Duty of Delight
Posted on June 18, 2009
I’ve been reading Duty of Delight, which are the edited personal diaries of Dorothy Day, who (with Peter Maurin – below right) founded the Catholic Worker movement. For 5 decades she wrote, fed, travelled, talked, cajoled and otherwise encouraged the fledgling Christian movement that became the radical discipleship movement. She really did more than anyone, in the US, to carve out a cavity of legitimacy for Christians who wanted to ‘do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God’.
Back to the book. I love reading personal diaries of public figures because, like the journals of Thomas Merton, you get a sense of the tensions between their inner and outer lives. Dorothy Day’s public persona is forthright, confident and maybe a little tyrannical, but her diaries are full of frustration, of sadness, of doubt and constant wondering about how anything in the Catholic Worker movement will ever progress. But they are also full of reminders to herself that all hardships are a joy, an occasion for grace and personal growth towards God.
Day is intriguing in her combination of radical justice and intense devotion to God, even piety one might say. I noticed this when I lived at the Catholic Worker in Los Angeles; we kept public vigil against the Iraq War by morning and prayed the rosary by night. But her piety is not pious, if her descriptions of the folly and pettiness of her struggling movement are accurate. She pulls few punches in ventilating her spleen on any number of topics and people. At times it reminded me a workshop title that some friends of mine ran with on the topic of their missionary experience: “Telling the Poor Where To Get Off”….beautiful, awful and honest at the same time, which is my feeling about Duty of Delight. We are definitely not on this journey with Jesus to publicise our perfection.
At a couple of kilograms, Duty of Delight is a heavy read, but an easy one.