The Life and Lessons of Dorothy Day

"The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?"
-Dorothy Day

Living green and according to your values day in and day out is a tough task. For some inspiration, I'm highlighting the life of Dorothy Day, a women who spoke and lived for her values, including human rights, peace, and compassion. Dorothy Day's writings and life has been a big inspiration to me for the last four or five years and she is someone I think everyone should know about.

Day's Early Years

Dorothy Day was born in Brooklyn in 1897, but spent most of her childhood in Chicago. She eventually returned to New York as an adult. Day spent her young adult years as a journalist and activist for Communist ideology. Although she had a spiritual side, Communist teachings convinced her to suppress this yearning for a period of her life.

As a liberal activist, Day picketed for labor and women's causes (and was arrested on numerous occasions for it), wrote for many leftist publications including the Masses, and lived a life verging on wild, with many lovers, one illegal abortion, and many nights spent drinking and talking politics with others throughout New York City.

Dorothy Day thought she had found an ideal life in her late 20s, living with Forster Batterham, her husband by common law marriage. Batterham was an introverted biologist as well as an ardent atheist and anarchist. Day and Batterham lived a simple, peaceful life together for several years in their sea-side home near New York.

However, the birth of their daughter, Tamar Theresa, in 1926 sparked the beginning of Day's life as a devout Catholic with the help of a nun who lived nearby. Even though it was tremendously difficult for her, Day eventually left her husband when he would not allow Tamar to be baptised into the Roman Catholic Church. She went on to live as a single mother, writing for income, and growing spiritually in Catholicism for many years.

The Rise of the Catholic Worker
During this new period of her life, Dorothy Day struggled to reconcile her radical roots with her new-found spirituality. Most of the radical activists of the day were atheist, and most of the Catholics seemed to be blind to many of the world's injustices.

At age 35, Day prayed for a God-sent way to use her talents within the church for the workers and the poor. The next day an aging French peasant showed up at her door. This Catholic radical was Peter Maurin and he brought Day new ideas about how Catholicism and social activism could come together and bring about a better world.

With Maurin's vision and Day's talents, the two began a new newspaper called the Catholic Worker. This non-profit publication covered their ideas on spirituality, peace, and the worker's movements of the time. The circulation soon reached 150,000 and was read by a wide range of people throughout North America.

Not long later, Day and Maurin took the commands of Jesus into action by creating a House of Hospitality in the slums of New York that provided food, shelter, and compassion to the poor during an economically devastating era. Together with the house of hospitality and the newspaper, this movement became a forefront in the journey of racial justice, active non-violence, and the practice of the works of mercy mentioned in the New Testament.

Over the years, the movement grew, with nearly 100 Catholic Worker Houses at any one time, as well as a few communes with the same ideals. Although most are Catholic, religious diversity is accepted, and some are even based on different religions including Quaker and Buddhist.

Day's Legacy

By her death in 1980, Dorothy Day had spent over 50 years living in voluntary poverty, putting her life and heart into an active devotion for the gospel and while making real positive change for what Jesus would call, "the least of these." The movement she began is still flourishing and continuing her work. In addition, the Vatican began the process of considering her for sainthood in 2000.

Love is the Measure

Other than the belief that your life should speak your truth, I've learned countless lessons from the writings and life of Dorothy Day:

-Some of the best saints were really good sinners too.
It was true of St Francis and Buddha as much as with Dorothy's just not easy to find that deep spiritual insight until you make it to the darkest corners of the human soul.

That doesn't mean to just go nuts with the veniality, but to search for truth and do it on your own terms. When it's real to you because you found it yourself, you can move mountains.

-Poverty can't stop you if you have faith. The Catholic Worker Movement started with nothing. They never had a fundraiser. They never were sponsored by big rich fellows. But they grew and inspired and changed countless lives.

Pray, visualize, do that stuff "The Secret" tells you to do, whatever, just believe in your purpose enough and the cosmos will make a way no matter how little you have to begin with.

-A child is one of the most precious gifts. Honestly, I wasn't interested in having my own children until I ready Dorothy Day's account of her daughter's birth. She made me realize how beautiful child birth is and how lucky I am to be a women who can bring a baby into the world.

Her quick conversion to what seemed to be her true calling came with pregnancy and showed me how powerful a new life can be for anyone.

-Change is a struggle. Enjoy the ride. Day was jailed several times, lived in poverty, and had to deal with all kinds of difficult people on a daily basis. Instead of getting weary and giving up, she got weary, wrote and learned from it, and went on. Until the day of her death, she was still working for reform and following what she believed God called her to do.

-Weird little street dudes can change your life forever. Well I don't know if this is very true for most people, but I still like to believe so.

-Love isn't easy. Work at it anyway. Day once wrote, "Love must be tried and tested and proved. It must be tried as though by fire, and fire burns."

When you feel defeated and overwhelmed it's the last thing you feel like doing. But only through love, through compassion and empathy, will anything worthwhile ever come about. So love till it hurts and then love some more. Eventually it will be your ever-burning torch you can light the world with.