St. Dorothy Day

As we are quickly hurtling toward All Saints Day, it is time for the 2nd annual Church in the Cliff canonization of saints.  Each year, we select a few people who exemplify something that we understand about ourselves as a church.  Like the Catholic Church, our saints must be dead and must have performed miracles.  Of course, we’re a little faster and looser than the Catholic Church.  For us, a miracle should be thought of as knocking the world off its tracks for a just a little bit, just enough to change it, to show the world that there is another way of being.  We do not pretend that our saints are perfect, but we are certainly constructing a particular story about them.  Like all hagiographies, these stories certainly say more about who we are than who they are.  These are the stories we tell ourselves to guide the lives into which we might live.  We begin this week with Dorothy Day.

Dorothy Day was an activist in the 20th century, an advocate for any who struggle.  She was born in 1897 in Brooklyn, New York, but moved around the country early in life as her father looked for work.  This movement made her feel lonely and isolated, so, as a child, she took long walks all over the cities in which she lived.  Like the Buddha Gautama, she saw a lot of suffering on her walks outside of the safe, middle class neighborhoods in which she lived.  She determined that there must be some meaning to it all and, perhaps, something to be done about it, so she steeped herself in the Bible and the writings of radical thinkers like the anarchist Peter Kropotkin.  She emerged into adulthood uniquely prepared for the life she would lead.

After a couple of years at the University of Illinois, she made her way back to New York’s Lower East Side.  She wrote for three different radical newspapers simultaneously, run variously by anarchists, communists, and syndicalists.  However, like St. Bayard Rustin, she never bought fully into any ideology.  Her concern was more pragmatic: she wanted justice and so she aligned herself with anyone who also wanted justice.  She fought for women’s suffrage.  She founded the Catholic Worker Movement embodied in hundreds of autonomous community houses that seek justice through local action.  She protested every war during her lifetime.  In her 70s, she was arrested with Cesar Chavez while protesting for farm workers’ rights.  She lived every bit of what she believed.

At the heart of her belief was an alternative economy in which the rich are made poor and the poor are made holy.  She believed the class warfare identified by Karl Marx was a fact, but remained a pacifist in that war saying that she would resist aggression, repression, and coercion in favor of mercy and love.  Any economic system that insisted on a competition for God’s bounty, whether resolved through individualist competition or state-enforced sharing, was faulty from the start.  Instead, she wished to subordinate economic activity to the wholeness of human life.  In keeping with her beliefs, she lived a life of voluntary poverty and simplicity, giving of herself to others in every way she could.  Dorothy Day is an icon of compassion and integrity.  Dorothy Day is a saint.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we celebrate the life of Dorothy Day.  Also, we will have a booth at the Lake Cliff Park Centennial Celebration from 5-9pm.  I hear there will be free cookies!

Grace & Peace,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.