The battle at home now is to conquer the bitterness, the sense of futility and despair that grows among the young and turns them to violence, a violence which is magnified by the press, the radio and television. We lose sight of the poor people’s cooperatives and boycotts, the conquest of bread, as Kropotkin called it, which goes on daily in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, not to speak of California, Texas, and all the states where Mexicans have been imported for agricultural labor.
Thich Nhat Hanh:
…we have the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast. But in the name of freedom, people have done a lot of damage. I think we have to build a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast in order to counterbalance. Because liberty without responsibility is not true liberty. We are not free to destroy.
-PBS interview 2003
During this time of COVID, some Americans are refusing to wear masks because it infringes on our freedom. One such person said: “We’re Americans, we can do whatever we want.”
Dorothy Day’s life makes clear how differently we live when we rely on our spiritual tradition as the source of our actions. Clinging to a half-baked definition of “freedom” is bad. However, simple “decency” may not be quite enough. And here is where Day makes us uncomfortable.
Day made her spiritual home in the Roman Catholic Church. She did not blind herself to its many faults. However, here she found she could dig down deep into a level of commitment to God-in-each-other. And so she stayed. Why did she not remain devoted to Communism? Many of the same ideas and visions of justice remained with her always. What was missing?
We have ideas of justice, of freedom and responsibility, of the family of humanity. Recognizing God-in-each other is more than an idea, it is a gut-wrenching challenge to everything we hold dear.
The Catholic Church is not the sole, or even perhaps best, spiritual home for most Americans. The dig-down-deep spiritual traditions of 2020 cannot be enumerated. The specific source of gut-based, love-based, willing-to-sacrifice conscience does not matter. Catholics called humanity “The Mystical Body of Christ.” By any other name, it means the same.
Provided we dig down deep.
Two quotes from Dorothy Day’s column:
“It is time again to cry out against our “leaders,” to question whether or not, since it is not for us to say that they are evil men, they are sane men”
“Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief; take away my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh; in thee have I hoped, let me never be confounded.”
Anchor the eternity of love in your own soul and embed this planet with goodness.
Lean toward the whispers of your own heart, discover the universal truth, and follow its dictates.
Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge.
Release all bitterness.
Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won.
Choose confrontation wisely,
but when it is your time don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice.
And if you follow your truth down the road to peace and the affirmation of love,
if you shine like a beacon for all to see,
then the poetry of all the great dreamers and philosophers is yours to manifest in a nation,
a world community,
and a Beloved Community that is finally at peace with itself.
~ John Lewis (February 21, 1940–July 17, 2020)
“Because of our refusal to assist in the prosecution of war and our insistence that our collaboration be one for peace, we may find ourselves in difficulties. But we trust in the generosity and understanding of our government and our friends, to permit us to continue, to use our paper to ‘preach Christ crucified’.”
“Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife which may at any moment become for us all a time of terror, I think to myself, “What else is the world interested in?” What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships. God is Love. Love casts out fear. Even the most ardent revolutionist, seeking to change the world, to overturn the tables of the money changers, is trying to make a world where it is easier for people to love, to stand in that relationship with each other of love. We want with all our hearts to love, to be loved. And not just in the family but to look upon all as our mothers, sisters, brothers, children. It is when we love the most intensely and most humanly, that we can recognize how tepid is our love for others. The keenness and intensity of love brings with it suffering, of course, but joy too because it is a foretaste of heaven.”
“To be humble and meek for love of God–that is beautiful. But to be humble and meek because your bread and butter depends on it is awful. It is to lose one’s sense of human dignity.”
“Like every human being who hungers and thirsts for justice and peace, Dorothy Day had periods of complete exhaustion, sorrow, and pain. I was told that she would then withdraw and cry — for hours and days. She would sit there, talk to no one, eat nothing, and just cry. She did not withdraw from her struggle-filled, active life for the poorest of the poor. She never ceased to look upon war, and preparation for war, as a crime against the poor. But at certain times she wept, long and bitterly.
“When I discovered this, I understood better what pacifism is, what God means in the midst of defeat, how the spirit comforts us and leads us into truth. I understood that comfort is not had by giving up truth, that one does not happen at the expense of the other. That Dorothy Day cried for days on end means for me that the Spirit’s consolation bears, at the same time, its own inconsolability. With Dorothy Day, we can learn to pray for the gift of tears.”
from Against the Wind: Memoir of a Radical Christian by Dorothee Soelle
People who fight for justice and peace are on the right side of history, correct? So why should we experience exhaustion, sorrow and pain? Frustration, hopelessness?
Because the news cycle of history is decades long.
The fight against injustice spans centuries.
History is not, I believe, an endless cycle, defeats and victories repeating themselves over and over. Think of a long, slow wire coil making its way down from the attic to Eden. Landing on a step, hesitating, collecting itself, allowing itself to be led to the next step down toward its goal.
Imagine we are working half way down the stairs, we can barely see the steps above, only the long way down. Imagine if we were to stop pushing that coil onward, but we stopped, discouraged because CNN did not report the march, the action, the phone calls, the arrests.
Resistance has no news cycle.
Resistance does not feed instant gratification, quite the opposite.
The desire to stop the unnecessary hunger, the spending on wars, the killing of innocents on the street….. it is so intense.
…”With Dorothy Day, we can learn to pray for the gift of tears” and, with her, keep on.
“….you go into a warm, dimly lit vastness, with the smell of wax and incense into the air, the smell of burning candles, and if it is a hot summer night there is the sound of a great electric fan, and the noise of the streets coming in to emphasize the stillness.”
The Long Loneliness p.9
Dorothy Day opens her autobiography with a description of a city church on Saturday nights. Churches create small crevices of silence. Even a chapel out in the country encompasses a stillness unlike the quiet in field and woods.
In grammar school I had my parents drop me off early at a daily Mass. St. Mary’s was a dark cavernous church in a small city. Every weekday morning an ancient priest said a Mass for the Dead, complete with black vestments, women in black shawls, and me. The Mass was in Latin, so I had no idea what was being said. I just liked that quality of stillness. I could sink right into it. Later on, my high school had tiny chapel with yellow walls and bright windows. I’d sneak in to catch a breath of quiet. I was always the only one there.
My mother lived in elder housing which had taken over a nun’s retirement home. The “chapel” gaped larger than many churches and people sat praying (or something) all times of day. I had long since stopped going to Sunday Mass, but I’d sit there briefly, before going to Mom’s apartment, surrounded by statues of saints I’d forgotten.
One evening in Boston I wandered into a chapel hidden below a storefront sidewalk. The smoke of incense drifted in the small room, no doubt drifting there for a few decades. Two women covered in black knelt hunched over in prayer. Above the altar hung a life-size Jesus, bright red paint dripping down his body which writhed in realistic agony.
Suddenly medieval Italy and 1970 Boston co-existed in time and space, and I stood suspended somewhere between. As one of the women began to gather herself together I left, afraid to be dragged into some fifth century Inquisition dungeon and left there. Or maybe I was just embarrassed to be caught touristing on this woman’s sacred place.
Cultivating stillness is a spiritual practice. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Silence is ultimately something that comes from the heart, not from any set of conditions outside us.”
While this is true, PLACES of stillness, of silence are precious.
I’ve stayed too late at nightclubs, and believe me, nothing is more shocking than 2 a.m. when the lights blare on and the music shuts off. That’s not the kind of quiet I’m talking about. That is more akin to waking from a dream in fairyland and finding out it’s ten years later than when you walked in. An awakening indeed. Especially after a few gin-and-tonics.
Dorothy says later in the chapter: “I have not always felt the richness of life, its sacredness.”
Silence nurtures that awareness.
“We can’t find the peace of silence without stopping.”
“If we want to reap the harvest of peace and justice in the future, we will have to sow the seeds of nonviolence, here and now, in the present.”
Click on link above to read Mairead McGuire (Nobel Peace Prize recipient 1976) sum up Benjamin’s work and support her for award.
Dorothy Day was rejected as a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize because she was “too radical.” The work for social justice that Benjamin continues to do makes her a spiritual granddaughter of Dorothy. The Nobel Peace Prize Committee has a chance to correct skipping her over by awarding the prize to Benjamin.