My heart said there must be more purpose for my life than this. But I just kept driving in the same direction. Then . . .
God came to my house and asked for charity. And I fell on my knees and cried, “Beloved, What may I give” “Just love,” He said. “Just love.”
St. Francis of Assisi
I learned a lot about how to love. And then, God created a quiet space. Work and previous commitments cleared away so I could hear God’s call to be re-formed. “Spend time discovering the woman I created you to be,” God said.
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Jeremiah 29:11 (NRSV)
At the end of six months, I felt the call to re-form my theology and learn new and “practical” ways to show love to my neighbor. God was calling me to Columbia Theological Seminary to study the Practical Theology of Pastoral Care. God was calling me to get to know my neighbor and myself, to move out of what I knew and experience a new way of living.
So, I started down a new road, living in the uncertainty of its destination and yielding myself daily to the reformation. I’ve been deconstructing my beliefs and re-imagining abundant life in Christ.
I’ve grown in compassion for myself and others and the ability to see God’s creative force at work in the world. My understanding of God continues to expand and yet still seems so limited. I find myself asking, “What’s next?” Only the next turn in the road appeared. I am to continue learning and discovering. What will studying Ethics and Theology teach me? How can this be used for good, for change in this world? I cannot see where this road leads.
Wonderful Shepherd, God of All that Is,
Thank you for leading me in the way of openness and learning.
Continue the flow of love and compassion in and through me so that
I may rest in your grace each moment and see the beauty of your creation.
Show me the paths where I can take action on behalf of women, children and families who are marginalized by society.
Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. Matthew 25:40 (NRSV)
I get this question almost every time I tell someone I have been studying for a Masters of Arts in Practical Theology.
I think of Practical Theology as being like one of those fabulous French boulangeries.
The Master Baker
The master baker, started the bakery because of the love of the creative process. God envisioned people working together to care for what was created and to build joyful, productive lives. Their work would produce good things that would benefit everyone.
God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good. Genesis 1:31 (NRSV)
People are the apprentices, wait staff and counter help, each special and unique in the work of the bakery. Each person in the boulangerie has a special role to play in creating the day’s offering of goodies.
The ingredients must be gathered and measured according to the recipe
They must be mixed to the consistency required by the master baker
The ovens must be heated to the perfect temperature
The pastry or bread must be carefully tended and removed from the oven when it is baked to perfection
Sweets may require frosting or glazing
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us. Romans 12:4-6 (NRSV)
Baking Ingredients and Tools
The master baker provides the ingredients, the gifts of creation, to be used for wonderful baked goods. The basic ingredients of flour, sugar, butter, eggs, milk will be turned into such a variety of wonderful breads and pastries. For some, more sugar is added, along with chocolate, nuts or fruit. For others the flour may be stone ground, whole grain and yeast will be added to make wholesome bread. The master baker also provides the best tools and equipment needed for baking. Mixers, ovens, cooling racks, bowls, whisks, rolling pins and so much more are available.
Fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these take the shield of faith. Ephesians 6:14-16 (NRSV)
The master baker starts the day with a list of customer requests and a plan to produce the best breads and sweets. The kitchen is clean and surfaces gleam clean and shiny. A wide range of ingredients fill the bins. The equipment and tools of the bakery are ready and waiting.
As workers begin the day and customers come and go, the course of the day becomes less orderly. There is a rush in the early morning for unexpected items. A last minute order comes in for cookies for an evening event. The plan for the day changes and people in the kitchen began to scurry around. A flour bag gets turned over and a recipe has to be modified because there are no walnuts left. But the team works together, laughing and helping each other with their tasks.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness,
and self-control. Galatians 5: 22-23 (NRSV)
In her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, Dorothy describes her life based on her
internal focus for three time periods: Searching, Natural Happiness and Love is
her early days of searching, Dorothy includes information about her background
and family, which shed light on the direction of her life. Her mother was
raised Episcopal but her family really didn’t go to church. She, her three
brothers, and sister were raised with a great sense of moral right and wrong. But
the religious activities of Dorothy’s friends and neighbors made her curious
about church and faith so she went to church with Methodist neighbors when she
was eight. Later, an Episcopal parish priest persuaded her mother to let her
brothers sing in the choir and Dorothy attended with them. In the Episcopal
church, she came to love the use of Latin for the Psalms and songs of the choir. After the family moved from California to
Chicago, she became interested in Catholicism because of stories of the saints
she heard from neighbors.
Dorothy attributes her love of words to
her father who was a journalist and editor. He did not allow the children to
listen to the radio or read “trash” novels but insisted they read Shakespeare,
Dickens, Cooper, Poe and other classics. As a teenager, Dorothy read the
sermons of John Wesley and was attracted to the piety of his messages.
The beginnings of her interest in
assisting the poor were her experiences of the community taking care of one
another after a particularly destructive earthquake in California. Within her
family, her father had a Southern, racist view of black people and distrusted
people he considered foreigners or whose ideas he couldn’t understand. As did
many people during the time of Dorothy’s coming of age, her father considered
these people dangerous to America. However, Dorothy wanted to be kind to the
poor and wanted others to join her point of view. She was deeply concerned that
others didn’t seem to care about the poor and thought the poor should just work
When she went to college, she joined the
socialist party, increased her awareness of class wars taking place in Europe and
rejected religion. She left the university after two years when her family
moved to New York and took a job with a socialist newspaper named The New York
Call. Her work took her to Washington and Boston where she covered worker
strikes, pickets, riots, and protests. She was arrested during a picket in
Washington, D.C. and participated in a 10-day hunger strike while in the
During World War I, Dorothy wanted to do
something to help the ill and injured so she became a nurse at King’s County
Hospital in Brooklyn. After the Armistice, she lived in Europe and Chicago and
continued to write for the Communist Party. In Chicago, a Catholic roommate
helped revive her interest in religion and she began to read books on
Dorothy called the middle portion of her
life natural happiness. She bought a house on Staten Island beach and lived in
a common law marriage with Forster, an anarchist biologist. During this time,
she began reading the Bible and Imitation
of Christ, praying daily and attending mass. Her interest in the
supernatural and unseen caused conflict in her relationship with Forster
because he was more interested in the natural and seen aspects of life. While
she was pregnant with their little girl, she decided that she wanted to have
the baby baptized into Catholicism even though she knew this would probably end
her relationship with Forster. After having the baby back in New York, Dorothy
was baptized into the Catholic church. She still wrote for the Anti-Imperialist
League and critiqued the Catholic church as having a great interest in charity
but not much action for justice.
In the final section of her book, Love is
the Measure, Dorothy describes how her work for social justice and her Catholic
faith became her new vocation. She met Peter Maurin, also a Catholic, who had a
vision of the people gaining control of their work by returning to the land and
producing what they needed to live. Together, they started the Catholic Worker
in 1933, a newspaper directed at speaking out against wrongs against workers
and calling other Catholics to join in this pursuit. The couple also wanted to
feed and house people and used the newspaper to raise funds for soup kitchens
and to open houses and farms of hospitality where people could live in
voluntary poverty, participating in the care of the community. Dorothy continued
to join and write about pickets and worker activity but joined that work with
care for the individual, which she considered the most important, in the
hospitality houses. She and Peter felt that community was the answer to the
social problem of loneliness and considered the family style communal living as
an exchange of gifts in the spirit of St. Ignatius.
to My Vocation
Just as Dorothy Day did in the third part
of her life, I have come to believe that love is the most important aspect of
life. Dorothy looked back on her early days writing and working for the
Socialist Party and questioned whether this was truly “love of our fellows”
personally or whether she “loved them in the mass and [was] moved by the
account of their suffering (page 87).” Once I actually became engaged with
people from a different social location than myself, I was compelled to think
of individuals and families with distinct issues and problems they were trying
to solve and the systems that worked against any resolution rather than groups
of people labeled “the poor.” Their stories helped me see that being poor is
very hard work and very demoralizing as you work through the labyrinth of paper
work and conflicting requirements for receiving the help you desperately need.
Like Dorothy, I have become more and more
aware of my privilege as a white, middle class, heterosexual, Christian woman
with a college education and a professional career. Dorothy describes her, and
my own, location as having been “born in a certain environment, were enabled to
go to school, endowed with the ability to compete with others and hold our own
(p 204).” As I looked at the people within my own church and community, I came
to identify with Dorothy’s statement that there is an “ugliness of life in a
world which professed itself to be Christian (page 42).” We, like Dorothy in
the early years, did not know the meaning of love and spend most of our time
critiquing one another’s actions and opinions and not acting like Christ at all
in our interactions with each other and with our neighbors. We “love” those who
are like us. Even within our class or professional strata, we really only like
those who agree with us, have the same skin color or political viewpoint.
In today’s world of the internet and
social media, Dorothy Day would have reached millions rather than hundreds of
thousands around the world with her writing. She believed in the “power of the
press and also that the simple maxim “go to the people” meant literally going
to them (page 203). She investigated and wrote the stories of people
experiencing the struggles of the political and economic times in which she
lived. Perhaps compassion and solidarity
can be increased in our time with more attention to listening and sharing the
voices of those who are struggling.
I was like most of the Christians I saw
around me who, as Dorothy describes in her own time, were “willing to give to
the poor” but didn’t “feel called upon to work for the things of this life for
others (p 188).” It was relatively easy to buy sacks of toys at Christmas or supplies
and backpacks for children returning to school. We would collect ingredients
for “meal in a bag” without thinking about whether they would like what we
picked. Would we have eaten what we gave them? Would the children have picked
what we chose for the design on their backpack? How did the parents feel when
the children knew the presents came from outside the family and what patterns
of living were we perpetuating? We saw people as objects to help from our
I have become increasingly concerned about
the buy-in of Christian people, myself included, to the capitalist concept of
people being less important than productivity and profits as well as the belief
that what material goods you have acquired reflects your worth to society.
Reading Dorothy’s statement that her attraction “to the poor had a sense of
guilt, of responsibility, a feeling that in some way we were living on the
labor of others (page 204)” made me reflect on my own motivation for wanting to
work with women at the margins. What do my lifestyle and day to day actions say
about my solidarity with the poor?
Dorothy Day was willing to do more than
see the issues of the poor and workers fighting for fair working conditions. Even
providing money and support for these causes was insufficient for Dorothy. She
pledged herself to voluntary poverty, sharing all that she had to others who
did not have food or a place to live. She felt it necessary to “give up one’s
privacy and mental and spiritual comforts as well as the physical” and to share
in their suffering (page 214). Instead of building a professional journalistic
career for money and prestige, she used her talent and money she earned to make
sure the voices of the poor and workers that she cared so much about were
heard. She spent the last years of her life without privacy, sharing her living
space and food with anyone who needed it and encouraging a life of reciprocal
love and care.
Shaping Future Work
As I suspected, Dorothy Day’s third part
of life is in many ways a model for the work I want to do now. Unfortunately,
the previous parts of my life have not prepared me as well as her intense
involvement with labor movements of her time prepared her for intense
solidarity with the poor. While I have considered the result of most of my work
over the years as benefiting people’s lives, the profitability of the
corporation, and therefore the capitalist who owned the corporation, was the
primary driver of everything we did. I want to do work where the primary
purpose is a better, more wholistic life for women and children. I feel called
to own much less and be grateful for what I have rather than constantly
acquiring the latest thing. But I am not sure, at this point, how far I would
be willing to go towards poverty to achieve solidarity with those I seek to
Dorothy said that, in her early work “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 (page 71).” In my earlier years, my faith community was
definitely more concerned with saving people’s souls than whether they could
achieve “abundant life.” Many of the non-profits I have worked with in more
recent years have a large part of their support coming from or may even be
spin-offs from churches. They believe, as Dorothy Day did, that we should have “respect
for the poor and destitute as those nearest to God (page 204).” From a feminist
theological perspective, however, I worry that we are encouraging abundant life
without taking into consideration that body, mind, and spirit are one and true
wholeness of life cannot come without attention to each of these. We are caring
for the body of the poor and struggling, and perhaps their mind through types
of “life skill education” but we do not talk about God or spiritual life for
fear of being accused of proselytizing or losing funding. Within the supporting
churches, I see an opposite issue of teaching spiritual practices and
principles but many times neglecting to teach the mind and body skills required
to live into true life in the spirit. I see my work in this area to be centered
around encouraging the church to adopt a theology and praxis that touches the
whole person in mind body and spirit for their members and for those they try
To this point in my life, I have not felt
called to participate in marches and other external actions to protest the
actions of church or state as Dorothy Day did on a regular basis. I am
intrigued, however, with her use of story telling to make people aware of the
realities of people’s lives. As I continue to work with individuals and
families and hear their stories, perhaps I can be instrumental in making their
voices heard. Can I find ways to combine the academic theological and ethical with
the life stories of people I work with to put a face to the issues of our day
and help people to see the image of God in each other? Can listening deeply to
people’s stories help them endure the hard work of building their lives?
art of civil conversation and the praxis of loving each person I meet will require
dependence upon the Holy Spirit to continually renew my mind from the messages
of the culture that call me to work for the gratification of my ego and the
kudos for a job well done. I will need to continually try to uncover and live
out the theology I wish to share of how to be a whole person who loves God,
self and neighbor.