Betty Duffy

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Music for the Already/Not Yet of Advent

Well, it's been a busy Fall. Busier than expected due to the out-of-nowhere gift of making contact with two very talented women who were riotously game for making an album of Advent music over the course of a very intense month or so.


I have so many thoughts in mind about this project, about my faith-filled, talented partners, Kaitlyn and Elise, about the gift of working creatively with women, about the fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit, about each of these songs...

For now, I'm just going to put the music here without delay, so that you may have it. I hope you love it as much as I loved helping to make it.

Here's Elise on some of the impetus we felt for doing this:

Eight weeks ago, two friends of mine here in central Indiana and I got together to ask what it would be like to do an album for Advent. Elizabeth and Kaitlyn were meeting each other for the first time. Their respective three-year-olds were hiding behind maternal legs and sizing each other up with sideways glances. I was on and off my work email. But something felt immediately fitting and right about the project. Three mothers, with varied challenges to our time and energies - three creative types, wanting to do art in a way that would connect people - and ourselves - to God. Three human beings, frustrated with an idealized model for creativity that requires freedom from dependents and large chunks of uninterrupted time.

We thought about incarnation, about the real demands of parenting and working and providing for the needs of others. We thought about a creative life. And we decided to try an experiment. We would do an album that was truly incarnational - music that could be born in our real lives, just as they were - and we would do it for Advent - a season when we celebrate God’s taking on our flesh - and a season during which we are reminded, forcibly, that all is not yet well. That we are still groaning for God’s coming. That we are trapped here in the already/not yet. And that yet, because of Jesus, we do this compromised living with hope.

There's more to read on our Sister|Sinjin Blog, including some explanation of our name and patron saints.

And here's Kaitlyn on doing creative work with kids:

What if creativity does not flow best into the limitless space we strive to create around ourselves? What if, instead, it is pressed out of us by the constant, repetitive, unending cycle of daily life? What if creativity is not the result of acting on our every desire, but rather what’s found after everything else has been drained from us?

Maybe there, in the uncomfortable realities of our lives is where creativity is expressed, because it must be in order to survive the exhausting and the mundane. Maybe creativity is more incarnation than transcendence.

Creativity of obligation requires us to show up with all our baggage and create something anyway.

I know the text on our blog is a little difficult to read, due to my horrible web-design skills. Any minute now, I'm going to go back in there and figure out how to change the background to white and the text to black.

Until then, a very warm thank you to all of you who have supported us by sharing links, and buying copies. It's all been so much more than expected.


You may also enjoy the solo work Kaitlyn and Elise have done. I love to trace the cross-pollinations of sound that occur when we work together.

 (I especially love track 4)

Here's a link to Elise's most recent album Valley: Hymns for Travelers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Recent Posts at Good Letters

Stiff Necked Church Lady

And so you will have confidence that you are doing the unimpeachable will of God, though it’s been eons since you’ve consulted God with any uncertainty and really begged of him an opinion, sitting in quiet and patience until The Answer answers.

In short, you will have gritted your teeth to a human concept of holiness while running your body into physical exhaustion, and your soul into a position of supreme spiritual laziness.

Glorying in Flawless Skin and God's Love

“Do you think I should say mean things about myself?” my daughter asked. “People always say that you shouldn’t put yourself down, but if you say good things then they say you’re boastful.”

The Crazy Sex Lady at the Solitary Banquet

What do you do when you’ve tried to set a banquet for your family and you are the only one who wants to attend?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Slightly Darker Liturgy

I think of November as the start of the barren season: the beginning of my season of longing. Aside from the liturgical calendar and the purgation of Advent, there are a number of penitential markers that reenter my life in late fall.

Cross country season is over, for one, and I know it’s weird to think of a running sport as a happy time, but picture your children in peak physical health, bounding nimbly through fallen Autumn leaves, while the sun shines bright, but not hot, at it’s longest and most enduring evening slant. The sport calls you out every night, every Saturday, to some of the most beautiful parks in the state. 

And, I don’t know why, but I am almost always undone by a race. Long after the first runner has crossed the finish line, I’m watching each athlete’s white-ringed lips gasping for air, seeing the stiffness set in as lactic acid accumulates in their muscles, and I hurt for them. I just feel so proud of their exertion. I cry every time, and I have to hide myself.

Then comes wrestling season, dark gyms, the thick musk of a sweat that never quite washes away. I’m grateful for the morning practices that call me from bed early in the darkness to drive my kids, and for the streetlights that reflect red, yellow and green on the slushy black roads all the way to February. Otherwise, I’d find it difficult to face  the mornings.

Already, I sit here, not yet dressed, a brief lull in my daily calendar before I downshift into full winter gear, and I think, yes, I could sleep through the whole thing. Part of me wonders if pre-evolutionary man didn’t hibernate completely, because this urge is so chemical and so consistent. 

Or maybe it’s something in the Midwestern atmosphere, the four o’clock solar surge that coaxes the roses into one last glorious bloom before dropping moodily into an evening frost. I’m going down.

So, my children are saving me again with their perpetual hope of candy and presents falling from the winter sky. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, food, food, food, requests for shopping trips to the Goodwill for costuming and books, and a number of parties on the docket have made them immune to my darkened liturgies.

And speaking of darkened liturgies, the summer has ripened a few fruits in my own life that I am happy to carry into the cooler weather. The Latin choir that a friend and I started almost two years ago has become a regular Wednesday night singing of Vespers with Adoration and Benediction. People are coming. It’s not just us anymore. We used to print the liturgy each week on home computers, but we’ve had to move to the Parish office for printing because there are that many people.

We, of course, had nothing to do with this change. We would have gone on singing alone in the Church basement indefinitely, but we were assigned a new priest this summer who is very excellent, and said yes to all of our requests, and then some. 

He not only agreed to give us the Sanctuary with an open Tabernacle, and to let us sing in Latin; he burned incense, he set out the Monstrance, he processed around the altar incensing the Host. He explained the purpose of Vespers in the Liturgy of the Hours. He suggested to everyone gathered that we divide into two choirs, one on the left side of the Church and one on the right, and that we alternate verses. He led a procession with incense to the Blessed Mother after he repositioned the host in the Tabernacle, so that we could close our prayer chanting the Salve Regina.

New faces have become regulars and participants in our prayer. So much so, it’s not even “our” thing anymore. And I know it never was “our thing;” it was always for God. But it was also for us, because we wanted to experience unquestionably beautiful liturgy in our own parish whose Sunday Masses remain under the tyranny of too many untrained chefs in Dan Shutte and Marty Haugen’s liturgical music kitchen (when the praise band isn’t playing, that is).

Our schola has been asked to sing at the Saturday Mass in two weeks, which is planned in honor of a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. We still don’t have a green light for Latin during the Mass, but we are allowed to choose the hymns, accompanied by our newly-refurbished great organ. 

I think our parish just doesn’t know what’s possible in the realm of liturgical music. Some individuals are finding themselves at home in the somber modalities of chant as we slowly introduce it in the limited ways we are able. If God wills, the movement will grow. I pray my ego doesn’t get in the way, as I am not only too eager to claim the church’s ancient music as my own personal modality, but I am also terrified of singing for the larger corpus of our Church. And God forbid, I become Connie-the-over-eager-cantor in my forties.

I figure I have maybe a decade of good range left before my voice acquires old lady vibrato. I may as well use the time, but I have this steady aversion to putting myself up as a singer.

Nevertheless, I have been put up as a singer. My mid-life-rock-band crisis has continued from the summer, through the Fall. We had gigs into early October, and we developed a few staples in our repertoire on which I sang lead, my favorite being "Angel From Montgomery." I also sang back-up to our lead vocalist, who returned mid-summer from her maternity leave.

Gigs slow down, like everything else, in the winter. But we have friends in town who own bars, and who have said that we can come in any night of the week, and treat our rehearsals like gigs for the daily drinkers. We wouldn’t get paid. It would be for the sheer love of music and possibly to the detriment of career musicians elsewhere who would experience a possible downsizing of the paid market. But who knows. We need a reason to keep getting together.

Also, weirdly, I was asked by a dear friend to participate in a musical collaboration that was clearly a movement of the Holy Spirit. She saw that a connection should be made between a female musician who recently moved here (who plays violin and mandolin), herself (a vocalist and pianist), and me (cello, banjo, guitar). We all three have a mutual friend who owns a music studio, we had some prepaid studio time, we had two weeks to arrange a few standard hymns, plus a few new compositions, and a vague plan to record an Advent mini-album, and before we knew it, we realized we were a girl-band with an album in the works.

It will be ready in one month. I can’t adequately explain how quickly this all came together, partly by necessity, because we are all mothers and didn’t have time to dally. But it was also in obedience to an otherworldly compatibility of personalities, faiths, musical gifts, voices, resources and timing. I couldn’t have foreseen it, couldn’t have planned it, and don’t know if it will ever be repeated.

But I’m looking forward to providing links. It is so close to being finished, which boggles my mind.

In the meantime, I wrote a post for Good Letters that makes a really jilted attempt to express what I believe to be the source of whatever beauty elicits, not only from these creative endeavors, but from any aspect of creation. 

“My happiness lies only in the belief that beauty belongs to God. Love belongs to God. Good works belong to God. Redemption belongs to God. It’s his work if I radiate or create something of beauty. It’s his work when I recognize something as beautiful. It’s his work when I am able to recollect myself in his presence. His presence is now. His presence is good. His presence is regardless of me. His presence redeems the moment.”

I want to add something to the above thought, which I read this morning in the meditation for Magnificat by Sister Ruth Burrows: That the opposite of sin is not moral rectitude, but faith in Jesus.

If such is the case, then the sin-state can occur to anyone who relies on her own strength for redemption. On one hand, its titillating to imagine that grave-sin isn't only for drunkards, fornicators and gossips but also for people who think saying certain devotions, wearing certain clothes, speaking only with certain people, etc. will ensure their salvation. I know Jesus said as much when he rebuked the pharisees, and I will also suppress my temptation to delight in the sins of others.

But I feel joyful of the ongoing revelation that I am free to live and work in the redeemed present by Jesus’s love for humanity consummated on the Cross. His sacrifice washes, not only my horrible self love and nostalgia for a perfect self that doesn’t exist (which arrested my spiritual development for so long), but it also checks the ego that abides in me still, that continuously threatens to claim whatever good I do for myself. 

Jesus, I believe in your redeeming power, and will not be afraid of my sin. Holy Spirit, I believe in your silent word, and will not be stiff-necked and doubting when I sense you prodding me into uncomfortable fields. God the Father, you are the source of all goodness, holiness, and beauty, and I give thanks for whatever share of it you offer me.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Just a Life Free of All Conflict... that's all I ask for...

I spent several minutes this morning trying to decide if I wanted to go to walmart and purchase some cleaning products, and really attack this house with the full force of will and thirty minutes in each room, or if I want to blog. You see what I chose. Though I keep looking around this house and thinking, Someone really needs to do something about this place. And I keep doing nothing, because anything feels like too much.

We pick up every day. It's the darker issues that need addressing, hairballs under the furniture, spiderwebs on the light fixtures, the ceiling fans. These are jobs for someone with lots of time and concentrated energy, which I probably have, but can't bring myself to use on these particular tasks.

It's homecoming week at the high school, so the kids were supposed to dress like their favorite super hero. Only one of my high schoolers takes fancy dress days seriously, so he was dressed like Ironman, and by that I mean, he had on a t-shirt with a picture of a personified iron on it.

The conversation in the car on the way to school was, "If you were a super hero, what would be your achilles heel?" And they were taking great delight in pointing out each other's weaknesses.

They asked what mine would be, and it gave me pause, because I have too many, but apparently I'd spoken enough about some of them because my oldest said, "Mom's would be a plate of dry condiments. Somebody frisbees a plate of crusty mustard at her and she just crumples."

Explanation: My kids eat hotdogs, they leave pools of mustard and ketchup on their plates, they leave the plates on the counter or in the sink without rinsing, and a couple hours later, when I pass through the kitchen I feel like I'm going to barf.

It is one of the few things in my life that always requires immediate action. There's something about the look and smell of dry condiments that kills me every time, and I will actually walk upstairs to find the offender (this is no small thing), and I will march them to the dirty dish and have them handle it. Because I don't want to touch it.

Mayo too. Gosh, it grosses me out. Can't stand it when people toss the mayo knife into the sink without rinsing.

My daughter said her achilles heel would be when she sees people alone; it breaks her heart. She just has to go sit with the lonely person. And I asked her what she does to discern whether the loner is alone by choice or circumstance.

"Why would anyone would choose to be alone?" she said (which explains so much).

"Sometimes I like to sit alone and stare at the wall," said Ironman.

"Well, you're sort of an odd person," said his older brother.

"But the wall is interesting. It has all these specks on it, and if you look cross eyed, they start to wiggle."

And this led to a discussion of Ironman's odd new friends he met in the chess club, with my oldest analyzing each of their oddities and discerning which was his favorite.

"I hope you're not judging other people's oddities and deeming yourself superior," I said.

"I judge other people's oddities," said Ironman, "and I think: this person is very odd, but I'm not sure he's odd enough to be my friend. I'll keep watching..."

I really do sort of treasure our time in the car.

On bad days, they fight ruthlessly over who sits where. We've had assigned seats, and consequences, and people getting left behind because they refused to sit in the way back. We've even had a broken windshield when two of the kids fought for the front, and one of them put their feet on the window to push the seat back forcefully.

It can be a nightmare.

But on good days, the seats aren't an issue, and they'll become uninhibited in their conversation and reveal themselves in interesting ways.

For instance, Yesterday on the way home from church, they took me to task for not disciplining them harder when they are mean to each other. "I wish we could be as nice as the Collins's are to each other," my daughter said.

"Yeah, Josh got grounded from his phone for three days for shoving his sister," said my oldest. "It's like, zero tolerance over there."

"You should get grounded every time you shove me," my daughter said to her older brother (incidentally, these two are the ones who were responsible for the broken windshield, and they did get grounded and assigned to the way back seat for several months).

"If I had a phone, Mom could take it away from me," said my oldest, "but I don't, so...."

And I've thought about this before, that maybe I really should give them something that I could take away in a pinch, so that I have more options for providing consequences to negative behavior, but the rationale, here, just seems... weird and sadistic... Especially considering the obvious solution to their quandary, "You guys know you have control over how you treat each other, right? If you want a more peaceful relationship, you could both make sacrifices and compromises to maintain each other's dignity."

Nope. Too hard. We just want to lose control and have you fix it for us, Mom.

"And I don't want to micromanage your relationship." It occurs to me here, I could be giving them some tools for expressing their feelings when they get angry with each other. If we weren't always under stress and running late when these conflicts happen, I would have them each write down how they are feeling and exchange letters, Retrovaille style.

Anyway, the car is a place of discovery and learning. There's nothing like putting eight people in un-air-conditioned cramped quarters every day for team building.

We also have bicycles, and this has been sort of a fun new activity for us. I used to cycle a lot, did a couple Little 500 bike races in college for instance, and spent most of my teenage years getting to friends' houses and to school on two wheels.

My husband also biked and camped his way up around Northern Michigan and the UP after college for a summer. But since we had children, quite a few of them who were small all at the same time, we quit riding our bikes. I hadn't been on a bike that fit and was comfortable to ride for about fifteen years.

So my husband remedied the situation. He's been outfitting everyone who's able with a bike this year. And he's a bonafide, helmet and lycra wearing cycler again.

Yesterday, we went for a ride--with my husband, my oldest son, and my dad (who's still in pretty darn good shape for being almost 70)--and it was probably the most beautiful day of the year, at the most beautiful time of day, in the most beautiful part of our state, Southeastern Indiana with these curvy, hilly, narrow, rural  roads over stone bridges, and the smell of backyard fires and drying corn fields, and Goldenrod that makes you sneeze. It was almost as if I were crying at the glory of it all, especially considering it was a similarly gorgeous September 11, fifteen years earlier...but I just had allergies, see.

We formed a peloton and drafted off each other to maintain a speed of around 16-18 mph for about 20 miles, and I was so, so tired. When we got back to our road, I had to drop out of the group and piddle the last three miles, which is what I like to do on my bike more than anything else...piddle, not pedal.

Dad circled around for me, "What are you doing? You ok?"

"Yes, I just decided to enjoy myself for the last few miles."

"Enjoyment is beating back your opponent."

So maybe there is some genetic predisposition to competition in our family. I'm just not sure I inherited it.

Anyway, I wrote something for Good Letters. "I Have No Idea Where I'm Going"

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Maybe I'll die alone on this hill, but computers for kids are a bad idea

Today I am incensed, which is a funny word to mean angry, since I associate it with thuribles and sweet smells rising to Heaven.

It was pre-school open house this morning, and I've never, ever started a child in pre-school this early--three years old. The older kids didn't start school till Kindergarten. I'm not sure what made me think this was a good idea. Lured by the two mornings a week I'd be able to exercise, plan appointments, write without interruption, just be alone.

But I discovered this morning that the three-year-olds (and the four-year-olds, of course), USE IPADS!!!!!!!


Maybe it went over my head in the promotional materials, all the "letters, play time and fine motor skills" they'd be learning, and the parent app where you can watch your child's progress. I thought, oh no, that's just the teachers uploading their finger-painting... It showed a book icon and said something about keeping a journal--both of which were apparently figurative.

How often do they use them?

"Well, it's a "station" they rotate into, but I can hold your daughter out of that station unless it becomes a problem and she feels left out, or you change your mind. Sometimes kids who need help focusing use them in the morning as well."

Is there any three-year-old on the planet who does not "need help focusing?" And have you ever been in a room with an iPad where every child in the room wasn't hovering around it, jockeying for a better view?

This is a Catholic school, which --my children unanimously voted--has the worst library in town (And we've attended four different schools, plus the public library).  It's volunteer staffed and donation only, but somehow the school has funds to put iPads in the hands of three-year-olds.

In June, when the kids were released for the summer, my husband and I bought a lock box and put all the tech in the house in the box to be "checked out" only with permission. Our hopes were that the kids would have a normal summer, riding their bikes, digging in the dirt, calling friends, just being horribly, horribly bored.

Of course, in their boredom, over the course of several weeks, they:

  • Stole the key to the lock
  • Jimmied the box
  • An finally, cut the lock

We had no choice but to evacuate the computers completely from the house. My husband put them in the trunk of his car, and took them with him to work.

Here's the thing about people (not just kids): they always increase the intensity of their rebellion right before they concede. If you can bear the worst kind of acting out, the worst tantrum, the worst stonewalling, name calling, etc.-- there is peace on the other side.

When the kids realized, without a doubt, they weren't going to get what they wanted, they dug in and made the best with what they had. Which happened to be nerf guns, matchbox cars, books and bicycles.

Really, after the first couple weeks, I think we had the best summer of our lives. My oldest, who is fifteen, spent his "lame" summer doing nerf gun modifications, custom spray painting, re-wiring, making his own nerf darts out of foam pipe insulation and hot glue. When he needed tools, he rode his bike to the hardware store himself. Learned more electrical information than in a year of engineering tech class (incidentally spent on screens).

I even talked to the engineering tech teacher, and was like, "I thought this was more of a shop class, where they'd be doing hands on work with tools and machines."

And he was weary, completely weary: "Yes, I used to teach a lot more of that," he said, "but the standards have changed. The tech is online. You can't even begin a project until you to know CAD." Forget the drafting table. Forget the math.

Which, speaking of math, my fourteen-year-old completely faked Algebra for half a year, because the whole class was online. He used Mathway ("an exceptionally smart calculator"--he said), which allows you to plug in any math problem on earth and get an answer.

At the semester exam, the first time they used paper and pencil to assess student knowledge, it became clear that my son had acquired no skill in Algebra in five months.

"We're not raising thinkers anymore,"--this from the AP Biology teacher, who also shrugged his shoulders, helplessly.

There's just no other way to steer this sinking ship. The parents, the employers, the test writers and curriculum developers, all demand: start the tech AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. And be sure to solve every problem you encounter with more tech.

"Drill these things into your children, day and night, when you are home or away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them on your arm as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead." (Dt 6:7-8)


Don't put your kid in the dumb pre-school class, even though you've pre-paid. Maybe they can use her tuition to buy some books for their stupid library.

It only took most of the summer to surrender, but the kids finally played in the dirt.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A blogger reflects...

Write every day. I agree. I want to write every day. I keep thinking I'm going to light up one of my old blogs again, was thinking of doing scripture meditation or something, not because I'm especially insightful, but because I want to devote time to meditation. I want to devote time to writing in general, which I haven't been doing at all.

It's been restful. And other things besides writing have been interesting. I suppose the cat's all out of the bag to my family now that I've been playing cello and banjo in a Grateful Dead cover band. I don't have much more to say about that other than It Is SOOO fun!

I did always think I'd come back to music--that a lot of writing over the past decade was a function of being home with toddlers and that as soon as I could blow this joint (you know, for a few hours at a time) I probably would.

 I now have two, almost three teenagers in the house. My oldest gets his driver's license this year. This summer has been quite wonderful, because I both enjoy being home with them all, and can also pop out on my own if I need to go to the grocery, or for a jog (or to band practice!).

My youngest starts preschool this month and for the first time in fifteen years, I will have actual hours of the week where no one is in the house but me. I don't know whether to rejoice or panic.

So...I suppose it's time to cast around again for an identity:

  • What do you call a forty something stay at home mom, who has no kids left at home during the day? 
  • What if she now thinks she's a musician in a hippy band, while also being a blogger who meditates on scripture? 
  • Does she maybe need to grow up and get a real job? 
  • And if so, why--presuming her husband's job meets the financial needs of the family? 
  • Is it ok for her to blog if she is privileged, and spends most of her life in pursuit of frivolous  artsy-fartsy things? 
  • Is it ok for her to blog if she has nothing profound to say to the many dreadful cultural concerns of the day, and accidentally posts something shallow on the same day as a terrorist attack? 
  • Is it ok for her to like life pretty well, and to have no messy, messy, complicated, personal/spiritual problems to discuss online? 
  • Would you really want to read what this woman has to say about anything, much less about Jesus?
  • AND! What if she perpetually disregards blogging best practices by posting irregularly, using boring titles, omitting pictures, and failing to promote her blog on social media?

These are questions I'm asking myself.

Until I have answers, here's a post I wrote at Image a couple weeks ago.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Eden at the Indy 500

I managed to live in Indiana for forty years before visiting the Indianapolis 500. A friend offered my husband and me tickets on our anniversary weekend, which also happened to be the 100th anniversary of the race itself, an event that was expected to draw half a million people.

“Oh, why do you want to do that?” My family has used this rhetorical question for many years to discourage wanton desires.

We have shared a long-standing prejudice against the race, because it is a place people go to sit in the sun too long while consuming too much alcohol, and my family largely consists of fair-skinned people who do not drink. We have also casually directed this disdain at amusement parks, cruises and the state of Florida for the same reasons.

My dark secret is that I sort of like drinking in the sun. Like nearly all the forbidden things I’ve tried, it feels quite good, until it’s horrible.