Spiritual Barrenness: Reflections on Dorothy Day’s ‘The Long Loneliness’ – Part 1

Mary TeckYear of the Pilgrim

By Teresa Vargo

When I found out that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops had recently approved Dorothy Day’s cause for canonization, I was surprised. Not because I didn’t think she was a good woman, but because I knew her as an activist. And although many activists do a lot of good things, they’re not typically saints canonized by the Catholic Church. I was intrigued by this. So when Marcie asked me to give this talk on Dorothy Day I agreed, but I really didn’t know too much about her beyond her involvement in starting the Catholic Worker Movement.

I’m really grateful that I had this chance to get to know Dorothy Day, because it allowed me to understand why the Church is actually looking to canonize her. She was truly a remarkable woman. So, if activism doesn’t make someone a saint, what does? Well, an interior life. Okay, what’s an interior life? It’s a profoundly deep relationship with God in one’s life. Not just on the outside, but in one’s very heart, in one’s very being. And here we find Dorothy Day – the contemplative. Honestly, that is kind of shocking because there are many words we can use to describe Dorothy Day: the separatist, the protester, the activist, the writer, and even the communist at one point. But who would think to describe her as the contemplative? And yet at her core this is who she was.

She showed us how her loneliness – essential loneliness – was baptized into a desire and longing for God. We all experience loneliness and it’s very easy to stop at that. We feel loneliness and then we try to distract or fill ourselves. What if we didn’t try to distract or fill ourselves? What if we followed the loneliness to its logical conclusions – its logical end? What if we broke through it? What would happen? I’m proposing – I think Dorothy Day would as well – that it’s when we can persevere through the loneliness that God can transform that longing into a longing for Himself.

Before I dive right into the work, I want to tell a story. Back in January I went to a retreat at a monestary called the Cloistered Dominican Nuns. I was in silence the whole time and, of course, I chose freely to go there. Before going I was a litle apprehensive. I thought to myself, “Well, I know I’ve been distracting myself. Why am I so restless?” And I just figured, “Oh well, maybe because I’m depressed or unhappy or whatever.” You know, we all think these things. So I decided, “Well, we’ll see what happens.”

So I went to the retreat by myself and there was silence. I was in adoration for several hours a day because the nuns have perpetual adoration. I went to Mass, ate, and read, but there weren’t any fireworks or huge manifestations. However, when I was flying back to Washington DC on the plane I felt this deep loneliness and longing in my heart. This was what I had been distracting myself from. I wasn’t distracting myself from something bad but from something good. I was distracting myself from what I was created for – union with God.

I couldn’t believe it and yet it made a lot of sense because to desire, to long, is quite uncomfortable. So  I want you to think about your own longing. First of all your own loneliness. Then ask yourself: What am I longing for? What do I seek? What is my heart reaching out after? And when we can finally answer those questions, there’s going to be a resolution. Because when we know what we’re longing for, we can have communion with God. And then we can worship Him.

Check back next week for the continuation of “Spiritual Barrenness: Reflections on Dorothy Days ‘The Long Loneliness'”