Hey, Jude


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By Bobby Neal Winters
My father wouldn’t listen to the Beatles--or let my brother and me listen to them--because John Lennon said they were “Bigger than Jesus.” Dad thought it was egotistical and blasphemous, but Lennon did have some sort of a point.
My family and I were in the home of a carpenter *** music teacher Asuncion on a July evening where we heard a pair of teenage boys play “Hey Jude” on the Paraguayan harp. Though I they boys weren’t singing, I could hear the words in my head, “Take a sad song and make it better.”
This was almost forty years after the Beatles broke up. The majority of the people in the room hadn't even been born when this song was written, but there it was being played on an alien instrument by people in a different hemisphere who thought in a different language. I wondered if the Fab Four had ever imagined such a thing. Such thoughts would've been beyond even a person who'd said they were bigger than Jesus.
Musical notes have curious modes of being. The can be written on paper, they can exist on strings pulled taut, or they can exist in the ear. But, they do live after the composer and in ways he wouldn't've imagined.

But it's not just music. Emotion can live beyond the one who felt it. During our month in Paraguay, we took a trip from Asuncion to the east. On the way to Encarnacion, my wife looked to the side of the road and saw a Methodist church with the Cross and Flame out front. It has been over two centuries since John Wesley’s heart was strangely warmed and there beside the road was evidence of event.
We were on that trip in order to visit the Jesuit ruins just north of that city. The last of these ruins were abandoned in the 1760’s when the sparks from Wesley’s heart had yet to breach the firewall we call the Atlantic Ocean.
The ruins are huge and peaceful. Surrounded by rolling plains, they lay upon high ground looking down on farmland below. As your eyes scan the horizon through the ancient windows, you see nothing but green fields and palm trees.
Places exude spirit. When I visited a death camp in Poland in the mid-nineties, I felt the presence of pure evil. At the Jesuit ruins, I felt only peace, the peace that passes all understanding.
We wandered around the ruins, and I tried to imagine the place before it slept. Monks teaching Indians about Jesus in the classrooms, making horseshoes in the workshops, and walking back and forth in the shade of the cloisters, sheltered from the tropical sun.
It’s all gone now—done in by politics and time—and the men who built it have turned to dust scattered to the four winds.
Two days before we returned home, I wandered around the halls of Universidad Catolica and visited parts of it where I had not been before. The building conceals an atrium, a courtyard within its heart.
There are variations, of course, and the scale is much smaller, but the edifice of Universidad Catolica Nuestra Seniora de la Asuncion is unmistakably connected to the ruins.
The design is a product of a long tradition of the church, and there is a continuum connecting their design to house-churches in the Roman Empire around the Mediterranean Sea two thousand years ago. It was transported through thousands of years and across thousands of miles, across the millennia, across the ocean, and across the equator and found a home in the tropics, like "Hey, Jude."
Yet this was all done in the name of a man called Jesus. And they left their mark not only on the architecture, but on the land with place names like Asuncion (the Assumption) and Encarnacion (the Incarnation) and with names of the people like Jose (Joseph) and Maria (Mary) and even John (Wesley and Lennon) and Paul (McCartney).
Not bad for a group of plain folk now turned to dust.
(Bobby Winters is Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Professor of Mathematics, and Acting Chair of the Department of Chemistry.)