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Following Jesus

The Plough Diet: Dorothy Day’s Reckless Way of Love

February 28, 2017 by

book cover of The Reckless Way of Love: Notes on Following Jesus showing a picture of Dorothy Day

This week, Plough is releasing a new book: The Reckless Way of Love: Notes on Following Jesus. An addition to the Plough Spiritual Guides series, “backpack classics for modern pilgrims,” the little volume is a collection of excerpts from Dorothy Day’s writings, selected and edited by Bruderhof member Carolyn Kurtz. I caught up with her by phone (she’s currently residing at Danthonia Bruderhof in Australia) to find out more about it.


Erna: Hi Carolyn, what makes a book part of Plough’s backpack classics series?

Carolyn: The idea is to create short devotionals that people seeking truth and wisdom – especially high school and college students – can easily carry with them and delve into while riding the bus, eating lunch, or waiting for a professor. Each edition in the series aims to distill the thoughts and writings of one person who has contributed a legacy of living faith.

Plough’s founding editor, Eberhard Arnold, envisioned one hundred such books to inform seekers of spiritual movements of the past and in that way inspire our present. Plough is now actively working to continue that vision and expand the series.

So what inspired you to pick Dorothy Day?

When I was a child, a woman named Julie Lien became part of our family. She was not a blood relative but stayed with us for twenty years, becoming like my second mother. Dorothy Day was the person who had originally connected Julie with the Woodcrest Bruderhof, where we lived.

In the fall of 1955 Dorothy visited Woodcrest, and Julie, then a young volunteer at the Manhattan Catholic Worker, accompanied her. (Dorothy wrote about that visit in the December 1955 issue of the Catholic Worker.) Julie later returned to Woodcrest and eventually decided to join. So this was a journey to my roots.

Day was a prolific writer and covered many topics. What were your criteria for selecting excerpts, to keep your book so short and focused?

I sought especially to answer the questions: What kept Dorothy Day going in the often thankless work she was doing? How did she deal with discouragement, burnout, disillusion? What were her core beliefs?

Initially, since she was such a radical and activist, I was a little doubtful that I would find enough of her inner thoughts and beliefs, but the more I read the more I discovered that she really was a godly woman, deeply grounded. Her action only came out of deep faith.

D. L. Mayfield writes in her introduction to your selections that she was impatient with them at first. She asked herself, “Where is the work? Where are the inspiring stories of equality and countercultural lifestyle choices?” Why did you leave those aspects out?

Because they are well documented elsewhere, and in a certain sense, focusing only on Day’s activism and radicalness misses the true nature of her life and work. When you just see that part you get a Martha-style picture: someone who is busy, busy, busy, doing God’s work – at least, that’s the mental picture I had before I started reading Day more closely – but she is a much deeper person than that.

In and of herself, she didn’t have the energy for her work, but she turned to God and focused on Jesus and she was given the energy. She actually longed for more community; her community was quite transient – young people who stayed for one, three, five years and then married and moved on. She found herself needing to be the leader of her community, which she actually didn’t want to be.

The last thing she wanted was to be a saint, because she didn’t want to be put on a pedestal. She wanted every person to realize that we all can do small deeds, little by little.

What impressed you most about her?

How down to earth she was. She recorded how she got down in the doldrums and how she found her way out. She wrote something like, “If you’re feeling too grumpy to go downstairs and meet all the people, don’t go. Stay upstairs and pray. One does need breaks to refuel, to focus on Jesus and one’s task with him.”

Also her faithfulness: She clung to the Catholic Church although she opposed the church in some things, and she dared to stand with the poor against the will of her archbishop. She always went about it with respect but begging to differ.

Additionally, I found it surprising that she was completely pro-life. I guess I assumed that being “radical” meant she would be liberal on that question. People who joined her house had liberal views of marriage and relationships but she herself had no grayness about those issues. She had had an abortion and deeply regretted and repented for it.

Did reading Dorothy Day change or influence the way you view your commitment as a Christian in the Bruderhof?

It was an encouragement and a challenge. I discovered that I’m not so different – that we are all human beings with good and bad days – and I feel like we really are coworkers in life, striving for the same place. Previously, I had asked myself “Shouldn’t I be doing more?” I felt guilty sometimes that I was not doing what Dorothy did. But when I read carefully, I found that what Dorothy kept coming back to was that when you know you’re doing your best for God you can be at peace even when humanly you run out of steam.

Dorothy said that the only answer is community, the living together, the sharing together, the coming back to God. It was gratifying to find that in this woman who spent herself doing all these things.


Find pricing and more information about The Reckless Way of Love: Notes on Following Jesus.


This post is part of a series highlighting books and resources available through Plough.com, the Bruderhof’s publishing house. Read previous posts in this series.

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