Reading about Dorothy Day over the past few weeks has been cause for critical reflection on a number of unhelpful assumptions that clutter up the floor of my mental workshop, and that in the real world would be removed by anyone schooled in health and safety procedures. Interesting concept - a health and safety inspection of the way we do our thinking!! Here's three correctives to such unhelpful assumptions.
One. Just because someone isn't a recognised theologian doesn't mean they aren't. Day never claimed to be, never wanted to be known as, a theologian. But the way she lived her life on the values of the Sermon on the Mount, used her mind to think through the meaning of each human being's existence and value, conflated prayer and social action, ignited compassion with the fire of the Gospel of Jesus, confronted the powers not only with obstinate protest but with lucid argument articulating the nature of God in Christ. She was a theologian alright.
Two. Spirituality has to do with the inner life and piety of the individual. Not so. True spirituality is expressed through the outward witness in works of mercy of a Christ-responsive community. Coming from an Evangelical context I recognise the deadly temptations of what my own College Principal used to call "grovelling around in the dark recesses or comfortable sofas of our own souls". Day knew the problem. "To cook for one's self, to eat by one's self, to sew, wash, clean for one's self is a sterile joy. Community, whether of family, or convent, or boarding house, is absolutely necessary." It isn't that I don't know that. It's just that spirituality in a consumer culture is always in danger of being an unholy search for personal customer satisfaction. By contrast, Day found God in the messiness of people's lives, in the friction of personal relationships, and in those places where injustice and suffering went unchallenged - until she and others like her went there in Jesus' name and orchestrated a collision of worldviews.
Three. Personal sanctity is a life goal. Not so. Sanctity pursued has no purchasing power for the truly holy person. The self-conscious pursuit of holiness was, in Day's judgement, a deflection from the life of discipleship. When followers of Christ seek him amongst the poor, witness to the Kingdom of God with faithfulness before the powers that hurt and exploit, enact in lifestyle and embodied practices the forgiveness and peacemaking of God, then just at those points where personal holiness is the least concern, sanctity is invisble but obvious. Even in her lifetime some suggested to her she was a saint - her reply, "No. I can't be dismissed that easily".
Three will do for now. My final post Dorothy will include a couple of Dorothy's subversive interpretations, either of Jesus' words or of the actions consistent with Jesus' own subversive lifestyle of self-giving and peacemaking love. Jim Forest's brief biography is entitled Love is the Measure. And so it is.
If love is interpreted with the full costliness of the Gospel
and love modelled on Jesus is lived as a tough and compassionate alternative to the uncaring selfishness of contemporary culture
and love is understood as a Gospel critique of all social injustice that diminishes, discriminates and deprives further the least of Christ's brothers and sisters
and Love is
Incarnated in practices and habits of compassion
Cruciform in its shape and self expenditure
Resurrection pointing in its vitalising hopefulness
Pentecostal in its dependence on the Spirit who pours the love of God into human hearts
Trinitarian in its reaching out to those who are other
Eschatological as the contemporary enactment of the final reality of a universe where God will be all in all
because in the end, as at the beginning, God is love.