Apparently I now live in the most desirable postcode in London. What makes it so ‘desirable’? Well according to the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, it is within easy cycling distance of central London; it has the most popular properties, and the most enviable neighbours – so that is why he and his family have moved into….N1. Yet within this small geographical area of N1 is a wide, social and economic divide. Boris has chosen a much sought after private multi million pound property in Islington, while I have recently moved into ‘Dorothy Day House’. It is true that I now proudly reside within N1, But N1 Hackney, not Islington!
So if it is all about ‘location, location, location’ what have I found that is so desirable that I have chosen to leave behind two years of the quiet, prayerful, spacious and green surroundings of an enclosed monastery in Arundel, Sussex and make my home with the London Catholic Worker? In many ways my needs are no different to the Mayor’s; I too want to be close to where decisions are being made that affect the global economy; I too want to be where the demand for property is so high that the need to share is vital, and I too want neighbours that are priceless. My underlying motivation comes from the Gospel insight which tells us that, “wherever your treasures are, that is where your heart resides too”; where we locate, or rather “incarnate”, is the ultimate expression of our deepest longings, the eternal echo that makes real on earth the heavenly, the divine. Annunciations are common; everywhere we hear people talking about poverty and injustice – we hear too much talk about what they are doing for the poor, their strategies and their policies for change. What is rare is when these ‘annunciations’ become ‘incarnations’ – then all talk about the poor is silenced, because as Phil Berrigan reminds us;
‘The poor tell us who we are, the prophets tell us who we should be….so we hide the poor and kill the prophets’
The first time I visited Dorothy Day House there was snow on the ground, so it was good to be welcomed with a cup of tea. As I began to thaw out I slowly started to take in my surroundings. I already had a good idea of which Catholic Workers were living at the house, who the guests were, and who were the current visitors, so as I added this up, I whispered to one of the visitors, “please tell me this house is like the Tardis on Dr Who, that it looks small from the outside but in fact it is huge….” So many people ‘hidden’ in such a small space: it shouted loud and clear who I am. Such a prophetic sign; it told me who I should be….where I should be, where I am called to ‘incarnate’.
The road that has led me to Dorothy Day House has been a very long and winding one. Yet the truth of the incarnation is that ‘God is with us’, not just for us but with us – and we too are called to incarnate that Love not for the poor but with the poor, and that we can never do it alone, for as Dorothy Day said;
“We cannot live alone. We cannot go to heaven alone. Otherwise God will ask us, ‘Where are the others?’”
And so I continue to ask myself, ‘Where are the others?’, and I’m beginning to hear the whisper……N1
Katrina Alton is the ex-Assistant Retreat Team Leader at Savio House, Bollington
Dorothy Day House offers hospitality to destitute refugees, usually men. They also run Peter’s Community cafe and the Urban Table Soup Kitchen (both attempts to imitate Jesus’ practice of sharing His table with all comers)
Servant of God, Dorothy Day was born on the 8th November, 1897 in Brooklyn, New York. She was the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, which started with the ‘Catholic Worker newspaper’ created to promote Catholic Social teaching and stake out a neutral, pacifist position in the war-torn 1930’s. This grew into a ‘house of hospitality’ in the slums of New York and then a series of farms for people to live together communally. Well over 100 communities exist today.