I’ve recently been perusing a collection of Dorothy Day’s dairies bound in a book by the title, “The Duty of Delight.” Although in many pictures Dorothy Day appears rather stern, it is beautiful to reflect on what I would like to call her “theology of delight.” Dorothy Day was by no means a frivolous person, and any account of her life will recount her tireless pursuit of justice, her determined work for the dignity of the poor, her strength of will and passion for peace. And how can we forget her actions as a citizen, her boycotting and outspoken articles in pursuit of peace that at one point even got her arrested? All of these point to Dorothy’s incredible grit and perseverance to do what her conscience demanded, and her conscience demanded a lot, guided as she was by her Catholic faith.
But I think it is also important ( and helpful ) to remember that Dorothy, as a human, like all of us, needed beauty and the delight of being a follower of Christ to sustain her in her work. She says, “It is joy that brought me to the faith, joy at the birth of my child 35 years ago, and that joy is constantly renewed as I daily receive our Lord at Mass” (328). To Dorothy, it seems that delight and the hard work of her faith went hand and hand. Dorothy took great delight in the Eucharist, and in her diary she often notes her experience at daily mass, which she considered to be the climax of her day. Dorothy also delighted in the beauty of nature. In her diary dated September 1, 1962, she writes:
Mass at 8. Most beautiful surroundings. Low tide and I collected shells, very large mussels. Two “lights” which came to me in my life for which I shall be always thankful […]when I realized that the pleasures of the intellect would grow, that the delights in the search for God would never end—at the beach.
It is beautiful to me here that Dorothy mentions Mass and then the tide of the sea all in one breath, we almost don’t know if her phrase “beautiful surroundings” is meant to describe the first or the second experience. I would argue both. In both she sees the beauty of God, and delights in his presence. The next day, September 2, 1962 she writes again of this beauty:
Up at six. A still foggy day, very close. Great clamor from crows, great murmurings among starlings, laughing gulls. I can sit on balcony overlooking water. The smell of the sea at low tide[…]It is good to sit out here in early morning and think and pray[…] (337).
And again on June 8,, 1970:
All this a.m. sat in sun, basking in the beauty of the river (504).
In these excerpts one may wonder, what is this woman of action doing collecting shells, sitting and recording the actions of birds, the fog on a lake, the beauty of a river? How does this help her mission to serve the poor, to be a witness to Christ? It is clear though, that this kind of delightful contemplation was essential to Dorothy’s work and way of being. She saw this contemplation of beauty as more than just a frivolous gift to enjoy when one has time, but a “duty.” In fact, this duty of delight helps her as she thinks through her pursuit of nonviolence. The quote from September 2 continues in the following way,
To me the issue is always that of nonviolence as well as man’s needs on this earth where God put us to work out our salvation. How are we to achieve some measure of justice, striven for because of our love for our brothers?[…] I go to see Christ in my brother the Cuban… (337).
As Dorothy contemplates her mission of nonviolence and her trip to Cuba she delights in the beauty of nature and it does not “distract” her from her duty but rather fuels it. The beauty of God in nature feeds her soul to discover the beauty of God in her Cuban neighbor.
Might we all remember that delight is our duty as Christians, and it is not scarce. In the beauty of nature and the gift of the Eucharist we, like Dorothy Day, can draw delight and true joy in God’s presence and find the strength to work for peace and justice right where we are. In this way we can follow Pope Francis’ direction. For he says in The Church of Mercy, “And here the first word that I wish to say to you: joy! Do not be men and women of sadness: a Christian can never be sad! Never give way to discouragement! Ours is not a joy born of having many possessions, but of having encountered a Person: Jesus, in our midst.”
Works Cited: Day, Dorothy, and Robert Ellsberg. The Duty of Delight: the Diaries of Dorothy Day. Image Books, 2011.