Friday — About the word “Yes” — Hafez (Sufi) & Paul (Christian)

Friday, February 12, 2016 — Thank you, Morning Edition (NPR)

Driving home from an early shopping run, while ruminating about a poem for today, I listened to NPR’s piece about the deep legacy of the Persian poet Hafez (c. 1325-c.1390), I was reminded December 2014 when I posted, side by side, two short, exquisite poems about saying “yes.” Back in December 8, 2014 I also paid attention to the pace of sunrises as they head south toward the winter solstice. This morning in the depths of February those early December thoughts about gloom and “yes” seem as apt as they did two Decembers ago.

Enjoy the weekend. Enjoy these two short poems too.


john sj

Today’s Post: {first posted Monday December 8, 2014} –

For years and years this passage from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians has stirred my soul. When I lose track of it for a time and find myself grinding away and looking at my life with sardonic know-it-all aloofness, and then think to treat these words like a poem again, the words turn me toward playful attentiveness and a grateful heart. Today, what led me to 2nd Corinthians was a weekly feed called “A Year of Being Here.” Readers of this list have benefitted from quite few poems that I met there. In this week’s set of seven I found the 14th century Persian poet, Hafiz (

Many people find that the stately procession of sunrises toward their northernmost Solstice point at the shortest day of the year wears on them, too many dim and dark minutes per day. Sometimes pockets of bright light from tight beam lamps help treat the dark as holy; but sometimes gloom settles in and saps the power of imagination. Poems like Paul’s and Hafiz’s help a lot.

Days of darkness for sure; best watch your language and read the poems out loud.

john sj

p.s. I used Paul’s poem on the card we made for my father’s funeral and then, 25 years later, for my mother’s.

Today’s Post # 1 Hafiz “Every Movement”

I rarely let the word “No” escape
From my mouth
Because it is plain to my soul
That God has shouted “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
To every luminous movement in existence.

Today’s Post # 2 Paul “Always Yes”

The Son of God,
The Christ Jesus that we proclaimed among you . . .
was never “yes” and “no.”
With him it was always “yes.”
And however many the promises God has made,
The “Yes” to them all is in him.


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Wed Feb 10 – “with what radiant joy he turns to you”

Ash Wednesday,   February 10  “Lent”  =   “Spring”

Mardi Gras has come and gone, opening the Christian tradition to the season of prayer called “Lent.”  That word has Anglo Saxon roots and means “Spring,” the  season when, in northern parts of the planet, what had looked dead — frozen earth, leafless trees — shows new life.  But gradually.   Re-birth takes its time.   Lent, a 40 day season of prayer, is less about giving things up (e.g., sweets, beer, other fancy things) and more about keeping watch near new life.   Here’s a suggestion for prayer during Lent.  Choose a little tree that you pass most days,  one where you can stand close to one of its small branches, say 6 inches away from your nose.  Stand still and breathe;  for a few seconds look closely.   During Lent’s 40 days stop now and again, be still;  look closely at the branch. Its buds do not storm into full spring growth like a brass band.  You hardly notice any change from day to day; but if you wait, new life will show up.  The Prophet Habakkuk teaches, “For the vision has its own time, presses on toward fulfillment.  If it delays, wait for it, for come it will, without fail.” (Hab 2:3).  At a university committeed to learning by students, staff, and faculty, Lent makes a good short prayer.

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 Lent, to all of us who stake our hopes in learning and teaching and mentoring and challenging.   Reading aloud, with pauses, has its own rewards.

Blessings during these Lenten days.


john st sj

Today’s Post 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)


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feb 5 – “Lots of listening”

Friday,  February 5 –
“When Thou commandest me to sing
it seems that my heart would break with pride”

We are a university, where people listen, take each other seriously.  Teachers listen to students.   When I taught full-time, some students told me one day that I was most scary when one of them would say something and I would turn around and write her/his words on the board, circle one word then turn around and ask: “Why did you choose that word?”

Teachers do that.  Listen for the voice, call it forth; expect respect for words.   Not only teachers though.  Universities call on students to listen to each other, to expect meaning from each other.     Administrative assistants,  staff in the registrar’s office,  nurse practitioners in the student wellness center,  campus security officers, coaches;  lots of listening.    On good days, each of us knows that.  And on hard days, maybe one of our peers will notice and ask how we are doing, and listen to our story.

Rabindranath Tagore writes of God expecting a song from human beings, thrilling us by sacred attention.  (Gitanjali # 2)   {Posted before on January 5, 2015}

Have a good weekend.

john sj


Tagore # 2

When Thou commandest me to sing
it seems that my heart would break with pride
and I look to Thy face
and tears come to my eyes.

All that is harsh and dissonant in my life
melts into one sweet harmony
and my adoration spreads wings like a glad bird
on its flight across the sea.

I know Thou takest pleasure in my singing
I know that only as a singer I come before Thy presence
I touch by the edge of the far spreading wing of my song
Thy feet which I could never aspire to reach.

Drunk with the joy of singing
I forget myself
and call Thee friend
who art my lord.

Tagore  Gitanjali  # 2


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Feb 3 – Learning words and card games

Wednesday, February 3
“And I learn about gratitude
without noticing,”

My niece Terri wrote these words.   Her poems focus me; get me to a “there” where I  breathe — inhale and exhale — not hurrying.   “Octogenarian,” takes me into the world of a little girl learning that intense love and fresh discoveries can live close to approaching death.  And leave grace alive over years that follow.

Mid-day in this work week.  Blessings on your day.

john sj


Today’s Post:

I was nine that summer
when you taught me satiated.
It came after precocious
and pernicious, but was obviously
and immediately the best word yet.

We refill the drinks with extra ice, cool ourselves
with condensation, that slick of sweat dripping down
our glasses. You proffer crackers; I decline,
satiated and smug about it. You shuffle and deal,  while the sun
slowly loses its glower in the Menomonee River.

I place each card carefully, fingers splayed,
intent.  I hunch a bit, slanting my anticipation
toward the deck in those gnarled fingers, toward
the sheen of sun on water, the road and the bridge,
the cities on the far side, toward you.

It doesn’t matter what we play: 66, gin rummy,
cribbage, even two hands of solitaire, laid out
like opposing armies or fields fresh planted, seven shirts
spaced out on each side of the clothesline, falling straight,
quiet in the fading heat.

You hold your cards loosely, competent,
a word from last summer, but you don’t
always win.  I learn to bridge the cards without
spraying any into the porch screen,
dragonflies darting toward the river.

I learn about matrimony from the thin band
embedded in the swollen skin of your ring finger, about eternity
from the way you refer to Grandpa as though
he were still here. And I learn about gratitude
without noticing, even how to spell it.

Some things though I didn’t learn, like when you taught me
octogenarian and I thought it meant
a person eight decades old, thought
it meant you at your next birthday, never comprehending
that it really meant
you would leave me someday.

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Monday Feb 1 – Garrison Keilor “The Writer’s Almanac”

Monday, February 1 – Raymond Carver “At Least”

Detroit Metro Airport, 7:23 am Saturday. I’m heading to Washington DC for the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, an annual ritual right after my university’s January Board of Trustees’ meeting. Lots of attendees, some close friends, some I’ve not met. I stay at the Jesuit community, Leonard Neale House, about a 25 minute walk from the conference’s Ritz Carlton hotel. Gerry Stockhausen lived here; most of the Jesuits in the house work with one or another national Jesuit office. Stock was Executive Secretary of The Jesuit Conference, where he worked with Tim Kesicki, President of the Conference. While I was packing this morning I realized that it will take some grace to take in and be welcomed into Gerry’s absence — for me and the 10 men with whom he lived.

Monday will be busy and I had some time in Detroit Metro this morning so I fished around in Garrison Keilor’s “The Writer’s Almanac” and found a poet new to me. Raymond Carver’s “At Least” freshens this travel morning. So does the note just below the poem where GK recalls for his readers that today is the birthday of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: three short FDR sayings.

Wednesday’s post will follow “Work Day/Hard Times” in its ordinary rhythm. Enjoy Raymond Carver and FDR.

john sj

Sunday January 31 Raymond Carver “At least”

At Least
by Raymond Carver

I want to get up early one more morning,
before sunrise. Before the birds, even.
I want to throw cold water on my face
and be at my work table
when the sky lightens and smoke
begins to rise from the chimneys
of the other houses.
I want to see the waves break
on this rocky beach, not just hear them
break as I did all night in my sleep.
I want to see again the ships
that pass through the Strait from every
seafaring country in the world—
old, dirty freighters just barely moving along,
and the swift new cargo vessels
painted every color under the sun
that cut the water as they pass.
I want to keep an eye out for them.
And for the little boat that plies
the water between the ships
and the pilot station near the lighthouse.
I want to see them take a man off the ship
and put another up on board.
I want to spend the day watching this happen
and reach my own conclusions.
I hate to seem greedy—have so much
to be thankful for already.
But I want to get up early one more morning, at least.
And go to my place with some coffee and wait.
Just wait, to see what’s going to happen.

“At Least” by Raymond Carver from Where Water Comes Together With Other Water. © Vintage Books, 1986. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


It’s the birthday of the 32nd president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, born in Hyde Park, New York (1882). He said: “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.”

He also said, “I think we consider too much the good luck of the early bird and not enough the bad luck of the early worm.”

And he said, “Remember you are just an extra in everyone else’s play.”

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jan 28 “. . . for Holy Beings” Poems — Joy Harjo

Thursday January 28 – “Yes, that was me you saw shaking with bravery . . . “ pg. 11

This has been a busy week: back-to-back board meetings — Denver, Santa Clara and Detroit, followed by a conference in Washington. After that my life looks to be easing into a more graceful rhythm. In the midst of all the hustling, Joy Harjo sent me her new book of poems: Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, (New York: W H Norton, 2015). In the airplane last night I began reading from page 1.

No Wednesday or Friday posts this week, and probably none next Monday. So, I decided to introduce three pieces from Conflict Resolution. Taut, clean words that opened my soul last night while flying north toward Seattle to catch the Detroit red eye.
Joy, thank you.

Try reading each out loud, with some slow breathing in between.

Back Wednesday; have a blest weekend.

Today’s Post

Humans were created by mistake. Someone laughed
and we came crawling out. That was the beginning
of the story; we were hooked then. What a wild
dilemma, how to make it to the stars, on a highway
slick with fear —
page 13

Listened to an alto sax player jamming on the street.
He played a few jazz standards, mostly popular tunes
the people would know who changed buses there. Nice
tone. I walked from the hotel into the dusk of the city to
listen closer, to speak with him. l We shared names, gear
info, and other stories of the saxophone road. He told
me, “I’m making a living out of small hopes . . . “ There’s
someting about a lone horn player blowing ballads at
the corners of our lives.”
page 10



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Jan 25 – “Ask me Anything”

Monday, January 25   – a new work day 

I looked out of our 2nd floor living room window, over the still-in-progress McNichols entrance, onto pre-dawn Parking Lot F.  I saw two cars near the lot entrance.   When this post is finished more early arrivers will have selected their places and turned off their engines;   it’s mostly employees now.  Students will come later and pack the big lot. says the 8:00 am sky will fill with winter sunlight that will ease back to “partly cloudy.”   Fresh sun to light a working day.

One of this list’s readers sent me a poem on November 22:  “A friend of mine sent me this poem today and I thought I’d share it with you.  I think it’s especially great.”    She’s right by me.  Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest day.


john sj

Today’s Post –  “I Am Not Old”

I am not old…she said
I am rare.
I am the standing ovation
At the end of the play.
I am the retrospective
Of my life as art
I am the hours
Connected like dots
Into good sense
I am the fullness
Of existing.
You think I am waiting to die…
But I am waiting to be found
I am a treasure.
I am a map.
And these wrinkles are
Imprints of my journey
Ask me anything.

– Samantha Reynolds


I searched for Samantha Reynolds and found many people;  can’t figure out which of these women wrote this poem.

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Jan 20, 5:00 pm @ Gesu –> Gerry Stockhausen, sj

Wednesday, January 20  –  “and each body a lion of courage, and something precious to the earth.”

About 5:00 pm this afternoon in Gesu Church just north of UDM’s McNichols campus, women and men who have worked with, laughed with, kept commitments with Gerry Stockhausen, sj will gather for a Eucharist of celebration and goodbye.  When we’ve completed the service, everyone is welcome to come c. 300 yards south to the Jesuit residence, across McNichols, where Gerry lived between 2000 and 2010.  The UDM Jesuits and our kitchen team have prepared food, and drink, and (thank you Ruth Fichter)  a great collection of photos from Gerry’s years here (e.g., Stock looks pretty cool in his Tiger’s jersey the day he threw in the first pitch at Comerica park.).

Even if you can’t make it this afternoon, you are welcome to keep company with us from any distance.



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



August 27, 1949 – January 12, 2016

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Jan 15 “We plant seeds that one day will grow.”

Friday  January 15   “We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
Of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.”

Ken Untener’s last job was as bishop of Saginaw, MI for the last 24 years of his life (d. 2004); I am hardly alone in holding him as one of my saints and heroes.  About the time he became bishop, complications from a broken leg required amputation of his right leg below the knee.  One artificial leg did not deter him from his love of hockey.  Hence my choice of a  favorite picture, just below.


Bishop Unterner wrote this prayer/poem in 1979.  It has sometimes been attributed to Bishop Oscar Romero, martyr of El Salvador.  It seems like a good poem for this week when we lost Gerry Stockhausen, who died too young.

Blessings on your weekend.

john sj

Today’s Post

It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
It is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
Of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying
That the kingdom lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capacities.
We cannot do everything,
And there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete
But it is a beginning, a step along the way,
An opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
But that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are the workers, not the master builder,
Ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Ken Untener, Bishop of Saginaw (deceased)


This prayer was composed by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, drafted for a homily by Card. John Dearden in Nov. 1979 for a celebration of departed priests. As a reflection on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop Romero, Bishop Untener included in a reflection book a passage titled “The mystery of the Romero Prayer.” The mystery is that the words of the prayer are attributed to Oscar Romero, but they were never spoken by him.

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Jan 13 – “When Thou commandest me to sing”

Wednesday,  January 13 — Singing before God

Many people have posted to the list about Gerry Stockhausen’s passing.    Thank you.    Today’s post remembers that Stock sang and played a 12 string guitar.  Lots of times.

Have a blest day.

john sj


Today’s post:  Rabindranath Tagore

When Thou commandest me to sing
it seems that my heart would break with pride
and I look to Thy face
and tears come to my eyes.

All that is harsh and dissonant in my life
melts into one sweet harmony
and my adoration spreads wings like a glad bird
on its flight across the sea.

I know Thou takest pleasure in my singing
I know that only as a singer I come before Thy presence
I touch by the edge of the far spreading wing of my song
Thy feet which I could never aspire to reach.

Drunk with the joy of singing
I forget myself
and call Thee friend
who art my lord.

Tagore  Gitanjali  # 2


ps  Next week the Jesuits of UDM will celebrate a memorial mass remembering his presence at UDM.  Details follow.

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