Unless you are a spiritual genius, you probably would have no idea this title of this inspirational piece references Dorothy Day. Some may not even know Dorothy Day---who she is or why she might be important. I have known about Dorothy Day since my graduate schools days. She is someone I wished I had met, but I content myself with having known someone who knew her. So allow me to spend a little time using her to make some spiritual points.
Dorothy Day was born just before the twentieth century began. During her teenage and twenties, she lived a rather bohemian life. There would have been little reason to guess that in our own time, many folks would be lobbying the Pope to make her a saint. I laugh, because for some of my friends, she is already considered a saint. They have decided not to wait for the Catholic Church to act officially.
Even in her early years, Dorothy did have a spiritual bent, in spite of growing up in a family for whom religion was not important. Her father was a journalist and so writing became rather second nature to her. When she became much more serious about her life of faith, writing became the way to express that new path through life.
In 1926 Dorothy had a daughter, Tamar. This seems to deepen her religious conviction and within a year Dorothy had not only baptized Tamar, but she also was baptized and joined the Roman Catholic Church. Along with her faith development she nurtured her almost life-long concern for society’s “cast-offs,” as she called them. In this concern we can see the seeds of her social justice commitment in life and other related themes that soon are lived out in her faith.
Dorothy chose to live a life of near poverty. In 1933 she founded The Catholic Worker newspaper to publicize her views on religion and culture and call for a radical discipleship in order to bring justice and love to the fore. It was not long before “houses of hospitality” also grew up. The houses were places where the down and out could find a place to sleep and a meal to eat. Similar houses grew up all around the country and, then, worlds from the one original in New York City.
Dorothy Day was doing all this not as a do-gooder, but as an obedient response to the God who called her to live the Golden Rule, to bring justice and build communities of love. Naturally, this meant she also was a pacifist during the Cold War, Vietnam War and until she died in 1980. Reading her is always a challenge to my own spiritual complacency.
Having provided this context allows me to use one representative text from Dorothy’s pen that I believe sums up her perspective and challenges me to be more authentic and bold in my own spiritual perspective. Dorothy says, “Most of our life is unimportant, filled with trivial things from morning till night. But when it is transformed by love it is of interest even to the angels.” When I read this, it adequately describes my own life, but also intrigues me by what can yet be of my own life.
It is an accurate description of life for many of us when she recognizes most of our lives are unimportant. Of course, we probably are not thinking that is true as we live life. But when we dare stop and examine our lives, it is easy to see most of what we have been doing is unimportant.
She also warns that too much of our lives is filled with trivial things. I am tempted to confess, “guilty!” While we may quibble over what is “trivial,” I would not feel comfortable arguing nearly everything I do is of long-term importance. Sometimes, I stop to ask how is God viewing me and what I am doing? I understand that trivial things are not the same thing as bad or sinful things. But still…
The good news is Day has the antidote to unimportant, trivial things. She says we can be transformed by love. When this happens to us, our lives become a totally different matter. Who we are and what we do take on importance. No doubt, if we live out of this love, we become difference-makers. We become ambassadors of God’s work in this world. We also will become instruments of justice and love. In fact, we might even become a thorn in someone’s life, just as Dorothy did.
She is clear about the result of just such a life. If we become transformed by love, then our lives become of interest to the angels. That is such a cool way to put it. I do not think currently my life is of too much interest to the angels. But it can be. However, my motivation to become interesting to angels is not that. My motivation is to become the instrument of love that I know, deep down, God really wants.
What stops me from doing this is I. Unfortunately, I have too much commitment to my unimportant, trivial life. I appreciate God’s patience. Maybe soon I will be ready to allow love’s transformation and actually become interesting to angels.