Monday, October 24, 2016

Delight – Dorothy Day and the Duty of Delight

Given the challenges of life and the difficulties we have with other people (and ourselves), the assertion that “delight” is at the heart of Christian faith might seem like sentimentality that ignores or denies too much that is hard or tragic in the world and humanity. I do not think so. Delight, like mercy, can be hard. There is much in life and creation that is obviously delightful, but much that seems anything but. We love and delight in friends, family, and other loved ones, but we find others difficult to love, let alone see as delightful. On occasion, by God’s grace, some might have epiphanies like Thomas Merton had in Louisville. But, more often, it takes prayer, practice and discipline to open ourselves to seeing others as bearing the image of God and engaging them accordingly.

Dorothy Day knew a thing or two about prayer, practice, and discipline. She thus knew a thing or two about seeking to love those who seemed unlovable and seeing in them the presence of Christ. She was also committed to finding delight even in the context of life’s difficult realities. Because her commitment to this shows up frequently in her diaries, when a selection of them was published, the editor of those diaries chose the title, “The Duty of Delight.” 

In one of her essays, Day reflected that, "It would be foolish to pretend that it is easy always to remember this. If everyone were holy and handsome, with “alter Christus” [Latin for “another Christ”] shining in neon lighting from them, it would be easy to see Christ in everyone. But that [is] not Christ’s way for Himself now when He is disguised under every type of humanity that treads the earth."
– Dorothy Day, Room for Christ (I recommend the whole essay)

Here is something from her diaries that captures the essence of Christian discipline and the sometimes difficult duty of delight:

Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up. If we love each other enough, we will bear with each other’s faults and burdens. If we love enough, we are going to light that fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatred that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much.

Yes, I see only too clearly how bad people are. I wish I did not see it so. It is my own sins that give me such clarity. If I did not bear the scars of so many sins to dim my sight and dull my capacity for love and joy, then I would see Christ more clearly in you all.

I cannot worry much about your sins and miseries when I have so many of my own. I can only love you all, poor fellow travelers, fellow sufferers. I do not want to add one least straw to the burden you already carry. My prayer from day to day is that God will so enlarge my heart that I will see you all, and live with you all, in His love.

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