Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Waving From the Cloud of Witnesses: Dorothy Day

The Christian life is certainly a paradox. The teaching of St. John of the Cross (which was for beginners, he said) is of the necessity for detachment from creatures; of the need of traveling light through the dark night.

Most of us have not the courage to set out on this path wholeheartedly, so God arranges it for us...

We try to escape, of course, either habitually or occasionally. But we never can. The point I want to make is that a woman can achieve the highest spirituality and union with God through her house and children, through doing her work, which leaves her no time for thought of self, for consolation, for prayer, for reading, for what she might consider development. She is being led along the path of growth inevitably. But she needs to be told these things, instructed in these things, for her hope and endurance, so that she may use whatever prayer she can to cry out in the darkness of the night.

Here is her mortification of the senses:

Her eyes are affronted by disorders, confusion, the sight of human ailments and human functions. Her nose also; her ears tormented with discordant cries, her appetite failing often; her sense of touch in agony from fatigue and weakness.

Her interior senses are also mortified. She is also with her little ones, her interest adapted to theirs; she has not even the companionship of books. She has no longer the gay companions of her youth (their nerves can't stand it). So she has solitude, and a silence form the sounds she'd like to hear -- conversation, music, discussion.

Of course there are consolations and joys. Babies and small children are pure beauty, love, joy -- the truest in this world. But the thorns are there -- of night watches, of illnesses, of infant perversities and contrariness. There are glimpses of heaven and hell.
On Pilgrimage by Dorothy Day
I like that point about God arranging for us what we need in our everyday life. We must be open to it so that we can take full advantage of what we are being offered though. Otherwise it is just inconvenience, pain, and suffering without any of the redemptive possibilities being used.

I am greatly indebted to the friend who, upon hearing that I was not fond of Dorothy Day, sent me this book as well as Praying in the Presence of Our Lord: With Dorothy Day by David Scott, which largely consists of quotes by Day. I also would like to add that Scott's introduction about Day's life is the only one I have ever read that was not a turn off.

I had begun to suspect it was not so much that I did not like Dorothy Day as that I had never read anything that she had written, but only things that others wrote about her. Reading these books proved that suspicion to be correct. Dorothy in person is nothing like the persona presented by others, who I had begun to mentally label "Social Justice Dorothy." Reading her is like looking at a Catholic Madeleine l'Engle whose books about her life and faith I find interesting and inspiring but incomplete.

Both books are highly recommended.

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