One of my role models for how to live a good life is Dorothy Day, who died about this time of year in 1980. Her witness to solidarity with the poor is a prophetic voice that regularly reminds me of the importance of simplicity. A noteworthy phrase from her diaries is the “Duty of Delight,” which is also the title of one compilation of her journals. The striking and unique combination of words is a reminder that the habit of daily joy is a discipline, no matter the circumstance of our lives.
Another prophet puts it this way:
…everlasting joy will be on their faces; joy and gladness will go with them, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:10)
Who, may I ask, among those who encounter this reflection, experiences “everlasting joy” in our imperfect world? Isaiah himself was writing to an audience in exile that had encountered unspeakable violence, persecution and loss. From whence the hope, the joy?
If we look around us as 2022 ends, we could find plenty of reasons to question the mental stability of those who sing “Joy to the World.” Where is the joy in Ukraine? Is delight one of the first words that comes to mind for parents who lost children to violence? Have sorrow and sighing fled the lives of families unable to pay their bills? Even the descendants of Isaiah in our community find the levels of anti-Semitism and hate crimes climbing steadily.
Dorothy Day touched despair almost daily as she worked among the poorest of the poor. She regularly considered giving up as the problems her community sought to solve never seemed to improve, let alone disappear. Perhaps she was talking to herself, as well as to each of us, as she reminded us all that taking delight in the present moment is a duty that requires discipline and hard work in the midst of community. In her words: “It is not always easy to be joyful, to keep in mind the duty of delight.”
The work we do at the Center is an opportunity to walk with people in order to develop habits that help us to experience true joy. Not a fleeting emotion such as when we have a good day, but as an abiding presence of peace. It is hard work. The problems people bring to us are real and often tragic. Healing comes in fits and starts.
Part of the healing process is found in community. The people we serve are not facing challenges alone. It might be a compassionate therapist, a staff member who helps to support the clinician in their work, a board member that seeks resources in the community to make the work possible, a donor who responds to an end-of-year solicitation to make a counseling session possible, or …
I hope we all get the point. We are in this together, doing our duty, contributing and sacrificing to make sure others know that hope and healing are possible.
I am grateful for the many duties people have taken seriously to make our mission possible, this year and for all 50 years of our history. My prayer as we conclude 2022 is that all the work inspires an enduring sense of delight.