Betty Duffy

Monday, December 21, 2009

This Marvelous Love

(Fighting the Man, part 3)

I didn’t sleep at all Saturday night. Instead, I lay in bed while my husband snored, and I ticked off in my head all of the things I could have said, when a certain individual in our community called and said, “I’m going to be very firm with you, Mrs. Duffy. If my name appears in any public writing that you do, you will hear from my attorney, and I will make your life very difficult.”

I had given him the courtesy, when I interviewed him, of letting him know that I planned to oppose the zoning effort that would allow a high density apartment complex to be wrapped around my family’s home on three sides. The person in question, a local businessman, did not want his name mentioned in connection to the pending real estate deal, even though his role in the transaction is very significant. I looked out the window at my beloved field and pictured it marred with street lights, timber balconies and vinyl siding.

As it happened, the letter I had already sent to the paper, to be published sometime this week, did not mention his name, which made the injustice of his threat sting so much more. I felt bullied, and angry, and I thought about all the things I should have said all night long and all the next day.

He doesn’t have the power to make my life difficult. And I’m not out to ruin him anyway, regardless of how he feels about me.

“Make justice your sacrifice and trust in the Lord.”

And so I have found myself in a dangerous position in this week leading up to Christmas. I have been absent to just about everything that is not the composition of letters to editors, letters to zoning boards, letters to neighbors, letters to corporate entities attempting to purchase the land in question, and letters to the entities attempting to sell it.

And there are other things…

Several months ago, I started thinking I needed to make some money. So I told the Music Minister at our Church to pass my name on to any couples getting married who wanted a cello to accompany their wedding. She said she would, but she also thought that it would be nice to have a solo cello at the Christmas Eve Mass, and would I play?

Well, it was a way to get myself out there, so I agreed, even though solo cello was not what I had in mind. I’m an accompanist, in the background, not alone, in front of everyone. Between playing solo cello after a ten year hiatus, and the mixed reaction with which my editorial in the paper could be received, I was wondering how many acts of public buffoonery I could commit in one week.

And of course playing cello at Mass would be yet another reason why my heart and mind would probably not be worshiping God on Christmas. I was starting to worry that this Christmas would pass me by. And I was sort of glad. Just do my duty to my family, cook dinner for my in-laws, smile at all the people who, for various reasons, are annoyed with me at the moment, and soon enough all the drama would be over, and then, I could finally find my moment with God. I would have paid a lot for an hour of silence from the activity, and from my thoughts, but it just seemed like it wasn’t meant to be.

At the Church rehearsal, the vocalist sang her song, and I sat at my music stand feeling like I needed to roar. I wanted to sing. I wanted to sing my guts out. When I was in college, sitting in the Orchestra pit accompanying the Halleluiah chorus of Handel’s Messiah, I always felt so pent up and frustrated that those people on the stage were the ones who got to open their mouths and let it all out, while I sat grumbling on my strings down below.

I even thought about asking the music minister if I could just yell into the microphone and hear my voice echo through the empty sanctuary. If I could not have my hour of silence, then I could be content with an hour of extreme noise. But instead, I played Silent Night on the cello four times and packed up my stand and my music.

Everyone put on their coats to go home, and I went to look at the manger scene that volunteers had set up after Mass on Sunday. I sat down in front of it, while the music minister turned out the lights in the Sanctuary.

"Do I need to go?” I asked.

“I need to go,” she said, “But if you want to stick around, you can lock up and turn off the lights.”

And so it happened that I found myself alone, in near darkness and silence in the Sanctuary of my Church.

Ask and you shall receive.

What a magical thing it is to be alone in a Church at night. My priest has a little chair set up in front of the tabernacle with his notebooks and breviary. He comes in every morning before the sun rises to prepare for Mass, and I felt envy for a moment that that is his life: every day, to be alone, in silence, in the dark, with our Savior.

To clear my mind of all its clutter and noise, I knew that I had to sing. It felt dangerous to break the silence, like I was trespassing on God. But the first quivering lines of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” bounced off the pews and arches, and the echo sounded so refined, so much clearer than my own voice, like an angel in the Sanctuary singing with me.

I kept singing until my mind was free of its clutter. It took about fifteen songs, but then my heart started opening up to receive His love. What a gift.

All of my life, I have wanted to be near Him, and yet I have always been my own obstacle to receiving him.

When my husband and I bought our first home, it was no accident that it was across the street from a Catholic Church with a 24 hour Adoration Chapel. Many of my neighbors were not so desirable, but He was there, right across the street.

I did not take advantage of it like I should have. At that time I had two babies just about a year apart, and I didn’t have my act together. To get up at 8 and go to Mass seemed like a logical impossibility, but I could go out on my doorstep and make the Sign of the Cross and salute my neighbor, Jesus. That was enough.

When we moved, it was to free my children from the undesirable neighbors, to give them a more free-range life. But to do so I had to sacrifice my neighbor, Jesus, with all of the other neighbors as well. I look back on the days of having Him so near and wonder why didn’t I just get up and go to Mass? Why wasn’t I at Adoration every night, singing my guts out in the Sanctuary’s dark silence?

And now here I am, fighting off undesirable neighbors again, and wishing only to have my heart free enough to love.

There are so many things I get wrong. But this one thing, this desire to love God, is one thing I know I do right, because it was given to me, independently of my own efforts. “He has put into my heart a marvelous love.” It comes from outside myself, “a greater joy than they have from abundance of corn and new wine.”

“I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.”

If I could just trust this marvelous love, I could be free.


Adrian said...

Great Religion Magazine collection for all Christian brothers and sisters. Wish you a Merry Christmas and May this festival bring abundant joy and happiness in your life!

Anne said...

Wow. Sigh. Wipe the tears away. This was so lovely.

I don't envy you for your battle, I've been there myself with our public library a few years ago. I have a post written about it and have been dragging my feet about publishing it, I guess it is still painful for me and I'm not sure that I need to pain others about it, it's ancient history now. So I do feel your pain and at this time of year, I imagine it is gut-wrenching when you would much rather be enjoying the season.

But your time in church, magical seems like the perfect word to describe it. You have been given a precious gift of faith and you take it seriously and it blesses you. I'm envious.

Debbie said...

I first came here recently through "Conversion Diary." I really enjoy your writing. Merry Christmas!

wifemotherexpletive said...

what a wonderful experience to be alone in a church at night... and how brave to sing out like that... i'm so glad for your moment, thank you for sharing it.

Sr. Dorcee Clarey said...

I just discovered your blog a couple of weeks ago. Thank you for it--for your beautiful writing, but even more for opening your heart and sharing its depths.

Elizabeth said...

I just discovered your blog and really enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing.

Marie said...

I taught school years ago in an undesirable neighborhood. Gangs, more wannabe than "real", but in their wannabeness they managed to kill a kid. But I would drive kids home every once in a while, and one little kid, connected with all this mess, we'd pass the church and he'd cross himself. It was the first time I'd ever seen that, I didn't grow up doing that sort of thing.

Walking out on your front porch and crossing yourself, that sounds really nice.

Margie said...

I sought out this post to leave a comment, probably my favorite from last year. Thank you for this quote: "All of my life, I have wanted to be near Him, and yet I have always been my own obstacle to receiving him."