Keeping Alive the Spirit of Dorothy Day
"What kind of organization do we have? Perhaps the most accurate description was supplied by the friend who referred to it as a 'revolutionary headquarters'".
-- Dorothy Day (from the Preface to her book Loaves and Fishes)
"When I lay in jail thinking of these things, thinking of war and peace and the problem of human freedom, of jails, drug addiction, prostitution, and the great apathy of great masses of people who believe that nothing can be done -- when I thought of these things I was all the more confirmed in my faith in the little way of St. Therese. We do the things that come to hand, we pray our prayers and beg for an increase of faith -- and God will do the rest." -- Dorothy Day (from Loaves and Fishes)
"I have placed you in the midst of your fellows that you may do to them what you cannot do to me, that is to say... that you may love your neighbors without expecting anything from them, and what you do to them I count as done to me." -- Yeshua to Catherine of Sienna.
These "snapshot quotes" all found in Dorothy Day's spiritual classic Loaves and Fishes summarize the "way" for keeping alive her spirit in the 21st century. The fundamental crisis of our times is not that of freedom vs. terrorism, nor is it that of Western Civilization vs. Islam. Rather, it is still that age old question of the meaning of person. The quest for a universally accepted definition of person confronts us all, regardless of any other particular definition we may at any moment assign to either ourselves or to an "other".
The "revolution" of Dorothy Day is this radical insistence: the human person is the primary determining factor for defining, designing, or creating every social order. The person is the focus and the point of every social institution (political, religious, economic, cultural, and educational). Every social institution exists to serve and facilitate the full development and liberation of every person. It is this "rEvolution" that every society needs as the basis for an honest critique. And this revolutionary critique is the fundamental solution to every social problem that confronts us still, for when the person is considered first, debate ends about so many of the issues that plague and perplex us: health care, criminal justice reform, fair taxes for all, economic regulations protecting the middle class and poor, equality and justice for all, protection of resources and the Planet, an economics with a human face, etc. When the person comes first, debate ends about ends and means: the good of each and every person is both means and ends. The clarity provided by Day's revolutionary thought pierces the "fog talk" of all the pundits and preachers dealing propaganda for the "principalities and powers" of the corporate state and the dominator paradigm.
It is impossible for any single person, organization, or movement to "re-incarnate" the life, thought, or example of anyone. We can't "capture" the grace by which or through which someone lived. What we can do, though, we must! We can keep alive the spirit of one such as Dorothy Day by nurturing within our own hearts mercy and kindness for others, especially for all those for whom to live means to suffer, and following that, we must look for the deep connections between lifestyle and injustice, and between greed and violence: and accept our personal responsibility for changing everything that we can and for living in such a way that we reduce suffering as much as possible.
The radical integrity of one such as Dorothy Day offers us daily opportunities for the "illuminations" that come by way of personal honesty, community conversation, and the rEvolutionary intention of practicing beauty every step of our way. Peeling potatoes, engaging with youth, building relationships, caring for the ill, teaching children, making art, offering counsel, being peace and then telling the many stories of these little moments readies our personal / communal / organizational capacities for "next steps"... and on a deeper level, they can take us beyond our personal opinions, assumptions, and prejudices into the clear light of wisdom... and action...
Lastly, every mystic-activist must confront "the leadership problem": the partnership, or solidarity, paradigm, that was the essential witness of Dorothy Day -- and continues in the Catholic Worker Movement -- requires a leadership model of radical substance: not the continuation of the dominator paradigm and its leadership of "style in the service of power". Through the years, many intentional communities have folded because of an inability to "evolve" into substance: the implementation of a core vision by means of mutual empowerment: following instead the well-trodden path of "style": a self-serving hierarchy (perhaps even a hierarchy of one) that steadily minimizes both the core vision and the essential value of a community of passionate equals. When "the leadership problem" is instead defined as a "people problem", it is inevitable that a community / organization will begin to "let go", "turn away", or in the rude manner of the corporate world, "downsize" and fire folks. But if you really understand Dorothy's book, "Loaves and Fishes", then you will awaken into an alternative reality: persons and community are both sacred and all power exists specifically to serve the mutual liberation of all: not some, not a few (or one) as in a hierarchy: but all!
Thus, the true test of organizations, of intentional communities, and of their programs, products, and services is precisely how the persons with the least amount of power are treated. Until there is no difference between the "top" and the "bottom" there is a constant need for vigilance that the core vision is not uprooted and tossed aside: and that no person is set aside as "unworthy" of the very best: especially the recipients of services, and the sisters and brothers in community.