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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Three Poems, Three Lessons

Today I’m sharing three poems with you. The first two were written by friends. The last one is mine. I suggest you read these poems aloud and slowly.

The first poem called “Shapings” was written by Sister Doreen Strahler (1929-2020). A Sister of Notre Dame, she was an elementary school teacher and principal for many years. This poem is from her book A Buffet of Poems to Savor, Enjoy, and Pray (available on


“You’ve read that poem quite beautifully,”

my English instructor commended me.

I basked in the light and warmth of her praise

And read even better the following days.

My new music teacher would fuss and would fret:

“Will you watch your timing? No, it’s not right yet.”

The lessons which had been delightful before

Had suddenly become a pain and a bore.

Many long miles I have traveled since then,

with a poem in my heart and a poem in my pen.

But it’s a shame and a waste and I dare say a sin,

that I never more play with my old violin.

For reflection:

“Never underestimate the power of an encouraging word.” Have you ever personally experienced this maxim?

What do you think is the significance of the title of this poem?


The creator of this second poem wishes to remain anonymous. I will say only that this poet taught English for many years.


Loved wandered into my room today.

I was busy grading papers:

Literary analysis essays on some aspect of The Color Purple, I think.

Or was it a reflection paper on the utter isolation of Blanche in Streetcar?

I forget. But very important stuff, you know.

Love perched on my windowsill, right in front of me.

But I had to move from the desk over to the laptop to type.

Exams to prepare. Budgets to complete. Committee reports to finalize.

More. Important. Stuff.

When I finished

(but wait—am I ever finished with this oh-so-important stuff?),

I turned back to the windowsill.


For reflection:

Has love ever “perched on your windowsill”? If so, what “form” did that love take?

What’s really important in your life right now? Do you ever have to let go of the important things for the really important thing?

Have you ever ignored something really important and now regret that you did?


Watching a loved one suffer is perhaps one of our greatest crosses—especially when we are powerless to relieve their suffering. At times like this, we often resort to simple touch, presence, prayer, and (of course) love. This poem is from my book, When the Blue Heron Flies.

“I Cannot Take Your Pain Away” (To Margaret)

I cannot take your pain away.

I cannot give you back your youth, restore your health,

or make your mind clear and sharp again.

I cannot fill the hollow of your loneliness.

I cannot say, “I know exactly how you feel,”

or “Everything’s going to be okay.”

But I can sit with you.

I can hold your hand if you want me to.

I can be silent or recite the words

we are both straining now to live:

“Yea, though I walk through the valley

of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me.”

I cannot do your believing for you.

But I can and will continue to love you


For reflection:

When have you felt powerless to help a loved one in need? What did you do?

Has anyone ever helped you when they were powerless? If so, what did they do that helped you during your own time of pain and struggle?

Poems are not written to teach lessons—yet at times, they inadvertently do. Do any of this poems teach a lesson? If so, can you express that lesson in a few words?

PS: Today, October 4, is “World Animal Day.” Established in 1925, this international day celebrates all animals on our planet. It was set on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi in 1929. This year’s theme is: “Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and the Planet.” Let us pray and act in such a way that we show our appreciation for the diversity of all animals that share our world with us, homo sapiens.

The third poem speaks of Ps. 23, that great psalm of trust in God. I’m offering you a choice for our video today. Both are sung versions of Ps. 23. The first uses some lovely pictures in the background. It is sung primarily in two voices, male and female. The second is a version sung by John Silver. I find it somewhat haunting. The background is just sheep. Sheep eating, sheep standing, sheep following, sheep just being sheep.

Ps. 23 sung with two voices:

Jason Silver and sheep, sheep, sheep:

Feel free to add your response below to the poems, the pictures, the videos, or to someone else’s comment.

17 Responses

  1. Good morning, Sr. Melannie…
    Good morning, all…

    As a teacher, I can so relate to the first two. In the first poem, the words of another poet, Emily Dickinson, come to mind: “We must be careful what we say. No bird resumes its egg.” Once words are spoken, they cannot be unspoken. This is my 40th year in the classroom, and I hope most of what I’ve said to my students has been edifying, but I know for a fact there are words I’d like to have back, especially during my early years.
    The second poem shows two things: the all consuming commitment of a teacher can cause him or her to miss the beauty on the sill, and just how important was that commitment in the first place? The irony in the second stanza says it all: “But very important stuff, you know.”

    Your poem, Sr. Melannie, beautifully speaks to the humble ministry of presence. In a person’s final days, we would love to be God and take away the pain, to take their pain, but we can only watch at the foot of their cross and “continue to love [them]/ forever.” We “strain” to say those familiar prayers, hoping they will give us solace during this sacred, liminal moment.

    The average bookstore has a poetry section the size of a mustard seed, but I think we’ve all read poems — like these — that have moved mountains within us!

    Thank you, Sr. Melannie!

    1. John, Thank you for taking us through all three poems with your simple observations. I liked your last sentence the best. Whenever I go into a bookstore, I have to ask where the poetry section is because it’s so teeny weeny. So I try to make my small contribution to keeping poetry alive by regularly posting a few poems on my blog–including a couple of yours! Melannie

  2. Good morning, everyone….
    My husband & I read Sunflower Seeds together every Monday morning and discuss it. We liked the first two poems but we are living the third. It’s difficult to watch each other (who both were so vibrant and active) slowly sink into the sunset, knowing that there is nothing we can do but be there for each other.
    We really enjoyed the first rendition of the 23rd Psalm but our favorite is John Michael Talbot’s rendition which he wrote for his father’s funeral and sang a cappella for us at our 25th anniversary Mass. (40 yrs. ago!). It’s from his first album, “Come to the Quiet”.

    1. Jean, I was moved by your words: “but we are living the third.” Just remember that when the sun sets here, it is simultaneously rising somewhere else… Thanks again for responding… Melanne

  3. As my sister was dying of cancer, while in capable hands of hospital personnel and later on, hospice care, the pain she suffered, all the while not remembering its cause, was deeply felt as I stayed with her every waking hour. There was no amount of drug combinations that could take it away. It was agonizing for both of us. I believe it was the most stressful time of both of our lives.

    One day a harpist came into my sister’s room and played for an hour. It was the perfect balm, actually giving her rest. I will never forget that woman who was, I thought, angelic. For the first time, I wept.

    I believe God was with us, with the reminder that his ways are not our ways. Yet we trust in his perfect plan.

    Music is poetry in notes.

  4. Being a care taker wife all 3 of these poems fit perfectly into my life. So often the encouraging word lacks the encouragement – it is more negative. Love at the window I look to see and wait for a cardinal a symbol of love for my son that died last November.
    Now we are approaching (sooner than later) the road to heaven. I pray that I use words of love, encouragement and praise!
    Thank you for all the time and energy, Sr. Melannie, you spend to bring us closer to what we are born to be – instruments of peace!
    Nancy Matras

    1. Nancy, Thank you for your brief comments on the poems relating to your own experience. My sister’s favorite bird was the cardinal. Every time I see one, I think of her… And thank you for your encouraging words about my blog. I really enjoy coming up with these reflections because I get “to meet” readers like you!… Sr. Melannie

  5. Sister Melanie,
    Today is the 19th anniversary of my mother’s passing. Your poems are so fitting as I reflect on my mother’s final journey. My sisters and brothers and I watched over my Mom until she finally died on the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, a saint she dearly loved. That week we spent at our Mother’s side was perhaps the most beautiful and saddest week of my life. Thank you for your beautiful blog. It is a treasure and a special treat each and every week.

    1. Noreen, My sympathy to you on the anniversary of your mother’s death. Isn’t it wonderful that we can say how some experiences are “the most beautiful and saddest” times of our lives? What a paradox!… And thank you for reading my blog and responding in this beautiful way!… Sr. Melannie

  6. Your title “I can’t take your pain away”….
    Ohhh, how my brother’s and sister wished we could have done that for our Mother. She was in “misery” for so many years. She was in a Nursing Home, and right after Covid began, she was beginning to fade, and they wouldn’t let us in.
    My husband and I decided to bring her to our home for her last days. She was loved by our entire family and friends for 5 glorious days.
    She passed on her 99th birthday!! GOD always seems to have a glorious “plan”….
    Love your poem. Very fitting for us.
    Thanks so much,

    1. Sue, How difficult that must have been not to be able to be by your mother’s side because of Covid. Yet you found a way to bring her home “for 5 glorious days.” What a gift! Thank you for sharing this beautiful story with us!… Sr. Melannie

  7. The last poem is how I’ve been living my life the last
    2.5 years desperately wanting to help my 34 year old daughter through her cancer journey wanting to give her back all that she lost because of it. Its so painful to know I can’t fix anything. As I sat with her today recovering from yet another surgery I told her I can vacuum the house while I was there, clean out the dishwasher and do laundry….she said no just be with me. The most simple thing is just being present to someone. Yes the last poem was so timely today
    Thank you 🙏🏻

    1. I will pray for you and your daughter. I was in that spot many years ago as my mother suffered with cancer. She just wanted me to be there.

      1. Bernadette, Yes, I’m sure many who read your account will be praying for you and your daughter… What a gift that she asked you to just be with her… Thank you for responding to this reflection… Sr. Melannie

  8. Sr Melannie and everyone, hello!

    I found much to admire in each of the three poems. I felt that “Shapings” had implications for the spiritual life as well. I recall Abp Sheen saying (in one of his books; I’m a bit too young for his TV show!) that what the world needed most were “apostles of encouragement”! In “Regret” we have that marvellous serendipitous bird-presence speaking of God; for me, it might be a person, a song, an autumn leaf, etc. And in your own poem, Sr Melannie, the immeasurable value of presence, of “merely” being with, receiving the other person into our silence, into our compassion. Such a difficult grace when the other person is suffering, but so immeasurably precious.

    I admired the first musical version of Psalm 23 that you provided, with the two voices, one male one female, and the appealing translation or paraphrase of the familiar verses.

    Very glad to have read your post this week. Much to treasure in it!

    Peace and light.

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Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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