Nov 30 – Turning Toward Advent

First Monday of Advent November 30 –  “Companion is the one who eats the same bread.”

Yesterday morning when I opened the blinds in my room, snow traceries on the courtyard cloister walk roofs took my breath away.   A few minutes later I remembered that Advent begins today.   Because of Advent, and the move from Advent into Christmas and the turning of the year, and because of the coming of winter, these days begin my favorite of the 12 months.

Here’s a look out my window over the courtyard a week ago after our 1st notable snow.  The window looks West so the rising sun is just peeking over the roof of our 3 story Jesuit house.   I leaned out my window to breathe and taste the air and my iPhone caught bands of light: high up = clean early dawn sun on the trees carrying the day-before’s snow;   middle = pale light on the lower branches and the roof of the community courtyard (which was built in 1926) and the courtyard itself is almost invisible because very little light was reaching it yet.   Sometimes Detroit is tough; sometimes it’s beautiful.

First Snow - Nov 2015

Have a blest work week.

john sj

p.s. 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 two 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 people 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 of a 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.

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.”

Dom Helder Camera

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Nov 25 – “If only I were a candle in the dark”

Wednesday, November 25 —  the  U.S. Thanksgiving Day break

Each year on this day our campus eases toward stillness.   Students have headed out to where they will gather for the most peace-oriented of the U.S. national holidays.  The non-academic side of campus heads in the same direction later this afternoon.  The university’s new main entrance inches closer to its finished state, exciting lots of university on-lookers.  Some in our community carry sharp griefs, news of illnesses taking threatening turns, gatherings to cherish people who have died very recently, some like Justin Schaffer, a volunteer in the city of Detroit,  or the adult children of Betty Nelson and Victoria Spalone, each too young by far.   All of us hear, cannot avoid hearing, hateful talk and fearful talk.  All of us can listen to voices of sheer beauty that we find ourselves able to speak to one another.

Lots of us pray for the grace of a break from mean spirits during these few days and for the taste of sacred beauty on our tongues.   Strong poetry, a poet friend likes to say, places every word carefully with flint-hard, tender language, opening readers to grief and joy sometimes so close together that they touch.

Best to read the poem out loud.


john sj

Today’s Post:   Mahmoud Darwish wrote the poem about the 1982 Israeli 88 day siege of Beirut

“Think of Others”

As you prepare your breakfast, think of others
(do not forget the pigeon’s food).
As you conduct your wars, think of others
(do not forget those who seek peace).
As you pay your water bill, think of others
(those who are nursed by clouds).
As you return home, to your home, think of others
(do not forget the people of the camps).
As you sleep and count the stars, think of others
(those who have nowhere to sleep).
As you liberate yourself in metaphor, think of others
(those who have lost the right to speak).
As you think of others far away, think of yourself
(say: “If only I were a candle in the dark”).

The original Arabic:

فكِّر بغيركَ

وأنتَ تُعِدُّ فطورك، فكِّر بغيركَ
لا تَنْسَ قوتَ الحمام
وأنتَ تخوضُ حروبكَ، فكِّر بغيركَ
لا تنس مَنْ يطلبون السلام
وأنتَ تسدد فاتورةَ الماء، فكِّر بغيركَ
مَنْ يرضَعُون الغمامٍ
وأنتَ تعودُ إلى البيت، بيتكَ، فكِّر بغيركَ
لا تنس شعب الخيامْ
وأنت تنام وتُحصي الكواكبَ، فكِّر بغيركَ
ثمّةَ مَنْ لم يجد حيّزاً للمنام
وأنت تحرّر نفسك بالاستعارات، فكِّر بغيركَ
مَنْ فقدوا حقَّهم في الكلام
وأنت تفكر بالآخرين البعيدين، فكِّر بنفسك
قُلْ: ليتني شمعةُ في الظلام

Mahmoud_Darwish“Think of Others” by Mahmoud Darwish, from Almond Blossoms and Beyond. Translated from the original Arabic by Mohammed Shaheen. © Interlink Books, 2010.


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Nov 23 – After a First Snow

Monday  November 23 “all the stars stand up and shout”

A long time soul friend sent me this poem over the weekend.  Knocked me over; a strong short poem about the coming of snow and ice to our part of the world.    Metro Detroit is a sprawling city often with notable weather variations.  So on Saturday, some neighborhoods only 10 miles from campus would recognize that the following description could be reworded negatively (beautiful but dangerous for tree limbs and such).  Here at Six Mile and Livernois, the snow fell at a near-perfect temperature (c. 32-35º) and a wind speed slow enough for snow to cling to twigs and branches and roofs and to linger without falling off all night long.   I took this picture when the early sun on Sunday kissed the tops of trees while our house’s courtyard was still in shadows.   I’ve been using the pic as my desktop wallpaper.

First snow of this year and a drop-dead beautiful landscape where I live. says this goes away on Wednesday (50º and sunny) but for a winter lover, it’s a promising beginning.

The pic’s beneath the poem.   Happy week of Thanksgiving.


john sj

Today’s Post- “November 20″

The geese have gone.
The cranes have flown.
The night is cold,

and all the stars stand up
and shout out welcome.


Sunday November 20,  8:20 am

First Snow - Nov 2015

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Nov 20 sun –> snow

Friday November 20 —  the Work Day poetry list is back from its November break and G Stockhausen is heading home to DC

{see G Stock’s Caring Bridge message}

Sharp winds and, compared with an idyllic 1st half of November autumn, cold air is blowing around today:  it’s easy to imagine Winter on its way despite today’s brilliant sunshine:  1-3 inches is predicted for tomorrow.    I looked for a poem about winter and found that I’d posted a good one exactly 1 year less 1 day ago (Nov 21, 2014).   The more I read David Whyte, the more I become a fan.   His “The Winter of Listening” reminds me of a splendid one-liner written decades ago by the mystic Thomas Merton.

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

Have a blest weekend.

john sj

Today’s Post “The Winter of Listening”

No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.

All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.

What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
its presence.

What we strive for
in perfection
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
we desire,

what disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything
we need.

What we hate
in ourselves
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.

Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.

All those years
listening to those
who had
 nothing to say.

All those years
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard.

All those years
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.

And the slow
of remembering
how everything
is born from
an opposite
and miraculous

Silence and winter
has led me to that

So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.

David Whyte


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Nov 9 — on retreat

I doubt that a new post will find its way into this week of stillness and beauty and prayer.   But here’s the one I sent from this same place of retreat last year.   Back to regular order next week Wednesday.

john sj

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Nov 4 – Tagore “a moment’s indulgence”

Wednesday  November 4   “Now is the time to sit quiet”

Packing for my annual Jesuit retreat, on Connecticut’s south shore of the Long Island Sound and on the bank of The Hammonasset River, a tidal estuary with sea birds and marsh grass.  Some breathing time, with short meetings before and after.   Back Wednesday Nov 18.


john st sj


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


Tagore’s poem # 5 in Gitanjali  fits these days


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Nov 2 – The day of all the saints

Monday November 2 – a saint who lived with us,  Art McGovern, sj

This time of year Art McGovern seems to come and find me.  Yesterday was, in the R Catholic calendar, the feast of all the saints.  At the opening of the Sunday 12:30 mass, I invited the congregation to think of some one person who had touched their life and pay attention to her/him as we worshipped.  I hadn’t chosen my own person yet but as we listened to the readings, I settled on Art, who died at 70 in 2000.  Art lived close to the ground — at home with play (“health food is the kind you like so much you feel good while eating it:  my 3 are pretzels, ice cream, and bacon.”) and grief, at home with losses and wins, at home  leading difficult committees, at home with impeccably prepared classes laced with kind teasing and learning (“Fr. McGovern is like feathers; he makes you laugh while  you think hard.” said a student one time).  If someone can be a world class scholar, a beloved teacher, a rabid Ohio State football fan and a kinsman day in and day out . . . .    No surprise he came to mind yesterday.

Last year on October 27, I wrote about the tree we planted for Art while he was living toward his death.  In lieu of a poem, here’s what that tree said to me one year ago.

Have a good week.


john sj

Today’s Post
Monday  October 27, 2014 

After  yesterday’s Sunday noon mass in the Ignatius/McAuley C&F chapel, walking home past the energy of parking lots packed in for the Detroit high school cheerleading competitions,  I stopped in my tracks in front of the tree we dedicated in 1999 for Art McGovern, sj.  It’s leaves were still solid green, contrasting with the yellows of older trees around it.   Sheer beauty surprised me into seeing it fresh.   I went to my room, got my digital camera, and came back to contemplate Art’s tree with the help of a pretty good lens.

For those of you who never knew him, Art was a soul friend for my first twenty years here at Six Mile and Livernois.  He was soul friend for many people,  more beloved, perhaps, than any person who taught and worked here until he died too young of bone cancer at age 70.   In his last months at the Jesuit Colombiere Center in Clarkston,  the staff told us  he set records for the astonishing number of people who came to tell him goodbye.

We planted a tree for him before he died.    Most days I just walk by and  I doubt that bothers Art at all.   Yesterday the tree found me.  “It’s gotten so big!” I whispered.

Stillness and beauty, the blessings of autumn.




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Oct 28 — “Lovely as the roses are, I might rather hide huddled in a cave”

Wednesday October 28  “My life overflows with Death’s toll”

Ordinarily, when people come to the Jesuit Residence for a few days of stillness and prayer, the house welcomes them with just that, stillness and hospitality that makes a place for prayer.   These last weeks, with heavy machinery digging out the space for UDM’s new main entrance, one of our prayer guests found stillness anyway.  S/he wrote this poem to remember a morning’s prayer, when s/he tasted fatigue and the grief from several deaths that came too close in time and very close in the soul.

Right here on McNichols Road, s/he tasted grace.   Best to read the poem out loud.

Enjoy today’s remnants of H Patricia soaking the earth.

john sj

Today’s Post – morning prayer in the city

October Poem


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Oct 26 – Hurrahing in the Harvest – Gerard Manley Hopkins

Monday, October 26  —  {Brilliant sun today.  Autumn’s winsome beauty —> sun rises at 7:59 and sets at 6:36: each day a little shorter and the sun a little lower in the sky, sunrise a little farther to the south.}.    This is a season when how far north or south one lives can get our attention.  I love it that we have a large open space in the north east corner of the McNichols Campus and that McNichols Road (aka 6 Mile) makes our northern boundary a true east-west survey line, keyed to 8 Mile road which dates to the 1789 Northwest Territory mapping project.   All that makes it easier to locate this campus against the majestic march of sunrise all through the year, and reminds that Detroit has been around a while.   Do I go a little nuts in autumn?  Sure do.  You?

19th century Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, loved autumn also (see today’s poem just below)   Even more than most great poets, GMH rewards  investment in the sounds of his language.  Best to read out loud, with pauses, several times.

Have a great day.


john sj


Today’s post   —  14. Hurrahing in Harvest

SUMMER ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks arise
Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour
Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier
Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?

I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,
Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
And, éyes, heárt, what looks, what lips yet gave you a
Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?

And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder
Majestic—as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet!—

These things, these things were here and but the beholder
Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart rears wings bold and bolder
And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet.

g m hopkins, sj
July 1844 – June 1889

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Oct 23 – Autumn’s russet colors

Friday, October 23  “not grandeur,  nor fear . . .  affection”

Pretty much everyone I know around here is slamming work these days, the heavy equipment pushing and growling as skilled workers build the university’s new main entrance on 6 Mile could be a metaphor for lots of us as we hustle from task to task, honoring our commitments to mid-term grades rooted in the integrity of the challenges we open with our students, and our commitments to focus groups and colloquia along with pretty ordinary work-a-day stuff.

It would be a shame, I thought during morning prayer today, if all our honorable work allowed autumn to slip by us.  Wherever you live, in motown where the colors are breaking open these days, or Colorado, or Sweden, pause and listen 3 times today.  Want to?

john sj

p.s. the weekend might make a great time to bump that listening pauses up to 4 or 5.
Have a great weekend.

Today’s Post – “Autumn’s russet colors age . . .”
“For the dogwood in our yard, middle of October
West Philly c. 1976 during grad school”


Autumn’s russet colors
Age without solemnity
Earthy and simple, they linger

Not for grandeur
Nor from fear of the dust they will become

Their affection for this place
These ripening moments
Even me the beholder
Slows the pace of changing.

Let me be won by this warmth
To slow my chosen pace
To ripen affectionately.



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