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Reviews and Dorothy Day

Two more lovely reviews of Eve from the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Historical Novels Review.  You can read portions of them on the Media page.

Well, for a long time now I’ve wanted to read Dorothy Day’s autobiography The Long Loneliness, because I’ve read other books about her, written by other people, and I wanted to hear her thoughts in her voice.  If you remember, she was a social activist who began the Catholic Workers Movement in 1933, along with her friend Peter Maurin–hospitality homes for the poor and homeless people in New York’s slums.  She became a devout Catholic over the years and despised how religious people in general did nothing to help others.  For them, religion was head knowledge, not a part of their everyday lives.  Certainly, whatever you believe, you can reach out to others; she was disgusted simply at the number of people who sat in the church pews on Sundays but did nothing during the week, to help the downtrodden.

I thought I’d share a couple of passages that resonated with me.  I’m only a short way into the book, so there will be more to come, I’m sure.

From the introduction by Robert Coles (and if you’ve never read any of his books, do!…there’s one on the spiritual life of children that is fascinating): “For her [speaking of Dorothy], literature or art were no mere opportunity for entertainment, no mere occasions for aesthetic satisfaction or self-enhancing erudition.  She hungered for answers to the big questions–how ought one live this life, where, in what manner, and for what purpose?  She found answers to such a kin of self-addressed inquiry in novels and paintings, and, most of all, in Holy Scripture, in the life of an itinerant preacher and healer who died on a cross, a thief on either side of Him, almost two thousand years ago in Roman-controlled Palestine.  She drew inspiration from this century’s poor–descendants, she never forgot, of the humble fold Jesus attended, the insulted and humiliated whom her dear novelist and artist friends kept evoking.  She chose to spend her life with such people, trying to be of help to them, learning from them.”

Concerning personal confession: “Writing a book is hard, because you are “giving yourself away.”  But if you love, you want to give yourself.  You write as you are impelled to write, about man and his problems, his relation to God and his fellows.  You write about yourself because in the long run all man’s problems are the same, his human needs of sustenance and love.  “What is man that Thou art mindful of him?” the Psalmist asks, and he indicates man’s immense dignity when he says, “Thou has made him a little less than the angels.”  He is made in the image and likeness of God, he is a temple of the Holy Spirit.  He is of tremendous importance.  What is man, where is he going, what is his destiny?  It is a mystery.”

On not finding people of the same heart, speaking of a friend of hers who had died: “She never met a Christian.  This I am sure is literally true.  When we were at the university together, we never met anyone who had a vital faith, or, if he had one, was articulate or apostolic.  There were no doubt those whose souls glowed with belief, whose hearts were warmed by the love of God, on all sides of us.  But mingling as we did, in our life together, and in our life apart, with radical groups, we never met any whose personal morality was matched by a social morality or who tried to make life here for others a foretaste of the life to come.”

My heart broke when I read that last phrase, but I could understand, for I, too, could count on one hand the number of Christians I know personally who live what they believe.  I can go days, weeks, months, before I come into contact with them again.  Where are the thinking and forgiving and kind Christians?  I count myself as a Christian, but I’m cognizant of being thought of–by non-believers–as the same as the rest of them.  And I use the word “them” purposefully.  I know I generalize, which is usually unfair, but in this case, if “they” are so rare, then we must wonder at their rarity.  It is food for thought, at least.

I first met my editor at Books & Culture, John Wilson, at a Festival of Faith and Writing conference at Calvin College.  This was the spring of 2004.  He was so warm and caring and honest, that it quite surprised me.  [Yes, lovely Christians always surprise me!]  If he disagreed with me, he’d say so, but he’d back it up with something he’d read or he’d formulated on the subject.  Way back when, he took me on as a beginner writer and allowed me to flounder, learning to write a book review (and continue learning), stressing the stronger points of my reviews, and confronting me on the weaker ones.  He wanted me to state more honestly my stories, my feelings, and he encouraged me to SPEAK UP!  Now, I’m sure he might not remember all these things, but he was a father to me during those years (and still is!), and an example of what I imagined a loving father might be like.  I began to see God differently because of him.  He gave me the gift of self-awareness and confidence–that I had something to say, whether it be to an audience of one or fifty.

Do you have a person in your life like this?  Who will take you under his or her wing and give you the encouragement to soar?  Find, find, find this person.  Search with all your heart.  And when you have found a kindred spirit, treat him or her with the utmost respect, knowing that you have found someone who will be with you always–in the bad times and the good.

Post image: Partial view of Minneapolis Star Tribune review of Eve]

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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