Friday July 24 30,000 Lutheran students in Motown, here’s one young women’s blog

I know the poetry list is on vacation until August, & so am I, sitting in my tiny 1896 wood frame bedroom looking out over Sunset Lake (see the ps below).  However, I just read a piece in today’s Crain’s Detroit Business, a blog by  Cassie Mattheis, one of the c. 30,000 Lutheran high school students who came to town this week.   I love what she wrote about Detroit so I am passing it along.

john sj

p.s.   Yesterday (July 23)  I began my week’s vacation at the 1896 Jesuit non-winterized wood frame villa looking out on Sunset Lake from our 100 year plus c. 100 ft long veranda.  I nap, work out, read, nap some more, play Sheepshead (look it up) with long friends, swim in the c. 90 ft glacier lake, one of 22 lakes in The Chain O’Lakes.  We got here first, back in 1896, when the only other buildings on the lake were the Veterans Hospital for the wounded of the Grand Army of the Republic,  so we have c. 500 feet of shore line, a fine ridge c. 50 ft above the lake.  Like that.

Each morning except Sunday (closed, alas) I come down to the Library about 9:30 for c. 90 minutes and read my emails + some of the world’s best newspapers.

from here .  .  .


You see the lake, the little island on the right is “Esther Williams Island.”   She may have owned it back in the day.

The steep c. 50 ft bank on the east end of the mile long lake, brings prevailing westerlies up over the bank, following Bernouli’s principle, speeding up a bit and cooling the whole house most days.  Yes, we have toilets and running water and wireless.


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June 16 “I ask for a moment’s indulgence to sit by thy side”

Tuesday June 16  —  summer break

This May and early June seemed to dance right by.   Six weeks ago spring arrived, cooler than usual; this week’s mid-June rains, more dense and frequent than usual, bring some flooding and surging leaves and grass and flowers . . . lush early summer.  It is one of summer’s arts to notice beauty as the pace of life eases back.    During a week on Pine Ridge, a Lakota friend reminded me of the 25 year old who, fifty years ago, earned a nickname, “half fast.”  Lots of affection and amusement encapsulated there; a sign of welcome for me I didn’t recognize at first, while I scrambled to keep up with my job and, hardly noticing, lived into adulthood.  Nobody told me about the nickname until years later.  Some beauty, so St. Ignatius teaches, appears while remembering already-lived times and places, tasting them again and letting them teach you what you did not notice at the time.   Some beauty requires standing still and listening to beauty in the present moment.   Remembering and listening, summer is a good time for both.

I come to Pine Ridge each spring to listen to the Meadowlarks sing, and to renew graces of life in this place of beauty and laughter and grief.  The Rez slows my steps and my breathing.  And reminds me that the normal work year has ended and summer has begun.  There’s still plenty of work time but the pace is different.   For you too, I hope.

This is pretty autobiographical for a workday post.  I write today by way of announcing that the Work Day poetry list begins its summer break now, offering me time for gardening, baseball, nordic trac, visiting soul friends, and for reading some poetry.

See you the first Monday in August.  When the posts will begin for the coming year.

Have a blest summer.

p.s.       a recording of the song of the Western Meadowlark.

p.p.s.  Tagore may have written this prayer-poem with summer in mind; I don’t know for sure but it works for me.

Today’s Post –  Gitanjali # 5

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.

Rabindranath Tagore



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June 5 – “Confident Shrug and Twist”

Friday, June 5

My last full day this year on Pine Ridge, fills me with stories of courage and step-by-step achievements and stories of tragic deaths of people too young, some from accidents, some from suicides.  Grief and playful creativity in the stories old friends have told me these days.  Here’s a poem also from an old friend, the poet Denise Levertov.  About shocking failures when over confident, and more deeply shocking, incredible tenderness.   Re-reading this post from last August 20 will be my thank you celebration for time on Pine Ridge this year.

john sj

Today’s Post “Poem Rising by its own Weight”  Denise Levertov

p.s.       An article from today’s Detroit Crain’s Business about an urban vegetable garden a couple miles from our campus in Northwest Detroit;  another rebirth story.

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May 29 – 40 UDM people

Friday, May 29 – a room full of listening

40 UDM people, none of whom knew all of whom before we began, finished an intense day of listening in the President’s Dining Room by walking across campus to Lansing Reilly, the Jesuit residence, for some way above ordinary things to eat, plus very good IPA’s, Australian wine, and iced water or soda.   Lots of fatigue in that parlor space and lots of kinship.  Listening-generated affection and lots of ideas about the creativity of this process — i.e., using hospitality to gather employees from all sides of the university and inviting story listening to weave a fabric of 40 people which had not existed across those specific 40 people before.   More to come I think.

This morning after a good long sleep, an idea for today’s post caught my attention.   “Make it short.  Make it deep.  Make it fit this Friday for the few people who shared this university process and the many people who work at weaving human fabric across the world.”   That said, this once, I also want to dedicate the poem to the 40 people who have been on my mind a lot these last days.

Have a blest weekend.


john sj

p.s.       I’m heading to Pine Ridge SD Sunday for a week with soul friends there.   I’ll probably post from there once or twice.   Back June 7.

Today’s Post


Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
until now.

David Whyte, Where Many Rivers Meet

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May 27 – “anyway”

Wednesday, May 27  —  a call to the margins

Tomorrow about 40 UDM women and men will gather in the President’s Dining Room for an all-day conversation about the identity of the university.   Using digital media and the ancient art of listening, we will try to teach each other about the word “margins,” this year’s theme for Heartland Delta 7.  What are we schools about?  What grace shows itself when we are working and when we pause to listen?   I hope we surprise one another and come away changed. predicts a sun splashed day, breezy too.

Yesterday morning a friend read this poem written by Mother Theresa; I’d not heard it in years.  Did me good; you too?   Read it out loud with pauses; there may be a blessing here as some of us gather tomorrow.

Have a blest day,


john sj

Today’s Post – “Anyway”

People are often unreasonable and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you.
Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be good enough.
Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end,  it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

Mother Teresa

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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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