The Long Loneliness, by Dorothy Day (LentBook #11)

LongLonelinessI’ve been interested for some time in the life of Dorothy Day, an American socialist and anarchist in the first decades of the 20th century, who converted to Catholicism, founded the Catholic Worker movement, and lived a life of voluntary poverty and social activism until her death in 1980.

Back at the beginning of my Lenten reading list when I read Shaine Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution, I remember being annoyed at his lack of a sense of history — he seemed to feel that he and his college friends were the first Christians who’d ever tried literally living Christ’s command to “sell all that you have and give to the poor.”  I wondered had he heard of Dorothy Day, among countless others Christians throughout the ages who had chosen a path of poverty and service to the poor? (Actually, later in the book he did make reference to Day and the Catholic Worker movement, so I stopped being annoyed).

Day’s combination of socialism and Christianity was naturally intriguing to me, even though her writing style seems oddly formal and distant to someone (like me) who’s used to reading a lot of breezy twenty-first centry memoirs.  Some of her political ideas were new to me — for example, I tend to associate libertarianism with right-wing views, as probably most people do today, but Day and the others who founded the Catholic Worker were very much left-wing libertarians — they believed in sharing everything for the common good, but without the involvement of the State.  It was a very different point of view from what I’ve been exposed to before.

As with Claiborne’s book, I came away troubled by this idea of voluntary poverty, which Day seems to simply take for granted as the ideal for the Christian.  I think my problem is that I am so attracted to it as an ideal, and so completely uninterested in it as something I might want to do in everyday life.  And I don’t like the burden of guilt that it lays on the ordinary Christian — yet, what if that is rightly placed guilt? What if we actually should be selling everything and living among the poor? Certainly at a time in human history when it seems obvious that we rich Westerners are going to have to learn to get along with less so the planet and its people can all survive, we ought to be thinking more about what we can do without than what we can get, but any baby steps I make in that direction are pretty feeble compared with the kind of communal life Dorothy Day and her cohorts lived.

Here’s the other thing: living in community.  This is always the ideal that goes along with the idea of voluntary poverty: Shaine Claiborne and others following that ideal today call it a “new monasticism.”  Again, love the idea, but in reality? I am so not designed for living in community.  I can just about handle living in community with the three people who share my house, and that’s because I gave birth to two of them and sleep with the other one.  Hospitality, yes — come and go freely! But go, that’s a key part of it!! Even among my closest friends I cannot think of one person I’d serious want to live in a communal household with.

One thing I like about Dorothy Day’s autobiography is that she doesn’t sugar-coat the stories of starting, or living in, the Catholic Worker communities.  She’s very honest about the disagreements, the abuse of the system, the conflicts that arose among people who were seriously trying to live as the early Christians did.  Hey, even the Bible is honest (in Acts) about the difficulties the early Christians faced trying to live like that.  Voluntary poverty and communal living may be the ideal, but nobody — least of all Dorothy Day — ever suggested it was easy.



Filed under Nonfiction -- memoir

13 responses to “The Long Loneliness, by Dorothy Day (LentBook #11)

  1. Hi Trudy,

    In answer to your question, what is lacking in Shane’s gospel is that the call to sell all one has is for those who join themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ by His faith and doing. Whenever people try to form communities based on their interpretation of Scripture and by their willpower, it fails, falling way short of His Kingdom. The purpose of our life is not to form community, but to become one with our Creator – then we have community as He arranges in His Body. Only He can do that – He is the Way.

    I have reviewed Shane’s book from the perspective of the Lord Jesus Christ and what He thinks of it according to His teachings found in the Scriptures. You will find this writing on our site in the “C” section of False Teachers.

    Paul Cohen

  2. I’m not sure what the “question” is that you are answering, since the point I made about Shane Claiborne was simply that I don’t think I woudl find it easy, personally, to live in community with others. I have no idea why, having read it, you would assume that he is not calling people to join themselves first to Jesus before forming community with others — that seemed pretty clear to me. However, given a choice between a community of Christians who work together to feed the poor and house the homeless, and a community of Christians who work together to put up a website with an alphabetized section on “False Teachers,” I think I have a pretty good idea which I’d rather aspire to.

  3. Trudy, your question that I answered had to do with the doubt you expressed about Shane’s religious call to communal monasticism. You are right, however, my answer was highlighting the shortfall in Shane’s gospel, whereas your lack of Christ’s faith is the real issue I should have addressed.

    The reason you cannot fathom living in community is because you are not part of the Body of Christ. You do not have His faith. You are part of the world and do as the world does. There is no condemnation in that. The condemnation comes because you think you can see while you are yet so blind.

    Also, doing something in Jesus’ Name, as you say Shane does, means nothing on man’s say-so. If it did, you should be fellowshipping every Sunday at your estranged mother’s house, the Catholic Church.


  4. Ah, I see where you’re coming from, Paul. Thanks for clarifying. Some of the Christians I grew up with also believed they were the only true Christians. But instead of believing only Catholics were saved and the rest were lost, they believed Catholics had the mark of the beast. Fortunately I dont’ think Jesus draws nearly as many lines between His quarrelling children as we do amongst ourselves. God bless, and I hope we have a good laugh over all these divisions in heaven someday. See ya there.

  5. No Trudy, you don’t see where I am coming from. I am already in Heaven, and you do not know it because you are not here, as you rightly imply. The Kingdom of Heaven comes from within. I didn’t make that up. Those are true words spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ. I know they are true from experience, not just because it is in the Bible, like Seventh Day Adventist Bibliolaters are wont to say, not knowing the Reality.

    The Catholic Church has the mark of the beast all over it, but so do the SDAs. There are not many lines between God’s children. There is only one. The Lord speaks of that line to any who have ears to hear:

    “Therefore come out from among them and be separated, says the Lord, and do not touch the unclean thing. And I will receive you and I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:17-18 MKJV).

    There is a great deal on our site for those who would pursue His Way through the narrow gate, but it is not desirable food for the full, who are sure of themselves in their knowledge.


  6. Hmm. Who here is sure of themselves?

  7. There is nothing wrong with having assurance and certainty, if it comes from the right Source.

    “So then I run, not as if I were uncertain. And so I fight, not as one who beats the air” (1 Corinthians 9:26 MKJV).

    “Therefore don’t throw away your boldness, which has a great reward” (Hebrews 10:35 HNV).

    The problem for you, Trudy, which I have been addressing, is that you do not have this certainty, yet opine as if you do. You are bold in non-substantive fluff. It is theoretical; you do not have the personal knowledge of God and Christ, or His righteousness. You may think your verbal jousting is clever, but where is God and His Word in your being and speech? You have nothing from Him. It is time you knew that.

    You didn’t notice that I said you were sure in your knowledge. You do not even know there is another kind of sureness besides being puffed up with knowledge. You are eating from the Tree of Knowledge, which fosters this false confidence and death, but I am eating from the Tree of Life, Jesus Christ, God Himself, Who is the Source of true authority. Therefore, my assuredness is good, life-giving, and those who can receive it are blessed:

    “As it is written, He that boasts, let him boast in the LORD” (1 Corinthians 1:31 EMTV).

    “My soul shall make her boast in the LORD: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad” (Psalms 34:2 KJV).

    But while God gives grace to the humble, He resists the proud. That explains your reaction.

    Paul Cohen

  8. So when I am confident that my salvation comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, that is flippancy and arrogance. But when you are confident, that is holy boldness. My confidence (which is all in Jesus, because I know, and am happy to say on a regular basis, that I can and may be wrong about many things, as my human knowledge is imperfct) is suspect because you choose to define me as “proud,” whereas you define yourself as “humble.” Why is that?

    Can’t it be as simple as, we disagree on some issues (I don’t even know what those would be, as I thought from your earlier post you were saying that the Roman Catholic Church was the only way to salvation, but in your last comment you seemed to say something different), and that’s OK because only God knows who’s right?

    I find it hard to equate the harshly condemnatory tone you take towards those who disagree with you, with an attitude of humility, but I doubt there’s a lot to be gained from further discussion since our perspectives are so different.

  9. You are right, Trudy, and say it well. I do have the authentic faith of Christ, which is holy and pleasing to God, whereas your faith is a worthless imitation that is offensive to Him. I take no credit for the faith that God has given me, which is Christ’s, and you get no credit for your faith because it is based on what you call your “imperfect human knowledge.”

    You walk in what the Bible calls the “carnal mind” or “the flesh,” which is anything but humble:

    “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can it be. So then they who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8 MKJV).

    Your knowledge is the very opposite of humility. By acknowledging you can be wrong you give the appearance of humility to those who cannot perceive the heart, but the reality is that in the things of God, you stand as a wall unto yourself against the Truth. You are puffed up by your knowledge, sitting on the throne of God, confident in your carnal mind (the flesh), which is not subject to the Law of God, which means God Himself. That is why you do not please Him.

    “For we are the circumcision who worship God in the Spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3 MKJV).

    What I was trying to point out to you in my first letter about Shane Claiborne was that people can try to do many things they think Jesus did, but that does not mean He is involved in their works. You are going by the appearance, not the reality. That is how the flesh and carnal mind work.

    Shane came to the same conclusion you did about him, when he visited and observed the woman called “Mother” Teresa. Shane judged after the appearance. “Surely,” he thought, “she is doing the work of God by helping the poor.” But the Scriptures say: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the hearts” (Proverbs 21:2 HNV).

    Did Claiborne weigh her heart? No. Therefore he had no right to judge her works and ways as satisfactory to God. Not knowing or hearing from God, he used a heathen Catholic nun (Catholicism is heathen) as his model for his own works, and did not have or walk in the faith of Christ. You commend Claiborne because you are equally in the dark.

    I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to you, Trudy. How will you know you are wrong, not just in fact, but in the essence of your being, unless God sends someone to tell you?


  10. How true. Having the last word seems to mean a lot to you, so let’s just leave it at that, shall we?

  11. I found this post because there was a link from it to my blog, though I am not sure what the link was. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading the post, and now I’d like to read the book. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Hi Steve — the link is one of WordPress’s automatically generated links, to a post of your from April 08 about Dorothy Day’s diaries being published. I’ll be checking out your blog too — it looks interesting. I like how WordPress creates these serendipitous connections!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s