Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Long Loneliness

Grace Episcopal Church
Madison, NJ

The Messenger
December 2011 - January 2012

The Long Loneliness

After Sue and I returned from Florida in mid-August we rented from some friends an apartment in downtown Jersey City, just around the corner from where we lived when were first married. Those few months felt like a slow-motion homecoming as we gradually put the pieces of our lives back together again. Sue resumed her studies, but, aside from filling in at various churches on some Sundays, I had the mixed blessing of a good bit of free time. During beautiful late summer and early autumn days I took long walks around the old neighborhood and often took advantage of the quick and easy access to Manhattan.

I also used this time to read as much as I could. Browsing in a bookstore one day, I spotted and bought The Long Loneliness, the autobiography of Dorothy Day (1897-1980). Born into a non-religious family, as a young woman Day was drawn to the writer’s life, both as a journalist for radical publications and also as a Hollywood screenwriter. She traveled in artistic circles, counting the playwright Eugene O’Neill as a friend. Then Day’s life took a wholly unexpected and radical change. To the dismay of her common law husband, around the time of their daughter’s birth, Dorothy Day began to feel Christ’s call.

After formally entering the Roman Catholic Church in 1927, she prayed for God to show her how to live out her sense of vocation as a writer committed both to the poor and to building God’s kingdom here on Earth. She received her answer in 1933 when in the depths of the Great Depression, she and a handful of others founded a movement called The Catholic Worker. While living in voluntary poverty, Day and her coworkers churned out a newspaper (still published today), opened houses of hospitality in Lower East Side slums, and protested against war and injustice, leading to heated debates and frequent arrests.

Some of Dorothy Day’s views were controversial within the Catholic Church and even among some in the Catholic Worker. For example, during World War II she remained an adamant pacifist. Yet, even those who were sometimes exasperated by her recognized that her life and work were rooted in a radical attempt to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At great cost to herself and those around her, she sought to love her neighbor – especially the poorest and most broken – as herself.

Today there are over 200 Catholic Worker communities around the world, and there is a move underway in the Catholic Church to canonize Dorothy Day a saint. During these days of economic uncertainty, deepening poverty and rampant militarism, Dorothy Day’s faithful witness remains as provocative and challenging as ever.

At the conclusion of her autobiography, Day writes, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

I’ve reflected on these words a great deal over the past few months. Many of you know that Sue and I had a lonely time in Florida. We hadn’t realized just how challenging it would be living so far from our families and friends. Fortunately, even during that difficult year we were sustained by the love we received and shared in community. The people at St. Michael’s Church welcomed us with open arms and were incredibly gracious when we announced that we were leaving much sooner than anyone had expected. At the university chapel we held our services on Sunday evenings followed by a free supper lovingly prepared and provided by parishioners at local Episcopal churches. Each week undergraduate and graduate students sat beside the homeless and the poor – all attracted by a free home-cooked meal and the promise of warm fellowship.

And then there was the love we received from so many of you in the Grace Church community. Your prayers, calls, emails, cards, gifts, and even a couple of visits, helped us to remember that we were in your hearts and still very much part of this wonderful community.

Now, amazingly enough, we’re back in this place where we receive love from one another when we pray together and work together and play together. We’re back in this place where we receive Love each time we stretch out our hands and take the Body and Blood of Christ into our bodies and into our hearts.

As both a new church year and a new calendar year begin, I give thanks that right here at Grace Church we discover and receive the only solution to the long loneliness: the love that comes with community.