The Rev. Dr. Violet Lee
Advent is a time of waiting, of expectation, of silence. Waiting for our Lord to be born. A pregnant woman is so happy, so content. She lives in such a garment of silence, and it is as though she were listening to hear the stir of life within her. One always hears that stirring compared to the rustling of a bird in the hand. But the intentness which one awaits such stirring is like nothing so much as a blanket of silence.
– Dorothy Day
As a self-identified “radical,” this message from Dorothy Day captures an ideal vision of motherhood. It is easy to romanticize pregnancy, even motherhood. Yet, challenges abound. As one credited for having established a home for homeless women, she knew something about being an expectant mother. She knew something about the challenges of pregnancy during difficult times, also. Yet, she expresses here a mood that few enjoy. It was one of contentment and peace. To sit in silence while waiting for the birth of a child not only requires great discipline, it suggests certain prerequisites. Such prerequisites would include the resources that would afford one a peaceful life where home is concerned. It would also presuppose the proper familial and social support systems in place to assuage any thoughts of food insecurity or lack of proper pre-natal care, shelter, clothing, and other essentials to the process.
Now being considered for canonization, Dorothy Day had quite an exciting life, by some accounts, before converting to Catholicism. Her consideration for Sainthood may not be realized, in part, due to the fact that she was once an unwed mother. One of the many gifts she left to the world was the mere question of the human struggle. Only an expectant mother who is deeply reflective of life could write this statement.
What about those expectant mothers living on the margins? Mothers for whom no garment can be found, neither can be found shoes, housing, or food, must be remembered at Christmas. For when we remember them, we remember Mary, the mother of our Lord. One can’t help but think of Mary, the mother of Jesus as we ponder the words of Dorothy Day in this moment of anticipation of the Christ Child. As the song writer asks, “Mary, did you know that this child that you would deliver, would soon deliver you?”
I would imagine Dorothy Day would have been a very passionate advocate for mothers whose lives, from the bystander’s perspective, were missing critical assurances of God’s presence. She would encourage us to reach out to mothers who are incarcerated or were formerly incarcerated, chronically depressed, chemically dependent, unemployed or underemployed, stricken with grief, or engulfed with despair. Any one of these could easily turn an expectant mother’s garment of silence into a sackcloth of frustration and anxiety.
With them in mind and imagining Dorothy Day’s social location and unwavering commitment to providing shelter for women, I am reminded of Marian Wright Edelman’s prayer “God Help Us to End Poverty in Our Time.” In one stanza she offers, “The poverty of pride and ingratitude for God’s gifts of life and children and family and freedom and country and not wanting for others what you want for yourself. The poverty of greed for more and more and more, ignoring, blaming, and exploiting the needy, and taking from the weak to please the strong.”
Prayer: Most Holy and loving God, be with us. As we remember Mary preparing to give birth to your Son, our Savior, help us to remember other mothers in distress and seeking a garment of silence to comfort them on life’s journey. Amen.