August 28 — A Parable for Teachers at Year’s Beginning

Thursday  August 28   Denise Levertov  “Uncertain Oneiomancy”

This Denise Levertov poem stretches me.  It’s a challenge to stay with her metaphors, follow each turn without being too distracted by what she, the poet, is up to.  At this stage, my 5th or 6th reading over a couple years, I think she writes a parable for teachers beginning a Semester, aware of the burdens students bring with them before they get into the course’s rhythm of work and challenge and discovery and, sometimes, the exultation of discovery.  Teachers can fret about all that students might miss if we teachers can’t open worlds to their imaginations.

Lots of teachers I know, myself too in the years I taught regularly, come to trust the pace of teacher-student work and the rhythms of learning.  It’s a challenge to trust our abilities as guides in perilous journeys and at the same time trust the power and depth of the students we try to mentor.

The work week is nearly over.  Have a blest day.

john sj

Today’s Post

Uncertain Oneiromancy

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

Oneiromancy (from the Greek Oneiros) is a form of divination based upon dreams; it is a system of dream interpretation that uses dreams to predict the future. Derived from the Greek words oneiros which means dream and the Greek word manteia that means prophecy.   {Wikipedia}


Denise Levertov (1923-1997)

“The crystalline and luminous poetry of her last years stands as final witness to a lifetime of searching for the mystery embedded in life itself. Through all the vagaries of life and art, her response was that of a “primary wonder.”       in   Denise Levertov: A Poet’s Life, Dana Green  (Dean Emerita Oxford College Emory University)  U Illinois Press 2012

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Aug 25 “Fragment at the Beginning of Something”

Monday, August 25 – First day of class,

Writing these posts has got me  meeting new poets.   David Watts is another.  Here’s the first of his poems I’ve read.  About a son and his dad and a small stone and beginnings.   The university campus begins classes today.  Lots of confusion, trying to find classrooms,  forgetting to bring stuff along that you’ll need for teaching and learning,  pretty massive sticker shocks reading a whole semester’s work all at once, syllabus after syllabus.

Beginnings.  I think that’s why I like this poem.

happy new year

john st sj

p.s.       Over the last week or so I’ve been thinking about the pace of five posts each week and I decided to ease up a bit and only post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Right way I’ll break the new rule and, this week, post Monday, Thursday and Friday.

Wednesday morning I will be up early and driving the c. 4 hours back to Detroit from Guelph, in Canada.  Once every few months I drive there to talk with Bill Clarke, sj, my Spiritual Director for 30 + years.  One time at the Blue Water Bridge Customs booth, the man asked me where I was going and what I planned to do:  “I’m driving to Guelph to see a Jesuit priest about my inner life.”  “Aren’t there priests in Detroit?”   “Not this priest.”  “Must be some priest,” said the guy as he waved me through.  He’s right about that.  More on Thursday.


Today’s Post
My son brings me a stone and asks
which star it fell from. He is serious
and so I must be careful,
even though I know he will place it
among those things
that will leave him someday
and he will go on, gathering.
For this is one of those moments
that turns suddenly
toward you, opening as it turns,
as if for an instant we paused
on the edge of a heartbeat
and then pressed forward, conscious
of the fear that runs beside us
and how lovely it is to be with each other
in the long, resilient mornings.


Posted on the list “Being There” by


“Fragment at the Beginning of Something…” by David Watts, from Bedside Manners: One Doctor’s Reflections on the Oddly Intimate Encounters Between Patient and Healer. © Random House/Harmony Books, 2005. Presented here by poet submission.

Art credit: ”Cloudy stone, rounded by the sea, on a palm of a child,” photograph uploaded by Profe (originally color).


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Aug 22 “or wring their barriers in bursts of fear or rage”

Friday  August 22 – G M Hopkins, sj  1844-1889

Gerard Manley Hopkins, sj,  a radical innovator among 19th century poets, chose Anglo-Saxon over Latinate English vocabulary and invented “Sprung Rhythm” to replace  classical traditions of rhyme and rhythm  (  Anglo-Saxon lives closer to the ground than the latinate vocabulary brought by Norman conquerers into English (e.g., the Saxons lost, the Normans won so word-sets like “cow” (Anglo Saxon & spoken in the barn yard by hired hands) contrasts with “beef” (from the French “boef”,  spoken at the table in the manor house).  Hopkins thought Norman influences eroded the power and energy of Anglo Saxon.   The power and sharp edges of his word choices inspired a host of more recent poets to run similar verbal risks.

Hopkins also paid attention to the toll the British Industrial Revolution took on ordinary working people.  In today’s poem, look for startling and inventive imagery, some of it bearing down on the agony of human living;  look for exquisite delicacy in his descriptions of beauty also.   Best to read out loud but, given the challenges of Sprung Rhythm and inventive vocabulary, you may want to set aside some time to read it aloud a few times until you figure out what he’s doing.

Last work day of week 1, and  Freshman Convocation brings one of my soul friends to campus as speaker.  Greg Boyle, sj founded and leads Homeboy Industries in the center of South LA’s gang territory.  It’s tag line is “Nothing Stops a Bullet Like a Job.”  Makes me smile to see him here.

Have a good weekend.


john sj

today’s post

The Caged Skylark

AS a dare-gale skylark scanted in a dull cage
Man’s mounting spirit in his bone-house, mean house, dwells—
That bird beyond the remembering his free fells;
This in drudgery, day-labouring-out life’s age.

Though aloft on turf or perch or poor low stage,
Both sing sometímes the sweetest, sweetest spells,
Yet both droop deadly sómetimes in their cells
Or wring their barriers in bursts of fear or rage.

Not that the sweet-fowl, song-fowl, needs no rest—
Why, hear him, hear him babble and drop down to his nest,
But his own nest, wild nest, no prison.

Man’s spirit will be flesh-bound when found at best,
But uncumbered: meadow-down is not distressed
For a rainbow footing it nor he for his bónes rísen.

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August 21 – “all this tripping about” Catherine McAuley

Thursday  August 21   “Enough”  David Whyte

Getting very busy around the university;  lots of fast walking and flipping from thought to thought and task to task.  Catherine McAuley, in a memorable saying from her over-busy life leading the fledgling Sisters of Mercy 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 2nd last work day of the first week of the academic year.   I’ve posted it twice before; must like it, eh?

            Have a blest day.


john sj


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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Aug 20 – “confident shrug and twist”

Wednesday, August 20 — freshmen orientation week

St. Ignatius, sometime in the mid-16th century when he found himself giving birth to  the Jesuits, is said to have observed now and again that he preferred  Jesuits who “need a bridle rather than spurs.”  The saying sticks in the mind and calls attention to many Jesuits who have run risks. More than 50 of my kinsmen have been murdered in the last half century, mostly because they stirred ambition and hope in people worn down by grief and despair, giving voice to the voiceless.   At our best, Jesuits nurture risk-takers.

At our best UDM does that; we say to our students:  ”Take on challenges, throw your energy right at the world,  fall in love with our city,  look for demanding professors, risk some failures.  That’s what we begin to tell these young women and men during orientation days.  It’s hard work for everyone involved.   We university employees  prepare to be there for these students when they get in over their heads and to confront them when they get cocky or lose their nerve.  The teaching of faculty and the mentoring of every one who works here is so hard because we risk too.  We bet the farm on these young people, we risk falling in love with them year after year.  It’s quite a life.

Denise Levertov wrote a poem I call one of my “top 5 lifetime,” though there are many more than 5 of these.   Dedicated this morning at the dawn of a new academic year, to all of us who stake our hopes in learning and teaching and mentoring and challenging.

Have a good day,


john st sj


Today’s Post – “The Poem Rising By Its Own Weight”

The poet is at the disposal of his own night.

Jean Cocteau

The singing robes fly onto your body and cling there silkily,

You step out on the rope and move unfalteringly across it,

And seize the fiery knives unscathed and

Keep them spinning above you, a fountain

Of rhythmic rising, falling, rising


And proudly let the chains

Be wound about you, ready

To shed them, link by steel link,

padlock by padlock–


but when your graceful

confident shrug and twist drives the metal

into your flesh and the python grip of it tightens

and you see rust on the chains and blood in your pores

and you roll

over and down a steepness into a dark hole

and there is not even the sound of mockery in the distant air

somewhere above you where the sky was,

no sound but your own breath panting:


then it is that the miracle

walks in, on his swift feet,

down the precipice straight into the cave,

opens the locks,

knots of chain fall open,

twists of chain unwind themselves,

links fall asunder,

in seconds there is a heap of scrap-

metal at your ankles, you step free and at once

he turns to go –


but as you catch at him with a cry,

clasping his knees, sobbing your gratitude,

with what radiant joy he turns to you,

and raises you to your feet,

and strokes your disheveled hair,

and holds you,

holds you,

holds you

close and tenderly before he vanishes.

The Freeing of the Dust
Denise Levertov  (1923-1997)
Academy of American Poets


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August 19 – story telling time

Tuesday, August 19, Day after University Convocation

“Convocation,” a calling together of women and men who work at the university.   A rich variety of people from around the state, around the country, and around the wide world.  This is a University.  So in between the formal convocation spaces, lots of story telling goes on.   With some intimate friends we have kept up all summer no matter where our travels took us, but some people tell us important news now, as the academic year settles in:  some serious sicknesses, some moments of astonishing beauty, a contemplative vacation time, someone close who has died.   So many stories in the tightly compressed first days of a new season of work.   And lots of stories, too, filled with the beauty and daring of our work lives.

C David Campbell, Executive Director of The McGregor Fund, died early this July; a much loved man, himself in love with his family and his city.   The program for his funeral led me back to the poet Mary Oliver’s “When Death Comes.”  As Oliver does, the poem opens a door into the ordinary that invites the reader to expect depths of grief and wonder.

This poem is meant for all the readers of this list, but especially for those of us who have tasted death at close range this summer and carry fresh grief now.


john sj

Today’s Post

“When Death Comes”

When death comes

like the hungry bear in autumn;

when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse


to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;

when death comes

like the measle-pox


when death comes

like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,


I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:

what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?


And therefore I look upon everything

as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,

and I look upon time as no more than an idea,

and I consider eternity as another possibility,


and I think of each life as a flower, as common

as a field daisy, and as singular,


and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,

tending, as all music does, toward silence,


and each body a lion of courage, and something

precious to the earth.


When it’s over, I want to say:  all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.


When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.


I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.


Mary Oliver   New and Selected Poems, Vol.1


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August 18 – Start-up Time

Monday August 18

A lot of athletes moved into Shiple these past few days, Beth Ann Finster tells me, and the c. 25 freshmen who will head out to a camp near Jackson for a retreat designed to help them enter the world of the university with grace and playful courage.  You can almost here the university buildings whispering to each other “Here they come!  Another year.”

Teilhard de Chardin, sj  (1881-1955) wrote about beginnings; he was a Jesuit and a world class paleontologist who found promises of the future by looking deep into the past.   One of my favorite quotes came to mind just now while contemplating these beginnings emerging all around the university.   Here is a pretty close approximation:   “Nothing is so elusive and basically unknowable as a beginning.”   Isn’t that one of a university’s identities?  We are a place that takes beginning seriously; we respect the effort, the fears, the hope, the courage that marks the act of learning and marks the beginning of relationships, term after term, between students and faculty, between students and each other, between students and all the people who make the university function.   “Here they come!  Another year.”

I like the poem Tagore chose to lead off the 100 sacred poems in his Gitanjali.  I have sometimes given it to friends as they get married, one of life’s deep beginnings.  It makes a good read for the first formal day of the Academic year too.   Try reading it out loud.

Blessings on your new year.


john st sj


Today’s Post   Rabindranath Tagore  Gitanjali  # 1

Thou hast made me endless,  such is thy pleasure.

This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again,

and fillest it ever with fresh life.

This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales,

and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.

At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart

loses its limits in joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable.

Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine.

Ages pass, and still thou pourest,

and still there is room to fill.

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August 15 Thomas Merton

Friday before President’s Convocation

No post yesterday.  I and the other 21 members of our community who are here spent Wednesday afternoon and evening, as well as Thursday until mid-afternoon, at the Manresa Retreat Center on 16 Mile and Woodward.  That’s been our custom at the beginning of the academic year for while & it did me lots of good, my fellow Jesuits too I think.

Today’s post is a passage from the writings of Thomas Merton, a mystic whose roots in the hustling society of east coast America generated a mysticism tastes contemporary decade after decade even though he died too young, being accidentally electrocuted by faulty wiring in a fan.  As with many mystics, Merton writes in a language intimately close to atheism and to the mystery of an untamable God.  I think of him as close kin with Rabindranath Tagore.  Thousands of readers in what gets called Western culture and readers in Eastern culture as well find kinship with his writings.  I hope you find this not very well known quotation a gift for the end of the work week.


john sj

p.s.   I feel some completely unearned proprietary rights because I happened to have been born on the same date that he died, December 10, 1968.


MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

                                                                  from Thoughts in Solitude


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August 13 – after the storm

Wednesday August 13 —

Here’s the lead story this morning for Crain’s Detroit Business on line.

Good morning, Detroit. The business community’s lifeguard is on duty. Here is what you should know as you get in your car — and we hope yours still runs — and head to work, albeit on a more indirect route. Crain’s story >>>

“a more indirect route.”   Good line for this morning when the huge system has moved on east and north, the winds stream in from the Northwest, our happiest weather direction, the air feels rinsed clean.

A friend landed at Metro about 11:00 last night and I didn’t want to guess wrong about closed freeways.   I turned to the State of Michigan’s M-DOT interactive highway map  ( and began by enlarging a normal airport route (the Lodge to 94) and looking at the orange barrel icons which offer pretty up to date word about traffic conditions.  I 94 closed between Greenfield & Michigan both ways.  So let’s try I96 to the Southfield; another orange barrel tells me that The Southfield is closed both ways between Ford and I-94.   But there doesn’t seem to be any trouble on Telegraph.  MDOT’s assistance worked.  To the airport on time, by a more indirect route.   Almost all those roads were clear of flooding.    Not so a day earlier.  The longest drive home from campus Monday, that I heard about, was 5 hours between McNichols and Warren.  Lots of stories of battered cars and basements and campus elevators.   A hammer of a storm.

But when I pulled up my blinds this morning and saw sun dancing with the trees outside my window, the storm has passed, an elixir.   Of course, beauty and weather-relief do not heal all wounds —
—        not all the storm damage is repaired;
—        another young black man, Michael Brown, shot dead in the street by a police officer in Ferguson Missouri;
—        Yazidi people driven from their homes in Northern Iraq by well-armed fanatics who exult in their genocide on Youtube.

Sheer beauty can look inadequate for repairing violent storm damage.  But I doubt it.  Beauty does not deceive when we find more spring in our step and smiles in our eyes.  Its work is reminding us that deep down, under the exhausting burdens of our adult commitments, lives a wellspring of sacred grace.

Blesses as we absorb storm damage and turn into today.


john st sj

Today’s Post

William Carlos Williams understood about life-weariness and beauty’s restorative powers.   Try reading it aloud once or twice.


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 12 epic rain

“Detroit Metro Airport in Romulus set a record with 4.57 inches of rain, more than doubling the previous high-water mark, 2.06, notched in 1964. . . .
On the southbound Lodge near Six Mile, with no movement on the freeway, folks with nothing to do except wait for the road to clear were standing outside taking iPhone photos and chatting. A van also was submerged in several feet of water.”  Detroit News

Tuesday  August 12

We had three guest rooms available last night, just needing clean sheets and towels.  Good thing.  Two women on Lansing Reilly’s kitchen team, and one faculty member, couldn’t make it home in the storm.  Lots of mopping water in the basement too, like a lot of Detroiters last night.  That’s what guest rooms are for, offering someone welcome.

Here’s a storm story from today’s News.  Teams of divers searched flooded low spots on the roads checking to make sure no one was trapped in a car down there.   The diver story brought me back 40 years to the western high plains.  Five fellow teachers (Red Cloud Indian School) had driven the c. 350 miles to Denver for some reason I no longer remember. On their way home a blizzard overwhelmed them.  In winter out there it is not uncommon to hear of a car found on the side of a highway with its people frozen dead inside.  People out there know about that.   My friends did too.  They stopped when they could no longer see past the hood of the car and turned off the engine to keep from dying of gas fumes.  They told us later that they got quiet, each one wondering  how much time they had before the blizzard overcame their collective body heat and they began to die.

Suddenly they heard the sound of a tractor.  A rancher was driving his fence line in case someone might be trapped in the storm.  He led them home and saved their lives.  And every hour he bundled up and got on the tractor and rode the fence line again.  You never know when someone might need help in a storm.   Hospitality is like that,  sometimes it just needs ordinary chores, sometimes it saves a life.  Either way, the capacity to open our private places and make someone welcome is how we tell one another that we are all in this together.  The welcome is the soul of hospitality,  the chores are its body.  Both are beautiful.

Dom Helder Camera, one of my heroes, wrote about welcome in words people who live around here could stand to read on a day like this.   Sent with much affection.

Blessings on your day.


john sj

Today’s Post 

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  (1909-1999)

Dom Helder Camera

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