Thursday, July 29, 2021 (Day 54)
Katie Snipes Lancaster
Psalm 54 (from Robert Altar’s 2007 translation)
Look, God is about to help me, my Master—among those who support me. Let God pay back evil to my assailants. Demolish them through Your truth! With a freewill offering let me sacrifice to You. Let me acclaim Your name, Lord, for it is good. For from every strait God saved me, and my eyes see my enemies’ defeat.
An Opening Word
Psalm 54 is a plea for help, and a final looking-up to see that help is arriving. It has that rough-edge defeat-my-enemies sentimentality that we sometimes hate hearing, but maybe I don’t always begrudge someone in a dreadful situation the hope that whoever is causing them harm might be prevented, full stop (and, maybe we interpret “demolish them through Your truth” as some softening of the heart? Some divine turn-about, where the assailant is stopped because their own ethical plumb line is finally revealed?). Someone ruthless is seeking out the Psalmist, so let us be on the side of the writer, supporting the one who is oppressed, and turning to God.
Today’s mystic, Dorothy Day, was a writer, too. She believed in the power of the written word to transform oppression into justice, and shift the world toward good. She was born in 1897, and as a young adult was arrested along with other suffragists for protesting (nonviolently). Matthew Fox says that “The via negativa of prison helped empty Dorothy of ego so that she learned compassion in a deep way.” As she continued on the path of justice, and as she became a mother, she converted to Catholicism, and her social activism and active striving for the rights of the poor became rooted in her faith: she considered the words of Jesus (especially the Beatitudes) to be her ethical mandate. She created the Catholic Worker movement, and set up “houses of hospitality,” many of which still operate today. Here is an excerpt from her journal “The Catholic Worker,” which explains some of the work she was doing.
“This last month of heavy rains means untold misery to our men on the breadlines, and all those who are sleeping on as though on the battlefields of our present industrial system. They are wrecks of men, many of them, gaunt and suffering…we must keep our own hearts in peace, a hard thing to do. But Pope Pius XII warns against that ‘sense of hopelessness which agitates the souls of men.’ We can quote with the Psalmist, ‘In peace was our bitterness most bitter.’ We can say, with St. Paul, describing our Lord, ‘Against hope he believed in hope.’”
Dorothy Day’s mystic sensibility comes by way of acknowledging that our everyday work on behalf of those in need is, in fact, spiritual work. We will never get to the end of our work, for the hurt of the world is more than one can bear, but with God’s love at the center, the work will get done. The words below are excerpted from a letter she wrote to friend Joe Zarrella.
Prayer from the Mystics: Dorothy Day (1897–1980)
We must contain ourselves in patience,
remembering each morning
that our main job is to love God
and to serve God
and if we don’t get things done due to interruptions,
well, it cannot be helped,
and God will take care of what we leave undone.
May we love God in this way, Amen.