The Good News

Welcome to The Good News Blogspot! The Good News is real and alive in my own life. Jesus has fulfilled in my life His promise of fuller and more abundant life (John 15), a quality of life I could not have created for myself. I invite you to share experiences with me so we can all grow into the life He offers us all.

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Catholic by call, Jesuit by nature, a preacher/spiritual conversation partner by choice. Learning about getting older, learning to live in the present moment, one day at a time. Learning to let go and laugh.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Detour to The Dakota: A Tourist Does New York


I committed an act of tourism today. Of course, I had already hit tourist spots: Times Square, Broadway, and so on. But so far I had avoided “tourism,” meaning “rushing from thing to thing, so I can ‘see’ them and check them off the list.”

The day was glorious – brilliant sun, sparkling sky, the colors rich and exciting. I was walking through Central Park, having in mind the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, which I love. Both are children of Frederick Law Olmsted, both seeming to be Nature at her most natural, though both products of much creativity and labor.

Then I overheard a passerby say to her companions, “That’s The Dakota,” and she pointed to an elegant rooftop over the canopy of trees. The Dakota! I have never been a Beatles fan nor followed John’s post-Beatle career. But even I know The Dakota.

The Siren words had been spoken, and - suddenly, unexpectedly - I headed for The Dakota. And once I arrived, I started photographing the deep archway in which John was shot and killed – like a tourist! Why was I doing this? Was I committing “tourism”?

Aristotle said that in knowing something, the observer becomes united with it. And as I come to know, I grow, because the knowing-in-union entails absorbing, distilling, weighing, and – one hopes – appreciating, valuing, and perhaps understanding the thing known. By coming to this place and so to know the place where John was killed, I became united not only with the place but also with the tragedy, this union enriching my life with its purpureal image of crazed attachment leading to crazed killing.

This unifying dynamic of knowing allows us some experience of the mysteries of human existence beyond the realm of “answers” in any scientific or data-based sense. Standing in front of The Dakota, I still could not answer questions about why someone would kill John. Standing there failed to answer questions about talent snuffed out, creative moments lost forever, and their product now never available for human enjoyment.

But standing there invited me to continue to live - and perhaps live with greater depth – in the questions and so come in time to Wisdom. Standing in front of The Dakota, I experienced the questions yet again, in all their unanswerableness. Experiencing the void of unanswerableness evokes from within us an insistent call to God to fill the void and assuage our grief. There is an answer, and it is God’s answer, and it could fill the void. But God’s answer is remote, unavailable, unknowable.

So I stand there to realize yet again that as we come to know and love God and so be in union with him (per Aristotle), we can experience that God gives love in lieu of an answer. Or, better, that God gives divine love to fill the void of loss and unanswerable questions and asks us to offer that love to help fill one another’s voids and grief.

In Catholic tradition pilgrims visit a shrine precisely to “know” the saint in the Aristotelian sense and to be filled with new measures of God’s love through the saint. My sense of being guided mystically to The Dakota was a call to pilgrimage to receive God’s love yet again, not in the presence of a Catholic saint, but in the presence of one killed mindlessly, needlessly and so whose murder reminds us all of our need for God’s love in our lives and in our world.

Visiting a shrine isn’t tourism, and it certainly isn’t “tourism.” The problem with “tourism” is that rushing from place to place prevents Aristotelian union of the knower and the known. Richness in life comes from union, not completed To Do lists. Richness in life comes in particular from union with God who fills our voids. Fortunately, - and this is the Good News – we can experience God’s answering love not only at places of tragedy, but also in surroundings of external beauty that feed us, in our daily prayer, in our friendships, and in the sacramental life of the church. Today John helped me touch the depth of tragedy even as Central Park in the beautiful sun helped me touch the heights. God filled everything I saw and experienced today, and so my life gained a richness I could not have given myself. Good News indeed!

New York City: October 21, 2006


3 Comments:

Blogger acp said...

Being a life-long Beatles fan (although nowhere near as obsessed as when I was a teenager), I made a much more intentional "pilgrimage" to the Dakota several years ago. (I even listened to Beatles music on the subway ride to 72nd St.) The greater impact for me, however, was not the Dakota buidling, but the kind of memorial to John that is across from the buildings in Central Park. I think it is called Strawberry Fields (memory fades).

At any rate, there is a mosaic on the ground that reads IMAGINE, where a number of people left candles, trinkets, etc there, as people do at memorials/shrines, etc.

It impressed me that, nearly twenty years after John's death, people were still visiting this spot--hippie looking people and corporate looking people, people who heard his music the first time it played on the radio and people who probably could not sing one of his tunes to save their lives. Yet, to all these people, his life held some significance...whether it was his music or activism or attitude or some phrase of a lyric that stuck, it united these pilgrims in some way, and in a way, I believe, that invited reflection on the intrinsic goodness of human beings (capcacity for sharing gifts, peacemaking, etc.) And in the city of New York, which is so overwhelmed by human beings that it is easy to feel disconnected and isolated, that felt like a small miracle indeed.

Some people become angered at the fuss around celebrities' untimely deaths: People with said lifestyles shouldn't be made martyrs or saints.
Yet, if we are all some small measure of God's presence in the world, then we can never be certain who or how someone will become a means to draw us closer....

7:55 PM  
Blogger Fr. Ben Hawley, SJ said...

thank you, acp, for your thoughtful reflection, which i found akin in feeling to my own. not being a beatles fan, i didn't visit strawberry fields, though i remember seeing signs for it. your comment, which supports a major theme of my blogspot, is that God leaves signs of his presence everywhere in our lives. our challenge is to come to read the signs and so come to find God in our own experience. so, thanks again.

fr. ben

9:27 PM  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

I recently travelled for nearly six months. And of course I was a 'tourist'. But mass tourism is a different being.
In the early 80s I saw the Book of Kells in Dublin. There was nobody else near it in the museum and I stayed for some time looking at it, transfixed by its beauty, and by the fact that my 'ancestors' had created such a beautiful object. In August this year I was again in Dublin. Looking at the Book of Kells has now become part of the 'tourist list'. There is a steepish charge for entry and I guess there are huge crowds around it. I couldn't bear to go in and destroy my original calm memory.

12:20 AM  

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