The Reckless Way of Love, Dorothy Day, edited by Carolyn Kurtz, Introduction by D. L. Mayfield. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2017.
Summary: A collection of Dorothy Day’s writings on following Jesus in the ways of faith, love, prayer, life, and community.
One thinks of Dorothy Day as an activist writer and advocate for the poor, running homes of hospitality, communes, and getting arrested even in her seventies. What is less apparent is the deep spirituality that sustained her activism. This book, one of Plough’s Spiritual Guides, distills writings from her different books that cumulatively describe the ordinary life of following Jesus among the poor.
The excerpts are organized around five “ways” or themes: of faith, of love, of prayer, of life, and of community.
In the chapters on faith, we encounter both her implicit belief in the mysteries of the faith and the sacraments, and yet her struggle to trust and depend in the welter of daily interactions and work. She writes,
“I suppose it is a grace not to be able to have time to take or derive satisfaction in the work we are doing. In what time I have, my impulse is to self-criticism and examination of conscience, and I am constantly humiliated at my own imperfections and at my halting progress. Perhaps I deceive myself here, too, and excuse my lack of recollection. But I do know how small I am and how little I can do and I beg you, Lord, to help me, for I cannot help myself” (pp. 14-15).
Often, Day’s reflections come with pithy challenges. We see the intensity of her love for God and the wonder that God sets his love on the likes of us and then observes, “It is a terrible thought–‘we love God as much as the one we love the least’ ” (p.36). Or she surprises us with her breaks with convention such as when she writes on prayer: “I do not have to retire to my room to pray. It is enough to get out and walk in the wilderness of the streets” (p. 44).
“The way of life” reminds us “never to get discouraged at the slowness of people or results” (p. 63). She writes of deepening perceptions of unworldly justice that does not seek its own, that for a Christian social order, “we must first have Christians” (p.66), and how, apart from the light of Christ, we often do not know ourselves or our secret sins. She writes at length on the indispensable role of suffering in our lives.
The final portion focuses on life in community. Day writes of efforts in community with grittiness and realism. Disappointments. Betrayals. Plain hard work and long hours. Yet even so, she longs for bigger houses, more room for discussions, a library, “a Christ room.” She recognizes desperately her need for the presence of God in all the ordinary places. In the end, it is community that addresses our desolation. She concludes, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community” (p. 120).
This is the second book in the Spiritual Guides series I’ve reviewed, the earlier being The Scandal of Redemption by Oscar Romero. These are small books only in size. Each is well-edited by Carolyn Kurtz. This, in particular, required culling passages from a number of Day’s works along each of the themes into coherent chapters. Eye-catching cover art, end papers, and typography make these delightful books to hold and read.
I found myself often mulling over a single line, such as this one: “We have the greatest weapons in the world, greater than any hydrogen or atom bomb, and they are the weapons of poverty and prayer, fasting and alms, the reckless spending of ourselves in God’s service and for his poor” (p.69). I mused again and again what a different face Christians would present to the world if we lived as Day did rather than jockeying for positions and influence and concealing our flawed character rather than exposing it to the grace of God. Reading Day gives me hope that ordinary Christians with all our flaws and struggles may yet walk the ways of faith, hope, and love, offering something beautiful for God and to the world.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.