Aug 27 – “. . . smiling quietly.”

Thursday,  August 27 –    “Observing all things  —  With dispassion  —  But remembering well”

Sometimes it happens that browsing new poetry changes you.  This morning’s browsing did that.   I am preparing tomorrow’s post today;  tomorrow, I will be driving home from Guelph where Bill Clarke, sj lives, my spiritual director for three decades.  The 4+ hour drive refreshes me with little rituals — buying coffee at the same I-94 exit just south of Port Huron;  singing “O Canada” to Lake Huron while crossing The Blue Water Bridge;  standing still by a country church, empty of people on weekdays, and remembering the last months of my life.   Not a time to work with my laptop writing Friday’s post.

This morning, browsing “A Week of Being Here,” Kenji Miyazawa met me for the first time.  I’d never heard of him.  This poem was found in his trunk after he died in his early thirties,  It stops me just like Lake Huron and the country church do.    I think this Buddhist poet will meet readers of the list again.

Even more than most poems, “Be Not Defeated” should reward reading aloud with pauses.   Have a good weekend.


john sj

{Kenji Miyazawa (宮沢 賢治 Miyazawa Kenji?, 27 August 1896 – 21 September 1933) was a Japanese poet and author of children’s literature from Hanamaki, Iwate in the late Taishō and early Shōwa periods. He was also known as an agricultural science teacher, a vegetarian, cellist, devout Buddhist, and utopian social activist.[1]}

Today’s Post  —  Kenji Miyazawa: “Be Not Defeated by the Rain”


Unbeaten by the rain
Unbeaten by the wind
Bested by neither snow nor summer heat
Strong of body
Free of desire
Never angry
Always smiling quietly
Dining daily on four cups of brown rice
Some miso and a few vegetables
Observing all things
With dispassion
But remembering well
Living in a small, thatched-roof house
In the meadow beneath a canopy of pines
Going east to nurse the sick child
Going west to bear sheaves of rice for the weary mother
Going south to tell the dying man there is no cause for fear
Going north to tell those who fight to put aside their trifles
Shedding tears in time of drought
Wandering at a loss during the cold summer
Called useless by all
Neither praised
Nor a bother
Such is the person
I wish to be


“Be Not Defeated by the Rain” by Kenji Miyazawa. Translated from the original Japanese by Hart Larrabee. Text as posted on Tomo (08/05/2012).

Curator’s note: After the poet’s death, a black notebook containing this text was found in his trunk. The poem appears in bold strokes amidst his repetitious copying of a Buddhist mantra. According to its date (November 3, 1931), he had composed it while on his deathbed. He was only in his thirties. Visit this link to view a photograph of the poem in the notebook, the original Japanese text, two very different translations (including Larrabee’s, which I prefer), and interviews with the interpreters.

Posted by Phyllis Cole-Dai on Aug 19, 2015 12:00 am

Art credit: “Girl in the rain,” Giclée print by Pavlo Tereshin.

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Aug 26 – Freshmen Move-in Day

Wednesday August 26    —  “the soul laughs . . . “

It’s not difficult to hear brutally contentious and contemptuous language flung about in the world’s various public forums.  At the moment, too, it’s hard to avoid other signs of distemper and anxiety, like this week’s stock market plunge and the uncompromising positions playing out in the US Congress.  Hard times incline people to choose words that trend gloomy, anxious, bitter, cynical, hostile.  In hard times it can be a stretch to imagine words that are patient, kind, playful, tender, mutual and brave.

Yesterday, freshman move-in day on campus stirred in me an alternative energy to Hard Times’ Blues.  It’s like the buildings on campus are waking up from the dreamy days of summer, when there was more time to do untended maintenance and long term planning, and sitting on the beach dreaming of a soft pace to life, dreaming of the loves of our lives.

Suddenly:    wham! . . . energy!  . . . curiosity!   . . .   playfulness!   Students everywhere!    But just because the freshmen students are mostly late teenagers does not still mean that they, too, must work at finding a balance between gloom and delight.

Today’s post from 14th century Europe takes all this energy and fear and ambiguity and hope head on.

Best to read it out loud, with pauses.   Maybe try dancing it.

Happy new year.


john sj

Today’s Post

“Indeed I say, the soul will bring forth Person
if God laughs to her and she laughs back to him.
To speak in parable, the Father laughs to the Son
and the Son laughs back to the Father;

And this laughter begets liking,
and liking begets joy, and joy begets love,
and love begets Person,
and Person begets the Holy Spirit.”

{attributed to Meister Eckhart}

Meister Eckhart, a German Dominican, theologian, philosopher and mystic, was known along with his writings for sermons addressed to ordinary people as well as to  women and men more more visibly engaged in Church life.   Eckhart died just twenty years before the peak of the European pandemic known as “The Black Death” which killed 30% to 60% of Europe’s people.  One might be inclined to see his intuition about the identity of God as embodied in laughter and affection as an antidote before the fact for the terrified and violent fears that convulsed  Europe in the mid-14th century  as the living worked to bury some 100 to 200 million of those who died around them.  A grim time badly in need of a rebirth for Europe’s sense of humor and  playfulness.

Eckhart von Hochheim O.P. (c. 1260 – c. 1328[1]), commonly known as Meister Eckhart [ˈmaɪ̯stɐ ˈɛkʰaʀt], was a German theologianphilosopher and mystic, born near Gotha, in the Landgraviate of Thuringia in the Holy Roman Empire.



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Aug 24 – Students on campus

Monday August 24 –  “to face in the wind’s teeth”

            About 35 new freshmen arrived in the residence halls yesterday.    They came early to travel together to a retreat center outside the city for a 2 day retreat, a preparation of their souls and imaginations for the challenges that wait for them when classes begin.  All three campuses change when students bring their energy and hope and fears to a year long encounter with ways of thinking that will stretch them.   All of the rest of us who work here, faculty and staff and administrators, probably take a few deep breaths and square our shoulders.  “Here we go.”

The poet William Carlos Williams understood life-weariness and beauty’s restorative powers.    It’s very brief.   Try reading it aloud once or twice, with pauses.

Happy new year.


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

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August 17 – New Year’s Day, University Style: President’s Convocation

Monday August 17 – “All this tripping about” Catherine McAuley

Getting very busy around the university; lots of fast walking and flipping from thought to thought and task to task. Except today when President’s Convocation opens a space to tell each other stories from our summers, play and adventure, joy and sorrow. Catherine McAuley could have been writing about UDM as the new year cranks up in this memorable saying from her over-busy life leading the fledgling Sisters of Mercy. The Mercies were born in an Ireland made brutal by the Industrial Revolution of British textiles and the Enclosure Movement which evicted subsistence farmers from small plots to open broad spaces for sheep grazing, Dublin a city where wealth flourished in the center while its growing periphery packed in desperate poor driven off those small village plots. She named her fast walking and flipping from task to task times “tripping about.”

“Amidst all this tripping about: our hearts can always be in the same place
centered in God, for whom alone we go forward, or stay back.”
Catherine McAuley (December, 1840)


Catherine McAuley 1778 – 1841
Foundress: Sisters of Mercy 1831

Lovely expression, “triping about.” Better to trip about, I guess, than to just trip. Better to hustle and scramble with a moment of breathing here and there in the day. Here’s a short poem to open a space for breathing on this first official work day of the academic year. I’ve posted it three times before; must like it, eh?

Have a blest day.

john sj

Today’s Post “Enough”

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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August 14 – “We need your humor, O highly praised One!”

Friday August 14  –you recommended kind words to be the best type of alms for Muslims to give.” 

At UDM’s 2014 Celebrate Spirit mass of blessing, Professor Fatemeh Keshavarz  welcomed us into our academic year by reading one of her poems (  A poet and scholar, she holds The University of Maryland’s Roshan Chair Persian Studies,    Last week she emailed me another poem (“I have thought of sending this poem to you for the listserv a number of times (usually when I am inspired by the poems that you post).  It is called ‘O Highly Praised One!’ which is what the word Mohammad means.).   Posting it on Friday, the Day of Prayer in Islam, respects the poem’s form, a contemplative prayer of praise.  Posting it in mid-August, one month before this year’s Celebrate Spirit (September 10) it, respects the University’s powerful blessing service in which locates the centuries-old Roman Catholic Mass of the Holy Spirit in the context of our commitment to  welcome and bless women and men from every tradition.   
If you live in Motown and you are a fan of this weekend’s annual ‘Woodward Dream Cruise” you may join the 1 million ++ people who hang out watching old cars drive by their lawn chairs.   
Wherever you live, blessings on one of the final weekends of the summer season.
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:

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August 12 – “. . . even the laziest, most deathly afraid part of you . . . “

Wednesday, August 12, 2015  –  mid-week in mid-August

The poetry itself, with its compelling sharp-edge words, won’t clunk.  That’s the point of reading strong poems out loud, with pauses: to create in your ear and imagination a moment of sheer beauty that touches, as David Whyte suggests today, “even the laziest, most deathly afraid part of you” and restores our souls.

Each day in August at the university people come to work and go home, every day a little more deeply engaged in shaping a new season of learning.  How beautiful is that?   

Today’s Post –


The Lightest Touch

Good poetry begins with
the lightest touch,
a breeze arriving from nowhere,
a whispered healing arrival,
a word in your ear,
a settling into things,
then like a hand in the dark
it arrests the whole body,
steeling you for revelation.

In the silence that follows
a great line
you can feel Lazarus
deep inside
even the laziest, most deathly afraid
part of you,
lift up his hands and walk toward the light.

  — David Whyte
     from Everything is Waiting for You 
     ©2003 Many Rivers Press

David Whyte 2009.jpg

Whyte in 2009
Born 2 November 1955 (age 59)
Mirfield, Yorkshire
Occupation Poet
Nationality British, American

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August 10, Rutabagas in mid August

Monday August 10  —  “Through you we eat sunlight”

I had another poem queued up for today but Laura Grace Weldon’s song to a Rutabaga took my imagination by storm.   Your’s too, I hope.
Read aloud, more than once, and breathe a little.  Blessings on the new work week.

john sj

Today’s Post:  

Laura Grace Weldon: “Rutabaga”

Posted by Phyllis Cole-Dai on Aug 08, 2015 12:00 am

You darken as my knife slices
blushing at what you become. 
I save your thick leaves
and purple skin
to feed the cows. 

A peasant guest at any meal
you agree to hide in fragrant stew
or gleam nakedly
in butter and chives. 

Though your seeds are tiny 
you grow with fierce will
grateful for poor soil and dry days,
heave up from the ground 
under sheltering stalks 
to sweeten with the frost.

Tonight we take you into our bodies
as if we do you a favor—
letting your molecules
become a higher being, 
one that knows music and art. 

But you share with us 
what makes you a rutabaga. 
Through you we eat sunlight,
taste the soil’s clamoring mysteries,
gain your seed’s perfect might.

“Rutabaga” by Laura Grace Weldon, from Tending (Aldrich Press, 2013). © Laura Grace Weldon. Presented here by poet submission.

Art credit: “Rutabaga,” unknown medium, by Lara Call Gastinger. © Lara Call Gastinger, 2004.

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August 5 – “bent double and quite unable to stand upright” Luke 13

Wednesday August 5  “right behind the grill where,  .  .  .  she would block no one’s view”

Someone this summer introduced me to the poet Irene Zimmerman, O.S.F. through her poem “Woman Un-Bent,” about a woman who could not stand up straight.  The un-named woman in Luke’s gospel reminds me of a student from 30 + years ago in a course I taught, “The Politics and Ethics of Engineering.”  There were 100 + students in the room. I made an issue of rewarding students who risked debating important matters, with one another and with me.  After the final class she came up with a sly look of triumph:  “I did it!  I got through the whole semester without you calling on me even once.”  She said she had perfected the art of easing her body slightly to hide behind other students without being too obvious about it.  It was, I agreed, quite an accomplishment.

I hope that this student, these several decades later, has learned not to hide.   That takes more than artful dodging, something more like courage and playful hope — like the un-named woman of Luke 13.  UDM freshmen will arrive for orientation week almost before we know it and this new season of mentoring will begin all over campus.

Best to read the poem out loud, several times, with pauses.  Have a blest day.

john sj

Today’s Post – Woman Un-Bent

{based on  Luke 13:10-17}

That Sabbath day as always
she went to the synagogue
and took the place assigner her
right behind the grill where,
the elders had concurred,
she would block no one’s view,

she would lean her heavy head,
and (though this was not said)
she would give a good example
to those who stood behind her,

That day, intent as always
on the word (for eighteen years
she’d listened thus), she heard
Authority when Jesus spoke.

Though long stripped
of forwardness,
she came forward, nonetheless
when Jesus summoned her.

“Woman, you are free
of your infirmity,” he said.

The leader of the synagogue
worked himself into a sweat
as he tried to bend the Sabbath
and the woman back in place.

But she stood up straight and let
God’s glory touch her face.

Irene Zimmerman


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August 3 “I too saw only the obstacles”

Monday August 3  – Another beginning for a year of grace and work

The first post of 2015-16; lots of options.  Some friends have found summer times to notice poems that had been asking for attention.   Readers will encounter quite a few of them over the next months.

Today’s post took shape last evening while talking with a soul friend who is spending this week at home, in stillness, tasting her life in its present moment.  Something in our conversation reminded me of still another from Denise Levertov, a late work in Sands of the Well (1996).  Wikipedia tells me that “Oneiromancy (from the Greek όνειροϛ oneiros, dream, and μαντεία manteia, prophecy) is . . .  a system of . . .  interpretation that uses dreams to predict the future.”  To me, the definition is a little undercooked.  Contemplating a dream that asks for my attention is less about the future than about what vibrates beneath the surface of my life now.

Levertov approaches this dream with the assumption that the characters reveal dimensions of herself, the dreamer —  the blind man and she who led him, uninvited, through a vast museum filled with beauty turned into hazards.

It helps to read the poem out loud,  more than once, with pauses.   Blessings on the first week in August.

john sj

Today’s Post:  “Uncertain Oneiromancy”
Denise Levertov

I spent the entire night leading a blind man
through an immense museum
so that (by internal bridges, or tunnels?
somehow!) he could avoid the streets,
the most dangerous avenues, all the swift
chaotic traffic . . .          I persuaded him
to allow my guidance, through to the other
distant doors, though once inside, labyrinthine corridors,
steps, jutting chests and chairs and stone arches
bewildered him as I named them at each swerve,
and were hard for me to manoeuver him
around and between.  As he could perceive nothing,
I too saw only the obstacles, the objects
with sharp corners; not one painting, not one carved
credenza or limestone martyr.     We did at last
emerge, however, into that part of the city
he had been headed for when I took over;
he raised his hat in farewell, and went on, uphill,
tapping his stick.  I stood looking after him,
watching as the street enfolded him, wondering
if he would make it, and after I woke, wondering still
what in me he was, and who
the I was that took the long short-cut with him
through room after room of beauty his blindness
hid from me as if it had never been.

Denise Levertov   Sands of the Well  (1996)

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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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