Watching David Tracy

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I have had a few days to reflect on the most recent Myers Lectures. In it, David Tracy talked about the prophetic and mystical nature of God. The lecture series was also my first time to meet him.

I already knew that Tracy was a world class theologian. I already knew that his works have influenced a generation of theologians. I already knew what a profound thinker he is. But, I didn’t know the person.

To the untrained eye, he’s a typical octogenarian. He moves slower than he once did. (We all do.) He has health concerns that are typical of his age. (Me too.) He looks like a grandfather from central casting. (I am not there yet, but I will be.)

In focusing on appearances, people can miss the person. The David Tracy I met was warm, funny, engaged, and interested in everyone around him. We spent a good part of the week together, and he asked all about my family. He was interested in hearing about my spouse and sons. He listened carefully and asked follow-up questions.

Each evening, after his lecture, I would take him to dinner. Often, guests would join us. On our final evening together, I invited him to go to dinner with my family. It was fantastic! He asked my sons questions and responded to their answers with thoughtful comments.

In The Analogical Imagination, Tracy writes, “If any human being… produces some classical expression of the human spirit on a particular journey in a particular tradition, that person discloses permanent possibilities for human existence both personal and communal.” Tracy lives out this inclusivity. All are welcome at his table. Learned people, untrained lay persons, and youth–all are welcome. That might be one of the greatest lessons I learned from watching David Tracy.

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