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Loaves and Fishes

Friday, June 5, 2020

Alternative Community

Loaves and Fishes
Friday, June 5, 2020

We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. —Dorothy Day

Everyone relies on community in some way or another, no matter what our personal, social, or economic circumstances. No one can do it all—feed, clothe, heal, comfort, house, employ, and educate—for ourselves or our families. Despite our current obsession with independence and individualism, we were never meant to try! From the very beginning of the evolutionary process, species have worked together in mutually beneficial ways to survive. Mammals particularly have a track record of fostering the young of others within their species and kinship group, but it happens across or between species as well. Even the “fittest,” biggest, and strongest do not survive without the cooperation of others.

The Ayni Institute, an organization that envisions systemic changes through reciprocity and mutual aid, points out that human societies have worked this way for thousands of years.

In hostile environments and less than ideal situations people came together, cooperated in order to survive, and continued our legacy of life.

As tribes we collaborated, traded, and built cultures around our collective identities. We created federations and large and loose organizations of reciprocity across groups. . . . Those arrangements created practices, rituals, wisdom that sustained life for thousands of years. . . .

Our history is not a history of competition, rather a history of collaboration. We must develop alternatives that have memory, that seek to bring the evolutionary wisdom of the past in relationship to our current reality. . . . [1]

Our own Christian scripture and tradition teaches this insight. All four Gospels contain some version of the miracle of the “loaves and fishes,” where Jesus feeds the multitudes from only a small amount of food (see Matthew 14:13–21, Mark 6: 30–44, Luke 9: 10–17, John 6:1–15). However, without the willingness of the few who shared the little they had, the miracle could not have taken place. Many have proposed that, in reality, the “miracle” was the generosity lying dormant within the crowds. The resources were there waiting to be called forth.

Jesus’ example of mutual aid was so inspirational to Dorothy Day (1897–1980), the founder of the Catholic Worker, that she called her book about the movement Loaves and Fishes. She wrote, “Young people say, What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.” [2]

May we all pray for an “increase of love in our hearts” that will awaken, transform, and multiply the impact of our actions.

[1] Ayni Institute, “Our Forgotten Past,”

[2] Dorothy Day, Loaves and Fishes (Orbis Books: 1997, ©1963), 176.

Epigraph: The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day (Harper & Row: 1981, ©1952), 286.

Image credit: Dorothy Day, by Julie Lonneman. Used with permission of the artist. Julie Lonneman was a member of the New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati, Ohio, founded by Fr. Richard Rohr in the early 1970s.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. —Dorothy Day
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