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Dorothee Soelle 1929-2003

Dorothee Soelle and Dorothy Day represent the compassionate critcal side of Christianity. Seeing life as gift rather than possession, we are called to resist social and economic injustice and set life values above money values.
Dorothee Soelle 1929-2003

[The following article, Our Roots: Dorothee Soelle and Dorothy Day by Franka Niejahr of the Brot & Rosen Catholic Worker Community in Hamburg, Germany was published in Catholic Worker, August-September 2003, price 1 cent.]

Even in her death, Dorothee Soelle has, again, given us a push. We have had a lot of exchanges among ourselves in our community about what we learned from her as a theologian and as a woman about her straight way of thinking, about her cheeky sense of humor, about her religious devotion, about her sense of resistance and conscientious objection. And we also have spoken about the new "mansions" that her speaking and writing have created. We will miss Dorothee Soelle, the prophet, the voice for the voiceless of our time.

Dorothee Soelle was our ally, here, at the Bread and Roses community. As one of the few liberation theologians working in the First World, the Catholic Worker roots of our movement were well known to her and they were valuable.

At the very beginning, during the planning stages for Bread and Roses, Dorothee visited our group. Even before our House of Hospitality existed, she sharpened our vision and encouraged us in practical ways to begin work about which we were still dreaming. She understood and strengthened us in our commitment to share our lives with the poor and the marginalized and to have faith in the power and anticipation of God's Kingdom. At one of our first open house meetings she read for us from her book Mysticism and Resistance. Also, her foreword to the pamphlet, "Frieden stiften" (To Establish Peace), expresses our mutual solidarity with the roots of our movement in the US.

In her biography Gegenwind (Headwind) Dorothee Soelle described how she came to know the Catholic Worker soup kitchen in Manhattan, whose guests are the poorest of the poor. There she met Dorothy Day, "the tall, elderly woman who was uncompromisingly a Catholic, a pacifist, an anarchist and the founder of the Catholic Worker." Impressed, Dorothee Soelle writes, "That was the first time that I understood what voluntary poverty meant. Dorothy Day mentioned, in passing, that people were always coming into her room to spend time and that they would take things or leave things. The renunciation of possessions that she lived took in, as well, renouncing to have a private sphere. Dorothy Day, who was an excellent, witty, clear-thinking journalist, lived practically without possessions and in service to those who had been abandoned by society and who, in most cases, had also given up on themselves."

"The other main focus of Dorothy Day's life was her radical pacifism. When she was arrested during a demonstration against the war in Vietnam, many Christians in the States understood what kind of war and what kind of system it was that found it necessary to put this absolutely fearless old woman in jail."

Following Dorothy Day's example, Dorothee Soelle got the courage to pray for the gift of tears. "Like every person who thirsts for justice and for peace, Dorothy Day went through periods of absolute exhaustion, sorrow and pain... During these times, as I was told, Dorothy would withdraw and would weep, hours and days at a time. Without a word, without eating, she would sit and shed tears. She did not withdraw from her active struggle on behalf of the poor and she never ceased to regard war and the preparation for war as a crime. But, at times, she cried long and bitterly. When I learned of this, I better understood, then, what pacifism is; what God in the midst of defeat means. And how the spirit comforts us and leads us in to the truth, that truth cannot come at the expense of another human being and that comfort cannot come at the expense of truth... When we learn to share both the pain and the joy with others, then our everyday life will be healed; desires and anxieties will both illuminate it."

Some Books by Dorothee Soelle

Thinking About God: An Introduction to Theology, Trinity Press International, 1990
On Earth as in Heaven. A Liberating Spirituality of Sharing, Westminster 1993
The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, Fortress 2001
Creative Disobedience, Pilgrim Press, 1995
The Strength of the Weak: Toward a Christian Feminist Identity, Westminster 1984
Jesus of Nazareth, Westminster 2000

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