What lessons can we learn from the life and writings of Dorothy Day?
For May’s Tending the Holy Thursday theme where I delve into a topic or a person of faith for several weeks, we have been exploring Dorothy Day.
Today is the third of this series; here are first two:
Introduction to the life of Dorothy Day
Remember I created a free Reflection Guide for you to download by just clicking the button at the end of this post. I think this guide would be great to copy and keep in your journal for further contemplation. It has several quotes divided by topics, followed by a writing/reflection prompt and questions with space to write. I hope it blesses your journey with Dorothy.
I have been “walking” and learning from Dorothy Day since 2005 – she has been quite a companion. As soon as I think I have read everything about her and know what I need to know – a new insight, quote, or reflection pops up.
- Social Ministry – Just as our personality is wired by God, our approach to spirituality also varies individually. Some of us are drawn more easily into contemplation, others in service and others in social ministry and justice. On the spiritual continuum, I am more prayerful, retreat oriented, contemplative – Dorothy is protest-for-women’s’-rights-even-if-it-means-a-night-in-jail style; a blunt in your face, tell it like it is wording when it comes injustice and not just an occasional outreach to the poor, but living among them, giving her last penny to the community and loving the rejected, no matter how she was treated in return. Dorothy is about as far opposite to me than you can ever imagine. She is pure hospitality while I don’t have a drop of that in my veins. She saw Christ in others.
My lesson: instead of judging we can learn from other spiritual point of views and grow in all the dimensions of the spiritual wheel of variability. I am starting to see justice as a responsibility of all believers. That I may not mean I have a house where I welcome all strangers, but I can practice hospitality for whomever God puts in my path. Practicing justice isn’t just for agencies and organizations, it is the duty of all of us.
“Paperwork, cleaning the house, dealing with the innumerable visitors who come all through the day, answering the phone, keeping patience and acting intelligently, which is to find some meaning in all that happens—these things, too, are the works of peace, and often seem like a very little way.”
- Spiritual Journey – Many people only see Dorothy’s external work with the poor and never notice her deep prayer life, love of retreats, quiet time with God, and daily study of the scriptures. This aspect of her spiritual journey grew as she matured spiritually. She fostered an intense prayer life and devotional walk with God
My lesson: Her life reminds me that we too grow in our spiritual walk. Tools and ways we express our love for God and how he calls us to serve evolves and deepens. How I expressed my love for God and compassion for others in my 20’s and 30s’ may no longer be where God is inviting me now in the second half of my life. Dorothy’s life is a model of continual growth across the life span.
- Scriptures – Dorothy’s love of the Word and writing motivates me to dig deeper in the scriptures, chew on them, make them my own. She wove verses into her writing, voice and life on a daily basis.
My lesson: Use the gift of writing words to clarify my own journey, to share my struggles and insights with others and to companion others on their path too. How can I be more attentive to living and sharing God’s word?
- Sermon of the Mount – Dorothy didn’t just love the Sermon of the Mount text, she lived it. She used it words to frame how she spent her time, energy and resources.
My lesson: I have favorite Bible verses that ground me but have been thinking how verses also serve as compasses, guiding my way. I love Hebrews 12:2
“Let us keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of the faith”
Its words redirect my heart when I detour too much into the world or my own ego needs. And Matthew 22: 37-39 forms my service and discernment for thoughts and actions:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
The challenge remains how to live these two verses every day, every moment.
- Stretch my soul with spunkiness – Dorothy makes me uncomfortable at times. She is courageous and bold in her faith. I know she made others mad at times, but injustice is injustice and should be identified and corrected. I love her quote:
“If I have achieved anything in my life, it is because
I have not been embarrassed to talk about God.”
My lesson: I know the truth in the statement “You can catch more flies with honey, than vinegar,” but more boldness, perseverance, and conviction also are transformational. Too often I take the easy road, fail to speak up, or even see an inequality that doesn’t affect me directly. Dorothy opens my eyes, increases my compassion and enlarges my empathy threshold.
I will leave you with the words Dorothy wrote that haunts me, convicts me, and challenges me daily:
“I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”
Don’t forget the free download “Dorothy Day Reflection Guide” You can receive it by email by clicking the button below. And spread the word to your friends, inviting them to visit here. I hope it deepens your faith and lights your walk with God.
What has Dorothy Day taught you? What bibles verse serve as your framework? How has your spiritual journey changes over your lifetime? What person in our faith history walks with you?
Lots of questions – join in the conversation.
Nancy Ruegg says
Thank you for introducing us to Dorothy Day. I can see why she has become your faith-walk companion! With Dorothy, you, and countless others, I can’t imagine journeying through life without the guidance, inspiration, and encouragement of scripture. One verse that I’ve returned to again and again for reassurance when difficulties arise: “From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Romans 11:36). As for persons from faith history who walk with me, I’d name Charles Spurgeon, A. W. Tozer, and C. S. Lewis. However, I have not immersed myself in their life-stories or writings the way you have with Dorothy! You’ve inspired me, Jean!
Jean Wise says
You have a great list of those who walk with you. Good company. I really got in depth with her due to the class I took but love reading about other “spiritual giants” faith walk – so often we find they are just like us. You are so right about how difficult life would be without these companion and those sisters in Christ we meet over the internet, like you!
Nancy Ruegg says
Oh, thank you, Jean! I feel the same about you. Your posts ALWAYS minister to me, I have thoroughly enjoyed becoming acquainted over the several years we’ve followed each other, and it makes me smile every time I discover something new we have in common. With you I praise God for those sisters in Christ we meet over the internet, like you! 🙂
Jean Wise says
Love you, girlfriend!
Dolly @ Soulstops.com says
“I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” And God has been reminding me through seminary that justice, concern for the poor and for racial equality are all issues on God’s heart. Like you, I am more contemplative and I often ask God what more would you have me do…and He always reminds me to first be and then He will lead the doing and we all have different callings. But I do think it is God to let Dorothy’s example challenge us. Blessings to you, my joy buddy 🙂
Jean Wise says
Isn’t that a challenging quote, Dolly? I like the idea of first be, then do – that is so true. Hope you are having a joy filled weekend!
Martha Orlando says
Oh, yes, that last quote from Dorothy is enough to shake any of us awake, Jean. Such a great reminder that loving God and loving our neighbor simply can’t be separated. Blessings!
Jean Wise says
Yes that quote lingers with me too. Challenge me to pay attention, love and serve too.
Lisa notes says
I can see that Dorothy Day offers us many challenges to grow. Thanks for sharing more about her, Jean. My interest is piqued the more I hear.
Jean Wise says
Dorothy haunts me, Lisa. She stretches me and teaches me in ways many other teachers don’t. There certainly are lessons in all the stories around us, aren’t there?