Sunday, 20 June 2010

The Long Loneliness - Dorothy Day

The introduction of this book is so atmospheric, from a place which reaches backwards in time. To me it was beautiful, like a film. I share it here only to hope that others will find it beautiful too. It illustrates a deeply Catholic scene, but I think the mystic of it all could appeal to anyone - especially those interested in creating visual images in their mind's eye. I bought this book on Amazon for £1.20. Bargain.


When you go to confession on a Saturday night, you go into a warm, dimly lit vastness, with a smell of wax and incense in the air, the smell of burning candles, and if it is a hot summer night there is the sound of the great electric fan, and the noise of the streets coming in to emphasize the stillness. There is another sound too, beside that of the quiet movements of people from pew to confession to altar rail; there is the sliding of the shutters of the little window between you and the priest in his 'box'.

Some confessionals are large and roomy - plenty of space for the knees, and breathing space in the thick darkness that seems to pulse with your own heart. In some poor churches, many of the ledges are narrow and worn, so that your knees almost slip off the kneeling bench, and your feet protrude outside the curtain which shields you from the others who are waiting. Some churches have netting, or screens, between you and the priest and you can see the outline of his face inclined toward you, quiet, impersonal, patient. Some have a piece of material covering the screen, so you can see nothing. Some priests leave their lights on in their boxes so that they can read their breviaries between confessions. The light does not bother you of that piece of material is there so that you cannot see, or be seen, but if it is only a grating so that he can see your face, it is embarrassing and you do not go back to that priest again.
Day continues to make some brilliant observations about the sacrament of reconciliation. They are of their time; I do not know what she would make of the face-to-face option preferred in many parishes today! For the record I have never come across a confessional with a shutter - it is always in the movies, I know - I guess I just think it must be American? This book is great, an account of Dorothy Day's remarkable life in her own words, everything from the difficulties of raising her daughter by herself, to the challenges of living out a vocation for the poor with the poor. Inspiring stuff.

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