“I wanted life and I wanted the abundant life. I wanted it for others too. I did not want just the few, the missionary-minded people like the Salvation Army, to be kind to the poor, as the poor. I wanted everyone to be kind. I wanted every home to be open to the lame, the halt and the blind, the way it had been after the San Francisco earthquake. Only then did people really live, really love their brothers. In such love was the abundant life and I did not have the slightest idea how to find it.” (39)
If Gandhi obsessed about the food he ate, Dorothy Day obsesses about the places she lived. My head swims taking in the moves from city to city and apartment to apartment. I think she was happy by the ocean because she was in one house for a period of time. Still, this restlessness is a part of her story – a sign of her search for both happiness, security in relationships, and abundant life.
Searching for abundant life seems an odd pursuit. Better look for a job, a spouse, a place. But all these are subordinated in Day’s unfolding story. And the most surprising thing is that her deepest acquaintance with abundant life followed a natural disaster. The San Francisco earthquake succeeded in opening up the everyday getting and grabbing and a new community stepped forth. A community that cared for the other without qualification, putting aside selfish interests and desires. This became the image of community Day hoped to abide in fully, even to create if she could be her work and her writing. It is this search for the space of a community that lurks in her coming and going, moving and staying.
What most sings out in her story is the Mystical Body of Christ, a tune that comes in and out of hearing, more when she is in touch with herself, in a way reflecting what she remembers Augustine writing “Lord, that I may know myself, in order that I may know thee.”(10-11) The Mystical Body of Christ is her solid home, and it takes a long journey there. She sacrifices many things to be there, but finds everything and more of abundant life in these moments of discovery. It is even a blind instinct to pray, emerging in the space of her life and loves, that leads her toward this Mystical Body. She fears that the church might be a mere opiate for her dissatisfaction with the world, and it is not until her great happiness by the ocean and the birth of her daughter that Day confronts the Mystical Body of Christ as real possibility as her own place. She sends her infant child ahead into this Mystical Body through baptism, like a small envoy that precedes the one with less faith. She does follow, even at the cost of her physical union with the body of her common-law husband.
The Mystical Body of Christ is Day’s ultimate love. This is the space she desires to inhabit, body and soul. And this is the space she opens up within her church, confronting it with the reduction of faith to a spiritual category, separate from the identification with the poor and outcast. In this way she opens up this space to us all – the Mystical Body of Christ is close, right at arm’s length, in the life and suffering of the poor and dispossessed. May we all find this space in the Mystical Body of Christ.