Betty Duffy


Friday, December 12, 2014

Corrections and Applications

I would like to retract the following statement:  "I want not to want."

Let's revise it to say, "I want to want the right things."

Desire is the spark behind all human innovation, after all. Desire impels my daughter to vocalize her first words. It inspires me to fix things I want to fix, to take up what I want to learn, to give myself to my husband, to have children, to pursue God. I want to keep discerning the right things, and desiring them, and disciplining my fickle attractions and attentions so I don't spend myself on lesser goods.

Further retrenching: I've deleted a few perpetrating apps from my phone. I'd developed a habit of scrolling whenever I had to sit and wait, like when the baby climbs on me and wants to be held, or when I'm waiting for kids in pick-up after school.

The apps have been gone only one week, but I've already doubled my off-line reading time, by placing a few books at the various stations where I'm likely to get waylaid.

I'm reminded of that old adage--How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Well, I've eaten probably ten elephants over the past year that I've had this darn phone, without even realizing I'm doing it.

The thing is, I would never sit down and eat a whole fried burrito. It may taste good, but I just wouldn't do it, because it's bad for you, and has negative cost-benefit analysis. Likewise, sitting down and actually committing to a Facebook session is just not appealing to me. Though I'd gladly steal a taste in a blind moment.


I was driving the older boys to school this morning and my daughter rode along because she had spell bowl. The elementary kids normally go an hour later. She was realizing that next year, when she's in middle school, she will have to get up an hour earlier every morning, which will be hard because she already finds it difficult to wake up in the morning.

I told her she would have to discipline herself to go to bed earlier, not to stay up reading so late--as I often find her asleep with her glasses still on and her book still open when I go up to check on them before bed.

"But mom!" she said, "My mind is thirsting for knowledge!"

"No it's not; it's thirsting for entertainment."

She smiled sheepishly. "I know," she said. I want to dispel the myth that all reading is virtuous. There are so many rewards and perks to being a "reader" at school. They're rewarded by page-count and quantity of books read. And there is so little emphasis on the actual content. You just can't live on fried burritos all the time.

And the boys were using those annoying voices that middle schoolers use, trying to talk like rappers, emitting an ironic ambivalence about everything anyone says: "Lols… Cray… Amaze." They abbreviate words that people never used to abbreviate, that were once marked with exacting punctuation--exclamation points!--now replaced with disenchanted periods. 

I did what I don't usually like to do, and turned our morning prayer into a sermon: "O Lord, Creator of all Universes, of infinite languages, of vast Creation, open our minds and hearts to your expansive nature, so we are not tempted to limit our communication to that of the most common and narrowly expressed creature. All that you make is good, which is why you want to expand our thinking to a Creation that surpasses the walls of this middle school. Amen.

A's rather interested in the weather app on my phone these days. Every morning he wants to know how the poor souls up in Northern Michigan are faring in relation to us. 

And P continues to tack the word "-butt" onto everything he says, which is not so endearing. This morning we went over a few of his sight words, which he does not have memorized and so he was sounding out, "tttt-aaa-ppp. Tap--my butt."

Talk about narrowly expressed individuals. This will be the year of expanding P's vocabulary.

At Patheos:

also, now seems as good a time as any to revisit this old post.

Monday, December 8, 2014

I want not to want


Can I even fast for one day without telling someone I'm fasting? I cannot go into the desert by myself, even as every area of my life points to God alone, God alone, God alone. 

And also, you.

I'm retrenching. So far, I have canceled one very obnoxious email account that I should have canceled years ago because every couple months it sends out viral emails without my permission, telling all my friends about Oprah's weight-loss secrets. 

I used it to sign into all my online accounts, so changing it was a big pain, but it was like a mean cat you can't give away and feel too guilty to kill-- a silent stress I didn't know I had until it was gone--going in every day to delete junk mail and communicate with the few hangers-on who refused to change my email address in their contacts (They'll find me if they really want to).

There is more significant territory I'm trying to surrender, and I know the world will be fine without my tending to it, if I could trust that I will be fine without my tending to it. Probably I will be much better.

I want to be happy with less, and less, and less. Actually, I want to be unconcerned with being happy. I want not to want.

I told the kids that as an Advent penance, we would not go to the store again until the pantry is empty. All the beans and sardines in there would need to be eaten first. Unfortunately, we ran out of toilet paper and laundry soap before we ran out of beans, which foiled my plan. They never believed it anyway.

I'm reminded once again (I remembered this last week too, but forgot), that sin is a blinding force. 

I'm used to the horrible metaphor of sin as a rubber band being stretched and stretched until finally it snaps, and then you're floating in the cosmos, detached from God's grace. And Good luck to you.

But maybe the best metaphor for sin is Jesus's metaphor of having a beam in your eye.

Maybe God doesn't actually abandon you when you're awful, and maybe you haven't even consciously stretched away from God, because you love Him more than anything, truly--you just act or don't act without thinking sometimes. 

Or on some surface level the sin meets an immediate need. It can plug holes and buy time before you must face the ultimate need. Until then it sits there on your eyes, blocking your vision of a more perfect path, and of others' needs, and even of your own intrinsic desire for the simple, clear way.

I can't help thinking of sin as an object, even though I know it's more of a verb. I always want to give sin a heft that maybe it doesn't have, although a physical heaviness always arrives with it. 

And once the plank is removed, my, my, my…it's like seeing through glasses for the first time in your life when you've needed them for years. How sharp the leaves! How tender the bark! In blindness, I'd assumed the opposite.

Sometimes we find another sin hiding right behind the first--specks and splinters--residue from the beam. I got rid of last week's sin, and this week I'm learning I'm a glutton. Aside from food, I'm a glutton for people, my particular friends and preferences, for saying what I like to say rather than what is thoughtful and wise to say. I'm a glutton for approval, for fast results, for immediate gratification; a glutton with my time and energy, and a hoarder of both.

I'm a glutton for intense feelings, so I'm not going to indulge in self-hatred over my gluttony. In the desert, there's no comfort in false penances.

Agnes said for me today: "God does not diminish us." He doesn't pick out a day of blessings and say, "Well that might have been a good day if it weren't for that one stupid thing you said."

The day is good. He made it. It didn't turn to crap because I said that one stupid thing. The sin is mine. It cannot diminish God's creation. 

And also, I cannot diminish God's creation by always seeking the shadow, by finding the "no," and the "but," and the "instead" that makes me feel so smart sometimes.

I always assume there's a flaw in the hearts of the easily satisfied. Are they blind to contradiction?

Probably not. Unhappiness is the failure to see the light that shapes and reconciles shadows, clinging to a known, safe and limited vision. 

"O Abyss of Mercy!" (Saint Catherine of Sienna). How I want to fall in.


Magnificat: Friday, Dec 5, 2014
"Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them," (Lk 7:22)

In the aridity of lives given to self-seeking: Heal us o Lord!
In our blindness and deafness of heart: Heal us, O Lord!
In our inability to praise and serve you: Heal us, O Lord!

Monday, December 1, 2014

(If I could) let this cup pass from me...

I had promised myself that I would not write until I could talk about something other than my appearance, but my transformation into a winter wildebeest seems to be complete. I don't want the dark post-party Monday feeling to distract me from the sparkling moments with my brothers and their wives this weekend, but the fact remains that my family does not know how to do anything at a family gathering besides eat. Eat, and then sit on the couch, clutching coffee mugs, working our way slowly as the hours pass from somnolence to hilarity, if hilarity comes before our heads are bobbing in accidental slumber.

But the face-stuffing is constant, from arrival at Mom and Dad's to departure. I can never tell if food is really our only party trick or if we suffer from starvation anxiety--because there is always concern in advance about having enough to eat.

And then we tried to take a family picture, a thousand snaps of Joe and I and the kids, and not one with all of us looking decent. I kept scrolling through the pictures on my phone and on my sister-in-law's phone, and finally had to submit that the reason I looked fat in all of them, is that it is a valid likeness. I spent the rest of the weekend hiding behind the buffet then, comforting and compounding the problem.

One night I decided to counteract the eating by doing a P90X video with ridiculous gusto for someone who has done no exercise but walking for about three years. I have spent three days crippled since then, and this morning was struck once again by the cold and desolate reality that my only option going forward is to eat less--which takes all kinds of energy. I can't avoid thinking, planning and talking about my eating less. It's like living in a mirrored cage--worse than bars, for you see only yourself.

I keep wondering if it's really worth it. Do I now find myself in a safe enough time and place to throw in the towel and grow old? Is there ever such a place?

I went to a Notre Dame game with Pedge, Agnes, and Cecille last weekend, and leaving the game in search of half-time beer, we picked up a young Bradly Blue-eyes in search of the same. I have to admit, when Pedge and I rehashed everything later, and she noted what a looker he was, and how we really do have to remain sober and vigilant for the rest of our lives--it hadn't even crossed my mind that we'd have offered him any enticement but money. I'd thought we were babysitting him, or he was humoring us, or he just knew that groups of females have more success finding available beer than single males.

All the while we'd been throwing out terrifying facts, like that we each have six children, that we are nearly forty, that we don't even like football, but we were given free tickets so we watched the game for only a quarter before it was time to drive three hours home for Agnes to nurse her baby to sleep. 

When Pedge said, "Be sober and vigilant for the rest of our lives," my only real sorrow was to consider cutting off the life-saving glass of wine at three o'clock on Wednesday afternoons, paired with a pang of recognition that maybe--just maybe-- the fruitful vine in the recesses of our home has been sampling a little too much product. But why be sober and vigilant in the recesses of the home? Because it is where my spiritual embattlements actually play out? Maybe I'd be a more pleasant person if I could just doze through them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Josephite Marriage, Here We Come.

Way back in the summer I went through training to become an abstinence educator in the public schools. I left the training session with an icky feeling about the stealth ninja evangelical Christian aspect of it, paired with irritation about disturbing metaphors in the curricula, on how one becomes a defiled, disposable object that cannot be bought, sold nor even given away once one has been had. "Because purity matters!"

I hemmed and hawed about what I would say to these people, whether I would vocalize my concerns like a grown-up and let them do with me what they will, or whether I would go with them as a stealth ninja abstinence educator with reservations, and then spring my concerns on them at a time of ripeness.

Turns out, when the emails and the calls came for me to do the shadowing portion of my training, I just ignored them. Like a grown-up, I pretended I wasn't here.

I do this kind of thing frequently, it seems, poke fire with a stick and then turn into a hedgehog when it flares on me. I'm always courting conversation about sex, because it interests me, so I suppose I can't be surprised or dismayed when the the conversation courts me. 

Yesterday I received a review copy of a book in the mail from a publisher, which my daughter intercepted before I could get to it, and it had a sassy looking girl on the brightly shaded cover, which interested her. But, as it turns out, the book was about sex.

She was several pages into it when I took it out of her hands. It was titled, "Chastity is for Lovers."

"That book says 'sex' a lot," she said.

"And that is why you shouldn't be reading it."

When the other kids heard the word sex, they too became interested in the book. My oldest noted that, "All the books you get in the mail have a vaguely sexual nature."

This is true. Last week, I received a copy of "Gay and Catholic," which is actually a very good memoir on living celibacy. But it probably looked weird sitting on my dresser. And then there was "Beyond the Birds and the Bees," and "Holy Sex!" which is not vague at all, but one of the kids found it hidden in my bedside table. Truly, it was for review, and I tried to keep it discrete, but… that didn't work out. 

"It's probably because you have so many kids, they want to know what you think," said my daughter, who only recently learned that there is a relationship between an activity known as 'sex,' and the conception of children. She was counting siblings, out loud, and realizing that we had done it at least that many times.

"Nope," said my oldest, "They've done it more than that. I've heard 'em." 

And this was very bad news to me. Once again, poke and flare. Where could I hide? But at the same time--what did he know? And whom had he told? It was happening so fast--my daughter challenging him, my son providing evidence and quotes from an overheard conversation, a rather damning one my husband and I had when we believed he was asleep on the couch in the next room. I had shushed my husband at the time. Now I was shushing my son. What in the hell?

But it was too late, all the little people were there, gathered around my son, blinking at the evidence. Fortunately most of them didn't know what any of it meant. But for the ones who did understand, I believe it is finished. We have become the Catholic Kinseys. 

And I had pretty much just decided that I was done with sex talk. No public abstinence educating-- for the kids, really, so they wouldn't have to endure their mother being the Sex Lady at their school. No more writing or reading books or blogs on sex. I don't even care anymore what the Church has to say about orgasm. I say, I do not.

But the Church "wants" married people to have good sex! 

The more I study it, the more silent Jesus becomes on this issue. Babies are good. The rest is… whatever… and I'm seeing the wisdom in that silence. Sex is neither going to destroy the world, nor save it.

But my kids, oh, my kids! If I haven't destroyed them, they're in for at least a good thirty years worth of recovery. I'll be off tying that millstone 'round my neck.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Rapid fire decision making

I'm in the mood for some levity. And life has delivered. Every now and then I'll hear a word or two of what my kids say when they're all talking at once, like when the eight-year-old said, "I want to be a monk when I grow up." It rang out like an angelic cornet, a hopeful prophesy that at least one of my children will leave the nest eventually and find a worthy new home in which to prosper towards the Lord.

I also felt a little pang of sadness because he is possibly the most marriageable of my four bachelors. He's self-sufficient, tidy, and the most naturally pious--characteristics that would suit him well in either a family or a monastery. And I know he's very young, but to offer my first fruits, I started researching nearby monasteries to take him on a little field trip, just so he could see the life in action and normalize it.

Unfortunately, today he came home from school and said, "I don't think I want to be a monk anymore. I'm going to join the navy now."

"Why'd you change your mind?"

"A veteran came into our class. I just think it would be cool to live on a boat. It would be fun to go to war too." He started shooting an invisible machine gun, spitting out staccato blasts of gunfire. 

Then he stopped shooting, overcome with an urgent thought. "Would you be sad if I were in a war and I got shot in the penis?"

I thought this might be the deal breaker. "Uuuuh….." I said.

"I wonder if they'd have to do surgery. Maybe they'd give me a mechanical penis. A mechanical one that shoots real bullets!" And then he went back to rapid fire machine gun charades, but with a slightly lower slung gun.

So I feel like maybe it's too early to sign him up for the monastery, and maybe if we just keep quiet about the military, that plan may change too.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Education of Mother Gorgon

I feel frustrated that my real life is not as peaceful and idealistic as my prayer life. I feel frustrated that I would even differentiate between the two. Why isn't my prayer life my real life?

When I find a moment of silence I always imagine I'm growing by leaps and bounds in my relationship with God, that I'm finally not holding anything back, and things are happening.

Maybe they are, but when the moment of hideous volume strikes as it always does, I'm just not peaceful about it. I keep wanting to tell the kids, "You can get away with anything you want, anything at all, as long as you're quiet. See here, you can read all the salacious Guinness and Ripley's books you want, sneak food out of the kitchen, and that's about it. Just don't yell."

But yell they will, over each other and under each other, and all around me. 

Yesterday morning the younger boys woke me out of a sound sleep with a fight, on my face. Literally, they were on my face. They'd made a dirty deal over a toy. One of them reneged, probably the younger, who took the toy and ran screechingly for my protection, in the wee hours of the morning where the older chased him, bounding up on the mattress.

Alarm clocks are awful, but they do not compare to civil war on your face, to droplets of spittle raining down on your barely conscious mind saying "Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one! Feel the cortisol spike of confusion! There is a very loud and serious problem happening on your face."

There's no rational, reasoned, prayerful response to such an awakening. The Mother Gorgon rises up breathing fire, and for the rest of the day she feels just a bit off kilter, even after coffee, and after peace has been restored among the children. She has survived the rude awakening, but now she gets to self-flagellate for handling it so poorly. Bad Mother Gorgon! So impatient! So not spiritual!

Where is the connection between the me who goes out for sunny afternoon walks, praising the Lord, lifting up my spouse, children and all of my friends into His Glorious Presence--and the me who comes home and wants to throw the salad bowl because one of the kids ate all the craisins (no sneaking food after all.). 

Am I only a good Jesus lover when I'm alone? Because I'm really good at the work of reconciliation when the baby's having a nap and the kids are at school. Then it's all very good to reconcile the kitchen floor to its swept and mopped state, to make the crooked bedsheets straight. When I'm alone, I love the holiness of the present moment--aaah, so Holy and silent!

Maybe it just takes a different kind of thinking to acknowledge God's grace in the absence of a negative, as in, "It's been kind of a long time since I've thrown a dish! Thanks for that, God!" Or, "Lord, I thank you for preventing me from turning my children to stone for fighting on my face today." Or better yet, "Glory be to God that no one's had a fight on my face in the past 24 hours."

I suppose it really is up to God whether or not any of us are good. It sounds like a cop out, but it's the only explanation I have, because there is good will, sound intent, and solid effort on my part to behave well in times of high stress. But still...but still...

Lord, make us good! 

If he answers the prayer, Thanks be to God. And if he doesn't... Thanks be to God.

At patheos, I'm doing re-runs, because I'm finding it difficult to write anything that's not a complaint. 

I'm finding it difficult. 

Actually, nothing's very bad, which is why it's so frustrating that I find anything difficult.