Sunday, November 27, 2011

If A Saint Blogged: Book Review of Duty of Delight

Before I read Duty of Delight, the diaries of Dorthy Day, I confess my knowledge of her was extremely limited.  I'd seen her book "The Long Loneliness" in our library, but I had not read it.  I knew tangentially of her writings and the Catholic Worker in the way that theoretically "everyone" knows about Dorthy Day.  I knew she was steeped in a love of the poor, and thirsty for social justice, had been a pacifist and that was the limit of my understanding.  (Blogger note: I cribbed the picture from the Amazon page.  If you want to order it, go here).

Given current events with the economy, the jobless rate and recent protests, Dorthy Day's words and thoughts would seem most appropriate. Indeed, one of the chants/slogans: "To Comfort the Afflicted and Afflict the Comfortable." come from her words. (Wish I'd dogeared the page). I later learned it's part of Dorthy Day's Chaplet, part of the Mysteries of Mercy.

Reading her thoughts as they traced the history of five decades, while the problems and issues of the day changed from the 30's depression to the 40's war to the 50's and the civil rights issues, the drugs of the sixties and wars and drugs and promiscuity of the 70's, Dorthy Day's response remained remarkably consistently the same.  She embraced prayer and service with tremendous zeal. While she lived out the beatitudes in her life and work and she loved and revered the Eucharist and the liturgy, her diary reveals how this was a difficult and ongoing battle within her to stay true.  

At one point, she grouses that while Christ did feed the 5000, he didn't do it every day.  But recognizing one cannot out do God in generosity or charity, she does not spend much time dwelling on her struggle.  The diary reveals simply that she has accepted this yoke. She gets up, and she does it again; another day, every day. This fortitude is part of what earned her the title, "Servant of God" by Pope John Paul II in 2000.  The case for her candidacy as a saint within the Catholic Church was opened in 1983. 

This is a discomfiting read, challenging in real time the reader to recognize that here is someone who is earnestly striving for holiness.  It's also a difficult book because it isn't a narrative, it's a person's daily thoughts which sometimes are a list of things to do, and other times are a report of what happened, and still others, a notion of what she will write, not yet teased into full form.  Consider this tome a window into a holy woman's mind. She claims she's a Martha, but I see Mary in someone who receives the Eucharist almost daily, who prays constantly for strength and charity and who is not reasonable or limited in her demand of herself to love and witness publicly for peace and justice.

Her thoughts echo in some of the most thoughtful discontent expressed today.  Ignoring the reality of suffering is the societal version of complicit moral sloth. Our society today suffers from the same ills she protested against over the course of fifty years.  We do need a society that makes it easier for men to be good. We do need a society that promotes and allows for charity towards those who fail themselves. We do need to not turn a blind eye to the poor. We need to recognize inequities and see Christ in the distressing disguise of the poor. (I would submit we fail to see Christ in anyone we do not know, wish to know, or anyone we've decided we don't like). We also need to call people to charity, to urge through witness, through simplicity, through self denial, rather than engage in antagonism for anarchy's sake; heated argument fails where quiet witness compels. "Where there is no love put love and you will find love." Dorthy Day's life speaks of that active quiet witness of putting love where there is none.

On a personal note, I was struck by how disciplined a mind  Dorthy held, even in her private writings.  When she would make reference to another's issues, (say drunkenness or promiscuity), she would immediate rebuke herself for lacking in charity, for not loving the sinner despite the sin with sufficient enthusiasm.  She would remind herself of her own faults, her own failings, and the reasons people chose sex or drugs or alcohol.  To keep a journal over decades and not stray into allowing one's mind to gossip or slander or insult, shows a tremendous depth of forbearance that is no accident.  It is deliberate obedience to showing charity of thought. There are only glimpses of deep hurt or deep joy, when she references Forester (as his then common law wife lay dying), or in old age, as friends sought her out daily and provided little comforts in the form of beauty (music), thought (books), and daily joys (foods and company).

My only problem may perhaps be personal. Dorthy's impressive intellect dazzles, but her fascination and admiration for communism (given its track record even then) in general, puzzles me.  Likewise, her then progression to view herself as an anarchist distresses.  Part of my brain understands, she was Catholic, and therefore seeking citizenship in Heaven, rather than holding any attachment to the world, but it put distance between Dorthy and me as a reader. God's law; which is both radical in its call to love, and demanding in its call to obedience led me to conclude Dorthy Day was an obedient anarchist for Christ if such a term can be said to exist.

Dorthy's love of books, of good company, of quiet, of the water, of beauty, of her daughter and her "family" all mirror her devotion to Christ  She is flesh and bone and thought, a real woman who lived out some part of Christ's mission, who did what we're supposed to do, to commit all to living out that sliver of understanding that grace, that God has bequeathed us, and to live it all our lives, with our whole hearts, even when it's hard.  It is a day by day, year by year, winter, summer, sickness and health, poor and rich, 'till death when we unite struggle that must be embraced and sought and performed.  We get a privileged glimpse into the heart of someone who did it. 

It might be the modern equivalent of "If a Saint Blogged."and it's a good primer for all of us who live comfortably as a rule and need to integrate the beatitudes into our daily breathing lives.  We've been given much.  Much will be expected.  All in all, a good book to challenge the mind, the heart and the soul to greater love, greater devotion, greater prayer and a daily embracing of what Christ calls us to be.  Dorthy would like that, for that is also what she sought from the books that she read.

P.S. For those more tech savy than me, Duty of Delight is available on Kindle.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

balanced,and incisive analysis of a very complicated subject.

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

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