Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Long Loneliness (67-83)

The two sections are entitled "The Masses" and "Jail." The latter is one of the more eloquent explanations of the spiritual effects of dehumanizing treatment.

In "The Masses," Day says of her friend Rayna:
She never met a Christian. This I am sure is
literally true. When we were at the university together, we never met anyone who had a vital faith, or, if he had one, was articulate or apostolic.
There were no doubt those whose souls glowed with
belief, whose hearts were warmed by the love of God, on all sides of us. But mingling as we did, in our life together, and in our life apart, with radical groups, we never met any whose personal morality was matched by a social morality or who tried to make life her for others a foretaste of the life to come. (70-1)

There is a lot here to think about: the use of the word "literally" to jar us out of the cliche to make the claim specific, the intersection of evangelism with personal relationships (ugh, passages like this make me hate the phrase "friendship evangelism" which seems to subsume the importance of personal connection to the use to which you put your relationship with the other person), the subtle but growing self recrimination of the social justice movement (or ideological socialism) as a thing separate from (though not necessarily incompatible with) faith in God.
It is this last point that makes Day's work so interesting to me. In this work we get an honest evaluation from within of a weakness of social justice divorced from a morality grounded in the recognition of a transcendent God. I recall Richard Foster writing in the Spiritual Formation Workbook about how various streams of the Christian tradition have had a tendency to be imbalanced by embracing fully only selected streams while neglecting others. This observation is sound. What makes Day's work interesting is that it is rare for people within a tradition or movement (as opposed to those who come after) to see and face those imbalances.
The jail section is very moving. I could quote the whole thing here.
I had no sense as I lay there of the efficacy of what I was doing. I had
instead a bitter awareness of the need of self-preservation, the need to escape, the need to endure somehow through the days of my imprisonment. I had an ugly sense of the futility of human effort, man's helpless misery, the triumph of might. Man's dignity was but a word and a lie. Evil triumphed. I was a petty creature, filled with self-deception, self-importance, unreal, false, and so, rightly scorned and punished. I was willing not only to say two and two were
five, but to think it. (79)
Earlier this month I screened the Robert Bresson film A Man Escaped, and I've been discussing it with some friends in another venue. Filmed in the 1950s, it uses prison, I think, as a symbol to contemplate existential dilemmas of the 20th century. Why strive to escape? Is freedom an illusion? What makes man significant if there is no freedom of choice? What do we mean when we say "breaking one's spirit"?
Day's passage here describes poignantly what has become a catch phrase lobbied about evangelical circles: brokenness of spirit. I remember a passage in the film in which Fontaine and Jost speak of what will come after the war. Fontaine insists that the Germans will lose and that there will be another world after the world of the current moment in which Jost will be held accountable for his choices. Jost says they will not lose.
In a mindset that can see only the present world, the ultimate good is survival. Day speaks of having no idea of the efficacy of the protest, only the need of "self-preservation" kicking in. What I find myself contemplating is how the "need to escape" and the "need to endure" are often in tension with one another. Early in the Bresson film, another prisoner tells Fontaine to stop trying to escape--he fears Fontaine will be caught and the whole cell row punished. The need for preservation pushes one to minimize risks, the need to escape may lead one to take risks that go against instinct where instinct is telling one what one needs to do to endure (and ultimately survive). This tension in the film, expressed by Fontaine's brief, "It's hard to take the plunge" answer of why he is hesitating, is what makes me see the providential nature of certain sufferings. Fontaine is sentenced to death; another prisoner is placed in his cell. Circumstances are changed in a way that is initially experienced as inconvenient or disappointing, and we feel God is against us or has abandoned us to the whims of fortune. Instead we come to see that the circumstance, while causing greater hardship for a season, ultimately helps Fontaine resolve some greater hardship or problem which he might not have been able to handle if left on his own or given what he, in his limited perspective, might think he wants.
Day, of course, does not escape. She endures. And she is eventually released, and the suffragettes are lauded for their suffering. It is not until later that she comes to remember that she was sustained by God in her brokenness:
I had no thought of religion these last days. I was very much of the world again, talking with others, reading and writing letters, and I no longer thought of the depths I had been in. To be so degraded was to be shamed and humbled, but I rejected the humiliation. I had seen myself too weak to stand alone, too weak to face the darkness of that punishment cell without crying out, and I was ashamed and again rejected religion that had helped me when I had been brought
to my knees by my suffering. (83)
The rain falls on the just and the not-yet just. Day is given the strength to endure. But Fontaine, by listening and being led, by accepting grace and not just receiving it, is given the strength to escape.

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