Monday, August 31, 2009

Dorothy Day: Simple Truths

I am finishing the 600-page diaries of Dorothy Day, which span 45 years, and I am struck by the consistency of Day's beliefs. Once she became a Roman Catholic--or by 1934 -- her beliefs never wavered. She reminds herself of them often in her journals, so much so that they become ingrained in the reader as well. Here are a few, in no particular order except as they occur to me:

1. We must build a society in which it is "easier to be good."

2. The world will be saved by beauty. Late in the diaries, she speaks of a group who would go into the slums, as she calls them, clean and paint and repair, then furnish the rooms with the utmost simplicity, hanging icons and crosses on the walls, which glowed with beauty.

3. Christ calls us to find his face in the "least:" the unreformed alcoholic, the poor, the mentally ill. We are to embrace them as brothers and sisters. It is not easy.

4. We are called to stand for peace. Christ was the Prince of Peace. Day never wavered in this conviction: not during the Spanish Civil War, when the Catholic church largely supported the fascists, not during World War II, not in the face of Hitler and the holocaust, not during the Cold War of the 1950s, not during Viet Nam.

5. "Christian" people who live well are not living the gospel. Day had a lifelong distaste for fat, comfortable priests and such like.

6. Silence is important. She is constantly reminding herself to talk less and listen more. She had great affinity for the Quakers.

7. Judge not. She lived with people it would be easy to judge: prostitutes, drug addicts, drunks, people she opened her room to who stole her things and left her lice in trade. Yet she constantly admonishes herself not to judge, not to speak harshly, to praise God for these people as the face of Christ in her life. She constantly sought to live humbly.

8. We can learn from great literature.

9. Manual labor is very important. It is part of the balanced life. It is where we meet God.

10. God and religion are both spiritual and material. People need spirit, but also need things. Poverty is an evil.

Day was a truly awesome person, and I use the word "awesome" in the sense of awe-inspiring. She lived her beliefs every day. What do you think of them? She would also read the biographies of saints for inspiration. I am inspired by her. Could you suggest books about people who inspire you?


Anonymous said...

Dorothy Day is also considered one of the early founders of social work. See

Ted M. Gossard said...

Very good. I want to read her writings.

Thanks, Diane.