Betty Duffy

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Strange Alliances

I tried to move the kids towards clearing the table, and brushing their teeth for bed, but no one moved. My voice rose in pitch, and it became unclear to whom I was speaking, so my husband sent me out for a walk, which I was more than happy to take.

I enjoy claiming the dusk hour as my own, necessary for recollection at the end of the day, though it's hard to tell what hour I wouldn't claim for my own if given a chance to claim them all. In any case, the hour was given, and I accepted, and made for the river with the dog.

The dog has required a ritual cleansing each night since he rolled in something dead Sunday afternoon, and necrotic odors still follow him wherever he goes. He can be an annoying dog, but he's handsome, and when he trots into the river, and swims out to tread water against the oncoming current, I feel a comforting sense that at least one created being is doing exactly what he was meant to do. Being and vocation are united in him, and it's a moment of encouragement, however brief.

Everyone and everything else are in flux. The water is high and fast in the Spring, calling to mind a Hebrew word my friend Karly taught me, "rishrush" for a rustling, sometimes associated with running water. The grass greens up, and the atmosphere closes in under the clouds, so that the burnt odor coming off the fiberglass factory recalls cookies baking in a damp kitchen. Venus and Jupiter have aligned in the night sky. Love and the Law, making a temporary alliance, moving further away from the earth as they set, and yet closer together as they go.

And the liturgical season offers some of the most memorable phrases of the year. "Now is a very acceptable time," (2 Corinthians 6) though I often think the contrary. "Why is this night different from all other nights?"(--from the Passover Seder). And from Genesis (37:19-20), regarding Joseph, the beloved son: "Here comes the Master Dreamer!…Let's kill him!" I wonder what it would have been like to live in a time when "master of dreams" was an insult.

Oh, Lent. It's the season of the bitter herb, and of lamb's blood, vinegar and salt water to taste. We are being led out of Egypt, freed from slavery. Yet the movement is a challenge, always towards liberation, never fully free--ritually cleansed, but still smelling of decay.

The kids, of course, are loving it. They spill out into the yard, pulling every item we've non-sensibly chosen to store in the shed, out onto the lawn to test its capabilities to serve as chariot or sword. The older boys have taken over the dolly--the wheeled cart for lifting heavy things-- and the eldest has convinced the next to yoke himself to it, and pull him around the yard. There are drivers, and the driven, the Brain and the Body.

I tell the younger, "You don't have to do what he tells you."

"I want to though" he replies, trudging breathless out towards the fence line, with the Brain sitting magisterially behind him, noshing on Cheerios out of the box.

Still, it's a better game plan than their winter one, when the Brain sat upstairs reconfiguring passwords on the Nook, while the Body was sent downstairs to fetch a credit card out of my wallet, so they could purchase 30 dollars worth of Star Wars books. Two little boys went to Confession that day, and received the opportunity to sponsor a poor child from the Third World rather than Legos for their birthdays.

My father had a similar friendship when he was a kid with a small, smart boy, who would arrange fights between my dad and the neighborhood bullies with the phrase, "Let's you and him fight." Driver--driven, Brain--body, and the body does for love what the brain does for gain. Venus and Jupiter, strangely paired. All of us in bondage.

Of course, it all comes together in Christ, somehow, though I can't think how at the moment. My sister-in-law tells me never to go into a metaphor you don't know your way out of, and I think I've managed to confuse myself with too many metaphors all together.

The brain must learn empathy, the body, discernment. Venus and Jupiter, love and the law, move closer to one another as they retreat from Earth and advance towards the Heavens. There is a body offered in my stead (let's you and him fight), but it requires me to unite my own inevitable bodily suffering with that of the Slave, and be a willing slave too.

All I can say is hurry up, Lord. Lent seems interminable, and I'm impatient for the work to be accomplished.


Mary Ellen said...

This is really beautiful. I've not had a stellar Lent (bad pun intended), and this post seems to touch on just the right spot.

It was fun meeting you and the other bloggers at the Behold Conference last weekend. Still love the message you wrote in the book. My husband didn't know quite what to make of it (well, you know what I mean . . .). Keep writing, please, so we in Springfield can carry on our imaginary friendship with you!

nancyo said...

This took my breath away. So beautiful; I love the way you weave in all the threads: the dog, the planets, the children, yourself and of course the Slave.

BettyDuffy said...

Nancy, Thanks!

Mary Ellen, Meeting you was a highlight of my weekend! I'm so glad to know I have friends in Springfield. Wish you were closer though!

Karly said...

I was delighted to see the rishrush reference from the Hannah Senesh poem/song "Eli, Eli," and it made me think of a passage from Gilead about the English equivalent, susurrus:

"That mention of the sound of a seashell reminds me of a couple lines of a poem I wrote once:

Open the scroll of conch and find the text
That lies behind the priestly susurrus

I have loved the word 'susurrus' for a long time and I had never found another use for it."

I've just convinced Rabbi Steve to have our Wrestling with Prayer class read and discuss Gilead in April and May, by the way. I was a little hesitant about suggesting it because it is undeniably a Christian book, but the way it captures an authentic prayer life will be useful for our group and topic, I think. And, as I've told you before, I sincerely believe it's the same God, in any case.

Which brings me to my comment on this post--I loved this image and line especially: "Love and the Law, making a temporary alliance, moving further away from the earth as they set, and yet closer together as they go." We have been talking in this prayer class about a false contrast or distinction that is often made between Judaism and Christianity--that Judaism is a religion of the Law and Christianity one of Love and Mercy/Grace. In fact, a loving, merciful, gracious God is highlighted and continuously praised in the Shabbat prayerbook (though I admit it does sometimes seems hard to find this God in the Torah itself.) And Christianity certainly holds itself accountable to an ethical Law. So I find myself hoping that the alliance between the two could prove to be more than temporary.

BettyDuffy said...

Loved your comment. Have been wanting to respond for a couple days, and just found the moment. Within Christianity itself, there are also false distinctions between Love and The Law--and one of the most common in-fights that takes place in the Catholic Church has to do with the form the liturgy takes, the old ritual vs the new, and somehow, these distinctions are also mistakenly associated with the law and love. God is love, and in love, we obey the law. But the law , without love, means nothing.

I've been rather taken lately with the Jewish foundations of Christianity. So many layers to the onion skin. And I think Gilead would make a great book for any spiritually conscious group to read. I'm sure your group will love it.

Annalea said...

I love these pieces of yours . . . rich with reference and meaning, imagery and history. I really don't care if you know how to get out of an metaphor once you're in it. I really enjoy the ones you draw. (You can leave the getting out of them to your readership--we won't mind. ;o)