The Peace of Silence

“….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.”

                                                              -Richard Rohr

Advertisements

Walking Toward God

What is the connection between walking and meditation, walking and prayer? Meditation and prayer require our mind, souls, and bodies to work together in order to bear fruit. Walking requires that our eyes and ears be open.

In The Long Loneliness, Dorothy describes her time living on Statin Island. She says, “I found myself praying, praying with thanksgiving, praying with open eyes while I watched the workers on the beach and the sunset, and listened to the sound of the waves and the scream of snowy gulls.”

“We can train ourselves to walk with reverence. Wherever we walk, whether it’s the railway station or the supermarket, we are walking on the earth and so we are in a holy sanctuary. If we remember to walk like that, we can be nourished and find solidity with each step.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, “Shambhala Sun”, August 6, 2012

 

Merry Christmas from Dorothy Day, 1936

Catholic Worker joins in appeal for democracy and peace, therefore asks you to join protest against all dictatorships, fascist and Bolshevist, against all suppression of civil liberties, fascist and Bolshevist, including freedom of religious propaganda, education, and organization, against all war, whether imperialist, civil, or class.

Merry Christmas.

Judge the Power of Prayer by the Reaction It Gets from the Powerful

Lessons from Standing Rock

“We certainly need to pray for courage these days. ‘Dear God, please deliver me from the fear of my enemies.’”  Dorothy Day 1970

Why talk about such inconsequential subjects as prayer in the time of hatred and irrationality?  We don’t have time for that.

The Standing Rock Water Protectors called on prayer as their foundation to protect their lands and our waters. People responded to their prayer: indigenous people from Hawaii, Australia, Canada, Congo, the Arctic, the Caribbean. Not only indigenous people,people of all backgrounds responded.

And government forces attacked. Again and again and again.

This is not the first time prayer had been attacked by government forces:

Aaron Mair recounts the government reaction to the Sioux Ghost Dance 1890. He relates that

The ‘Ghost Dance’ (Nanissáanah), a religious and spiritual resistance of prayer and dance was practiced by the Sioux Nation in 1890 to enlist the spirits of the dead to fight on their behalf, to make the white colonists leave, and to bring peace, prosperity, and unity to Native peoples throughout the region. Alarmed by the Ghost Dance, the United States government and local authorities sent in thousands of troops to violently put down this peaceful protest and sought the arrest Sitting Bull, who was believed to be one of the spiritual resistance leaders. The unarmed Sitting Bull was shot and killed when the attempt was made to arrest him.

Sierra Club 2016

Judge the power of prayer by the reaction it gets from the powerful.

Rev William Barber channels Dorothy Day, etc., etc.

The list of people Rev. Barber was channeling at the Dems’ convention is very, very long….back to New Testament and further.

 

Rev. Barber mentioned Dorothy Day in his speech. Small wonder.

This  is the introduction to the first Dorothy Day’s newspaper, Catholic Worker 1933:

“For those who are sitting on benches in the warm spring sunlight.

For those who are huddling in shelters trying to escape the rain.

For those who are walking the streets in the all but futile search for work.For those who think that

there is no hope for the future, no recognition of their plight, THE CATHOLIC WORKER is being

edited….”*

It burns me up what the right, Protestant and Catholic, deem Christianity all about sex and give hate-filled sermons. Churches, synagogs, mosques, are grassroots organizing places, not right-wing Hotspots.

 

 

 

*http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/articles/913.html

 

 

 

 

 

An Embarrassing Hero

I saw Dorothy Day at a Mass one afternoon. She sat in a front pew with her head bowed in prayer. I had the same contradictory reaction to her that I do now, forty years later.

Her uncompromising belief in pacifism inspired everyone I worked with in the Catholic Left, activists who worked for the end of the American War in Vietnam, and for a shift in America’s attitude toward war. She is best known for her work with desperately poor people, opening Houses of Hospitality to feed and house the most marginalized in Depression America, and after. She constantly confronted the Catholic hierarchy in their neglect of the Christian message of social justice. Her stand for pacifism was absolute. Christians, she said, had no other choice.

That afternoon, what I saw in her bowed head was a piety and submission to authority that made me cringe. She once said that if the Cardinal told her to stop printing her Catholic Worker newspaper, she’d shut it down immediately. The idea of totally obedient and will-less devotion to a religious authority is a destructive medieval hold-over. It is an infantile approach to church. She was devoted to that obedience.

However, to categorize Dorothy Day as totally obedient or will-less or infantile verges on the ridiculous, and counter to everything we know about her life. So Dorothy Day, enigma, paradox, embarrassing hero, haunts my spiritual life.

This year, when a pastor was arrested for feeding homeless people outdoors in Fort Lauderdale, I swear I could see her right there. She goes to Palestine with Sherrill; she’s in jail for acts of social justice next to Paki. She is working at the Food Pantry. She is insulating walls with Richard to protect the creation she loved. She is striking with fast-food workers for a living wage. She is an unfailing guide for social justice.

But, a spiritual guide? Yes: “How can you not believe in God when there are so many beautiful things?” she asked her lover. Her beliefs about the sanctity of voluntary suffering? No. Her rigidity about women’s roles and about divorce? No. Her humbleness before church authority? No. Her humbleness before God? Yes.

I gave up this year. The only way to deal with a ghost is to face her. I’m reading what she wrote and what is written about her. I’m sitting next to her before God. The result: her paradox is becoming more pronounced – not what I was hoping for. Now the paradoxes in my own soul are clearer to me. Wandering in the celtic knot of Dorothy’s life is making me recognize the knot of my own life. Celtic knots are mysterious and beautiful, however unsettling to live with.