This week my friend Savannah shares her experience moving to NYC for the first time. Savannah is passionate about her faith, ethical fashion, and vegan flat white lattes. Check out her ethical fashion blog if you’re interested in learning more: Savannah Dimarco . I’ve included a few lines from Emma Lazarus’ poem to introduce this blogpost, since they are inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, and referenced below as well. Thanks! Katrina
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Emma Lazarus, 1883
“As the tale was told to me, so, in turn, will I tell it over again, to the best of my art and knowledge.” – Lais of Marie de France
Thick-curled brunette payot and a wide-brimmed hat. Headphones plugged in. “Wonder what he’s listening to?” I thought, “The Torah through his iPhone?” “Absolutely wonderful.”
I turn the page in my book Ulysses. Leopold Bloom is wandering about Dublin on the way to Dignam’s funeral, dreaming about floating away on a toadstool, and next thinking of the Dead Sea, “couldn’t sink if you tried: so thick with salt. Because the weight of the water, no, the weight of the body in the water is equal to the weight of the.”
The top-hatted fellow steps up out of his seat, getting off at 59th St. Columbia Circle. Shuffles off the train and onto the platform. Doors close. “This is an Uptown Bronx-Bound Express Train.” say a voice over the loudspeaker.
I’ve seen more Jews on the New York City underground than anywhere I’ve previously lived, and it’s caught my heart by surprise. Only last week, I found myself welling into tears on the Brooklyn-bound morning train, listening to “Open Heaven River Wild” by Hillsong whilst a Jewish young man seated beside me read Hebrew scriptures from his smartphone. A person cherished by the Author Himself. Unthinkable that a people group might hold fast to its heritage for millennia, isn’t it? Suffering war, genocide, and diaspora yet somehow retaining its unique cultural and religious personhood from time immemorial. I’ve all-too-often lived in a non-denominational-Protestant-Gentile bubble, haven’t I? How little I’ve known.
On the Manhattan underground, God has prompted me to learn more about His great passion for Jewish history, theology and narratives. And on a wider level, I’ve been reminded that being exposed to something new means seeing a different side of God’s creativity, ingenuity, and heart. Yes, I came to the city primarily to work in publishing and to volunteer with a social enterprise, but since arriving in mid-July, God has broadened my perspective through daily encounters with the #HumansOfNewYork.
I never planned to move to Manhattan. On the contrary, from the moment I left London Heathrow in 2016 on a flight bound for the Václav Havel airport, I was dead-set on returning to Great Britain ‘the first chance I got.’ After a few months in Prague and a year in Portland spent wrestling in prayer, the Holy Spirit encouraged me to say ‘yes’ not to London or Edinburgh, but to New York City.
a German noun translated as “longing”, “pining”, “yearning”, or “craving”, or in a wider sense a type of “intensely missing”.
God knows how much I adore wild gorse and cloud-veiled Munros and the Welsh countryside and the sehnsucht feeling that rises up from it all, but all the same, Jesus knew what I needed even more. What did I need? I needed to look out to Ellis Island, and to wonder what Emma Lazarus’ verses meant for the English and Italian immigrants in my own family or for immigration ethics today. I needed to explore my new neighborhood in Harlem, and to feel consciously that I might be the sole white person on any given street: it is humbling, beautiful, and good. Above all, I needed to feel my own smallness and longstanding ignorance in possessing only fragmentary knowledge about the cultural, racial, ethnic, and socio-political composition of my own country.
I believe that God will use my life and any believer’s life to make an impact on this world for infinite good, and that He delights in bringing us to places that cause our hearts to cascade into fits of total joy. Yet I am beginning to find that actualizing an impactful legacy requires continuous surrender to the Father’s will. He is writing a story of nobility for us, but He also intends for us to embody the characteristics of the noble person He’s created us to become.
Since coming to New York, Jesus has showed me that though He acknowledges my longing for work in social justice abroad, He also knows the narrowness of my current perspective. Against all odds, He’s taken me to the historical center of American immigration to hear others’ perspectives, to experience new cultures, and to discover again and again how much I have to learn. Saying ‘yes’ to New York, it seems, is saying yes to God’s loving authorship in the greater story.
“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:4-6