An important part of bringing words to life is encouraging other writers in their words. Every other Thursday, I am inviting writers I love to write about their word of the week. This week, Amber Robinson, a member of my writing group, Plume, joins me as my guest poster.
de·light – noun \di-ˈlīt, dē-\
: a strong feeling of happiness : great pleasure or satisfaction
: something that makes you very happy : something that gives you great pleasure or satisfaction
I’ve wintered with my friend, Dorothy.
My chronic illness flared up for months and kept me half buried under its avalanche. In between the haze of work and fitful almost-sleep, I turned to a book, The Duty of Delight – Dorothy Day’s journal entries from 1930 until her death in 1980, carefully compiled into a complete work. This small-statured single mom in New York accidentally changed the face of her faith.
“Delight” seems wonderfully askew within the darkness of human need during the years of the Great Depression. These were the years that she and her friend Peter launched houses of hospitality. These homes became incubators for “Works of Mercy” – feeding, sheltering, clothing, and communing with strangers, homeless, and sometimes crazed people, who often showed up at the doors of her farming communities and urban bread lines. In 1934 she began writing and editing stories for a newspaper, The Catholic Worker, addressing pressing social issues of her day. She consistently spoke up for the marginalized, for women’s rights, and for nonviolence. Her participation in peaceful protests periodically sent her to prison even well into her old age.
Today, when the average shelf life for volunteers lasts a few short years, this long obedience seems astounding.
Today I thought of a title for my book, The Duty of Delight, as a sequel to The Long Loneliness. I was thinking how, as one gets older, we are tempted to sadness, knowing life as it is here on earth, the suffering, the Cross. And how we must overcome it daily, growing in love, and the joy which goes with loving. —DOROTHY DAY, FEBRUARY 24, 1961
“Tempted to sadness” – her struggle is the same as mine. Will this always be with us? This sadness that drives us to start, stop, and at times give up. In the mess, comes the doubt. Was this the right path? What now? Her journals were littered with these questions, even into her old age. Through these entries I watched her grope to find God in the dark.
The rawness encouraged me. She meant this writing for herself, never realizing it would be published. She was honest about her tendency to gossip, to be repelled by the smells and sounds of poverty, and her “lack of love” for her coworkers. There was a real relief in this. She is just like me. Trying to live up to such a tall order in the small word “love.”
Abandoned as a young adult by the father of her child, again by some of her best coworkers, and finally in the death of her partner in the work, Peter Maurin, she held on to her faith. When others looked to her for advice and then criticized her at every turn, she was determined to follow her friend Peter’s advice to “be what you want the other person to be.”
Despite her very real admissions of failure, she became a Christ-type as she modeled service even through suffering for others – her colleagues, the homeless, and her own growing family and domestic duties.
And in these duties, where many of us would have quit, she pressed further in and oddly enough found delight.
“Duty of Delight” was a phrase she borrowed from John Ruskin. In Modern Painters, he writes:
“…In much of the doing and teaching of even holy men…they dwell on the duty of self-denial but they exhibit not the duty of delight.”
Like Ruskin, whose references to the beauty of the natural world abound, Dorothy often retreated to nature, liturgy, music, and writing to sustain her joy in dark places.
Dorothy’s legacy was this audacious delight that risked her family, finances, freedom from prison, and finally her very self. But what else is sacramental (broken) love?
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
Jack Gilbert’s A Brief for the Defense
WORD COUNT: 737
Amber Robinson is an ordinary woman seeking to bridge the gap between the needs for justice and balancing family, work, and service. She networks with leaders in the justice movement as well as ordinary people with limitations in time, resources, and energy who long to make a difference in simple, practical ways. She is the author of Mercy Rising: Simple Ways to Practice Justice and Compassion. You can find her online at her blog, “Awake.”
Photos by (or provided by) Amber Robinson, used with permission.
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