Betty Duffy

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.