, I don’t believe in fishing for them until at least the middle of May. Let them spawn and get back in the lake then start fishing for them. My uncle Fran, who fishes walleye on Erie every season, hears from guys who go to Sandusky, Toledo, Detroit, and talk about fishermen taking more than they’re allowed and foul hooking them. Maybe if Detroiters and Windsorians stopped the fishing in April there would be more in June, July, for those on the lakes …


On Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 8:41 AM, john staudenmaier sj <> wrote:

Wednesday April 29

“April and May mark the start of the walleye spawn. An estimated 10 million walleye (sander vitreus, if you know your dead languages) migrate from Lake Erie in search of the shallow rocky bed common along the shipping channel of the Detroit River. Here, these tasty fish lay their eggs.   The spring run draws thousands of fishermen, or anglers, to the 24-nautical mile straight.”   Crain’s Detroit News, April 29


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Walleye, The Spring Run and its River

Wednesday April 29

“April and May mark the start of the walleye spawn. An estimated 10 million walleye (sander vitreus, if you know your dead languages) migrate from Lake Erie in search of the shallow rocky bed common along the shipping channel of the Detroit River. Here, these tasty fish lay their eggs.   The spring run draws thousands of fishermen, or anglers, to the 24-nautical mile straight.”   Crain’s Detroit News, April 29


All around us, here in the middle of Detroit, lives abound and follow rhythms older than Detroit’s 312 years, waiting to add drama and texture to the press of our duties and strategies.  Fisher men and women know about the vast spring Walleye spawn; good news about the river that it hosts these millions, a sign of water health.

Today’s poet, Mary Oliver, knows that other startling living beings will send us a blessing if we pause to notice.

Read out loud if you can, pause here and there.

Have a good day.


john sj

Today’s Post  The Lark

And I have seen,
At dawn,
The lark
Spin out of the long grass

And into the pink air—
Its wings,
Which are neither wide
Nor overstrong,

The pectorals
Ploughing and flashing
For nothing but altitude—

And the song
All the while
From the red throat.

And then he descends,
And is sorry.
His little head hangs,
And he pants for breath

For a few moments
Among the hoops of the grass,
Which are crisp and dry,
Where most of his living is done—

And then something summons him again
And up he goes,
His shoulders working,
His whole body almost collapsing and floating

To the edges of the world.
We are reconciled, I think,
To too much.
Better to be a bird, like this one—

An ornament of the eternal.
As he came down once, to the nest of the grass,
“Squander the day, but save the soul,”
I heard him say.

in  What Do We Know (2002)


Mary Oliver  September 1935 –

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April 27 – End of Term time –> “I want to free what waits within me” (R. M. Rilke)

Monday April 27 – “Never Yet Been Spoken”

The last exam days for Term 2, a week for bringing 15-week-long tasks to completion, for student goodbyes to campuses, some heading off to Commencement and its powerful goodbyes.  These past several days, too, a group of students and faculty were led by University Ministry to an immersion trip in El Salvador, and another group headed off to inner city Baltimore, and still a third drove off campus c. 4:00 am in a university van heading to Fr. Cavanagh’s and Professor Mary Lou Casper’s annual hiking retreat in Shenandoah National Park.  I can remember one of those groups stopping by my Southwest Philadelphia Jesuit house while I lived there doing PhD work at The University of Pennsylvania, and that was in the late 1970s.  No surprise that the Appalachian hiking retreat has embedded itself in UDM spring rituals.

A friend sent me this Rilke poem the other day; as I read it, I wondered that I’d not posted any of this mystical Austrian young man’s poems until now.  As you watch our students live through the end of the term and say some goodbyes that may prove only temporary, but may run deeper than that, you might find “I believe in all that has never yet been spoken” a help to imagine students at this moment of the year.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest week.

john sj

Today’s Post – “I Believe in All That Has Never Yet Been Spoken”

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for
may for once spring clear
without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.


Rainer Maria Rilke     1875-1926

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