Servant of God, Dorothy Day, was born 119 years ago today. Though I take seriously her request that she not be called a saint (“I don’t want to be dismissed so easily” she said), I can’t help but look at her as a patron or guide for me as a woman with a similarly turbulent past, in hopes that I can channel my rebellion into doing the work of Christ, one of these days, when the coffee kicks in: like Augustine, I want to be holy, but not yet. I don’t even like people very much, dammit.
I met Dorothy when I was a baby, too young to remember, when my father used to visit her in New York, and argue with her. “She was an anarchist,” he reminisced. “He never made her people weed the gardens there.” Dad always made me weed his gardens, but now that I am a gardener myself, I can’t help but note, ruefully, when I look at the end-of-season mess, that I’m a bit of an anarchic one. Dad always warned us of the dangers of niceness and Dorothy, he said, was not “nice.” She was cantankerous and impatient, and loved her cigarettes. This may tempt me to think that it’s okay for me, too, to be cantankerous and impatient, and love my cigarettes, but if I’m not following Dorothy in her love of the poor and commitment to justice, these traits are not especially glorious, though it’s also true that one can ignore the grumblings of those who say “it’s not ladylike.” Being ladylike is a waste of time. So is smoking, for that matter. How tempted we often are to latch onto the failings of the saints, to justify our own, while ourselves failing to be open to their inspiration.
So, on this tense election day, here are four quotations from Dorothy Day, from which to take much-needed inspiration for our political activity in the days ahead.
What revolution are you seeking? Whom are you trying to overthrow? Whatever evils or injustices you hate in the world, voting to stop them will never suffice. The revolution must be within the heart, as you turn inward and see within yourself your complicity with this injustice, your tacit acceptance of evil when it suits your ends.
“The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?”
“I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”
You only love God as much as you love whichever politician you are really hoping will crash and burn. Oh, how I hate writing that. If I love God as much as I love Trump, I am in a very bad way.
“Those who cannot see Christ in the poor are atheists indeed.”
Are you voting in hopes of making this a “Christian nation”? Alas, there is no such thing. But a nation of Christians is one that sees Christ in the poor, and if we choose to live in such a away as to ignore and punish the least of them, the least deserving of them, we are crucifying Jesus, all over again.
“People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”
Voting is only a tiny part of the political process. It may, according to your calculations, be a largely fruitless one, too, but don’t let that dissuade you from passionate engagement in the task of that revolution of the heart. Every day, you light the lamp again, and guard the flickering flame; every face you meet, seek to see Christ there – Christ hidden, persecuted, violated, poor, raped, addicted – Christ beneath the greed and rage and lust and fear. Whatever revolutions are televised or tweeted, the one that matters most is happening now and again tomorrow: it will be written, over and over again, in letters of fire upon our hearts.