Monday, April 18, 2011

Bansky's stained glass window

Sunday, April 17, 2011

fifty-fifth visit: April 22nd 2011 Anglican Christianity, Good Friday

12 noon
Church of the Ascension
Good Friday observance
4729 Ellsworth Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15213

Good Friday: in remembrance of the crucifixion and death of Jesus, always observed on the Friday before Easter. This service: a three-hour vigil to commemorate the hours that Jesus hung on the cross. Worshipers choosing to attend any one hour will still experience the full sequence of litany, song, and sermon.

I arrive little late, a bad habit I need to try harder to correct (always too much to do in too little time). Accordingly, before I enter, I vow to stay halfway into the second hour. This will put me behind in this afternoon’s drive to Baltimore, but such is the pattern of my life.

A man tends a fire burning in a large metal tub front of the red entrance doors. This, I later learn, will consume the tiny pieces of paper on which prayers or requests of forgiveness are written by worshipers.

I enter the sanctuary. Sing, listen, draw. I notice that three or four artists are stationed in different corners of the church also drawing—using pastels on large easels, representationally, some with models, figures meant to represent Jesus. Something I could never do.

The Church of the Ascension is an Anglican Church, coming from a Medieval Latin phrase meaning Church of England. The congregation incorporates into their worship, elements of Evangelical, Catholic and Charismatic Christianity... although these are not easily distinguishable to me during my visit, probably partially due to the nature of the service that I attended. Besides, I was completely taken by the building; the architecture. Of all the worship places I have visited so far, I feel most inspired by this structure. Not to say it is the grandest, largest or hands-down the most beautiful, but I just feel that something about it matches my personality more than any of the others. Gothic, I suppose, is the most accurate description, but of course most Pittsburgh churches fall into this category. Setting this one off: the warm to cool gradation of colors in the hanging stained-glass lanterns (Arts and Crafts movement?); the amount of wood above my head; the molded concrete resembling carved stone; the faces peering out behind hanging candelabra-style electric lighting lining the left and right walls; the room’s simple, oblong shape. Some sanctuaries are too big for me to feel comfortable. This one is just right. Size-wise it seems appropriate also partly because it is relatively well-filled for a weekday gathering. Relatively well-filled compared to many services I have attended and with a younger congregation than others, too.

I won’t be in town for Easter Sunday. When starting this project, before I changed my goal to 100 and revoked a deadline, I vowed to do one visit a week. I joked that even if I took Christmas and Easter off, I'd still be able to make 50 visits in a year. I didn’t intend this literally, taking Christmas and Easter off, but such is the case. Missing both of these holidays allows me to duck requests to attend this or that place of worship on such fanfared days. A form of serendipitous fairness, I think.

fifty-fourth visit: April 21st 2011 Roman Catholicism, Maundy Thursday Private Adoration

9:30pm (7 until Midnight) thursday
Saint Paul Cathedral
Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh

Maundy Thursday Private Adoration
108 North Dithridge St, Pgh PA 15213

This past fall, I met a patron at a south side café; she was taking delivery of a painting she had purchased and we had agreed to meet on a Friday morning. Happened to be immediately after my visit to Saint Paul of the Cross Monastery Chapel, my 18th visit (not to be confused with the church of this 54th visit). It’s the similarity in name that prompted her to mention that she was married at St. Paul’s the Diocese in Oakland. This St. Paul’s (my 54th visit) also happens to be the Roamin’ Catholic nun’s most frequent destination, whom I met at the end of my 34th visit. Cheers to both of these women.

To start: visually, this one is well worth a visit. Whiteness. Huge brimming space.

I feel that the most appropriate time for private adoration is at day's end. Same with making art. And so at 9:30pm I arrive. I climb out of my car, watching in front of me, three school-age brothers, a sister and their father do the same. Imagining this yearly household tradition. I enter the sanctuary and shoot photographs with the other tourists. Sit quietly in a pew with the other pray-ers. Stare at the humbling arches, stories and stories above, and at the faces pushing out of the stone trim, the whiteness of the alter. Decide what it is I am going to draw. Move myself to a pew with a better view. Realize I do not have any unused paper with me. Drive home. Get paper. Drive back. Draw.

It is after 11:30pm when I finish. Two visits plus an unexpected return: I have completed my Maundy Thursday.

fifty-third visit: April 21st 2011 Epsicopal, Maundy Thursday Potluck

6:00pm thursday
St Andrew's Episcopal Church
Maundy Thursday Potluck Dinner
5801 Hampton St, Pittsburgh PA 15206
highland park

The congregation of St. Andrews met for the very first time on Easter Sunday in 1837, in a downtown schoolroom, before constructing its own church building, also downtown. Years later it was the trend for families to relocate to more residential neighborhoods, away from the industrial city center. Following suite, the St. Andrews congregation relocated again, meeting at this present location for the first time, on Easter Sunday, 1906. Accordingly, months ago, I had decided that I would visit St. Andrews on Easter Sunday. Alas, as the holiday approached, I realized I would be out of town, unable. So, instead, I chose to visit St. Andrews as close to Easter Sunday as possible—on Maundy Thursday.

Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, or my personal favorite: Thursday of Mysteries) is the Thursday before Easter, commemorating the Last Supper of Jesus with his Disciples before his crucifixion. The observance at St. Andrew’s comes in the form of a potluck. My favorite potluck contribution comes in the form of desert. So I arrive (very regretfully a bit late… ughh) bearing gifts of chocolate: brownies and chocolate chip oatmeal peanut butter cookie bars, with apologies to those giving up chocolate or sweets for Lent.

As I hunt for an unlocked exterior door I run into Jeff, arriving for choir practice. He walks me to the potluck hall. We both feel that mid-prayer is perhaps the wrong time for me to join the table, so he offers me a tour of the sanctuary, until meditation ends. What I learn: in this worshiping body, music plays a prominent role, and the locally musically renown flock here to contribute and share their skills. The organ is primo, original and was top of the line when the church was constructed. The stained glass behind the alter is Tiffany, and now costs more to clean than it did to install. The sanctuary is definitely not the smallest I’ve seen in Pittsburgh, but it’s remarkably cozily-sized in comparison to its grand style. Inviting and non-overwhelming. All the beauties of dark wood, carvings and stone are there, but in a more intimate scale. Later I learn from Rev. Dr. Bruce Robison that the impetus was to create a building that fits into the neighborhood without dominating it. Responds compatibly to the surrounding residences. Seems welcoming to families. The design is based on that of an English village church. Appropriate, as the Espicopal church split directly from the Church of England at the end of the 1700’s.

I join the potluck table. Take part in the end of a short liturgy. Communion is offered in the way most would recognize as being similar to Catholic Holy Communion: offered to each worshiper individually, and the wine from one cup, directly from Pastor Robison. We fill our plates from the potluck buffet. I meet Stephanie the cyclist, Lois, the Pastor’s wife. Another member approaches me and comments on the lace-like piece hanging from my left sleeve, added to my dress in response to my visits to the three Byzantine Churches on February 20th. "That piece," she says, touching it, is an old French art called..." (um ... note from your author: a French work that begins with "f" that I have forgotten ... sorry). She goes on: "My mother used to make doilies just like this on a loom." The woman speaking to me is in her late 60’s I think, and grew up in France. Here cultural specificities in dress-art serves to connect us, to start conversations. Unexpectedly.

After the meal I spend a good amount of time talking with Rev. Robison. Mostly about the architecture of Pgh churches, of which he has a wealth of knowledge. I add to my list of not-to-miss-es. And I obtain a partial-answer to the question I had raised back during my fourth visit: Were there any architects who built places of worship for one religion, then agreed to also build one for another? Rev. Robison’s answer: For entirely different faiths—he is not certain. But different denominations of Chritianity—yes. Bertram Goodhue designed the First Baptist Church in Pgh’s Oakland neighborhood (1909), and also the The Church of the Redeemer (Epsicopal) in Pgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. So there you go. (Note from the author added 5-2-11: I have been corrected, as, alas, these 2 churches were not designed by the same architect. See 56th and 57th visits.)

And everything comes full circle: this St Andrews Episcopal Church was built by the same architect who built The Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross …where I first raised this question.

fifty-second visit: April 18th 2011 Chabad-Lubavitch Judaism

8:30pm monday
Myer and Ann Cohen Chabad House on Campus
Passover Seder
4710 Wallingford St, Pittsburgh PA 15213

The Weinstein family members, managers of the Chabad House on Campus, are remarkable in their grace, hospitality and generosity. All 3 generations. Here Judaism is a way of life, in the purest, most inviting way. Pretty incredible.

I am reminded of this: My dad once asking me, “Do you ever stop thinking as an artist thinks, in the way that you think when you are making art?” Well, I hope not to lapse too often. I know my soul is happiest when I do not.

Passover and Chabad. Some background: 1) Passover commemorates the story of Exodus, the freeing of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. 2) Chabad is a Hasidic movement within Orthodox Judaism—perhaps the largest Jewish organization in the world today, with roots in the late 18th century. 3) A Chabad house is a center that hosts services and activities for the local Jewish community. Often, as in this case, it provides a comfortable, less formal setting in which college students can observe, practice and learn about Judaism. A Chabad Rabbi (here, Rabbi Shmuel Weinstein) orchestrates services. Programs and activities are organized, managed and run by his wife (Sara Weinstein) and their children, which, as I hope I’m remembering correctly, range in age from 23 (Chaima) to 5 yrs or so… maybe younger? (Chaima’s name: spelling? forgive me and do correct me!) Chaima’s son, at 17 months, rounds out the 3rd generation.

By now, two others have arrived. Sara, openly: “Did the web really say 8:30? I meant to post 9pm. You’ll have to excuse me while I run up to change.” In the kitchen at the back of the house, while feeding her small son, Chaima talks of her family’s move from Delaware to Pgh 23 years ago to establish Chabad House. She was 3 mos old at the time, and knows no other life, no separation between life and Chabad House, and no desire or need for it to be any other way. “It’s incredibly normal to me—events like this—also incredibly exciting and new each and every time.” Her inspiration glows.

I help prepare the Passover Seder plates. Six nesting spots for the symbolic foods: horseradish and lettuce, the bitter herbs of slavery; charoset representing mortar used in building storehouses; karpas to be dipped in salt-water (tears); a shankbone referring to the sacrificial lamb; and a hard-boiled egg representing festival sacrifice.

Others arrive. Much chatting amongst young women in the kitchen. I meet Patrician, who grew up in Manhattan. She talks about her family: she is African-American-Jewish, but really it’s not so simple—can trace her family tribe: Spanish, Egyptian, and beyond. Imitating her uncle, a Southern Baptist minister, preaching the Passover story “let my Peeee-ple …go” giggling at herself all the while. She invites me to a Seder taking place the next night. I very much wish I would be in town.

Well over 60 …70 Seder participants in total. Tables lined up into one, run solidly right through the wide archways between three continuous rooms. At our table: two regulars at Chabad house, plus one Weinstein son, and a teacher, Kami, invited by two of her students. She teaches at a private Jewish school; this is her first Passover. And my first Orthodox Passover. She has a hard time with the matzah. Especially the eat-a-large-sheet-in-4-min requirement. We laugh about the tradition of swallowing each of the night’s 4? 5? glasses of wine in one gulp. Why? Judaism is to be experienced all at once, fully, deliberately. I actually really like matzah. Childhood memories of begging bites from my school friends’ lunches during Passover. I tell her to try to think of it as a cracker; don’t expect it to taste like bread. The other woman at our table tells her to just think of how hungry she is. I don’t know if either works. Both Kami and I are wide-eyed when we learn the service will end at 1 or 2am.

The Passover Seders I attended previous to gatherings were not Orthodox, and were an hour or so in length. This time: more rituals. This service book: many pages, and much more thorough. Leading to the freedom celebrated by Passover is a story of extreme hardship. The story does seem like it deserves more than an hour’s ponder per year.

Rabbi Weinstein: wonderfully conversational. His children: remarkable. Three of the sons… one maybe five years old or so, one pre-teen and one teen recite prayers and series of questions effortlessly in Hebrew and also in Yiddish. Once Rabbi turns to his son to confirm the age of a figure in the story of Passover. “He was just 18 years old then, right?” “Yes,” his son offers a doubtless confirmation to his father’s question.

Sara says: this is a night for the children. For them to ask questions, too. They had naps so that they can stay up. Pillows at their chairs. Oh how I so badly wish I could have stayed to the end… 1 or 2am and 4-5 glasses of wine. But my drive to Baltimore tomorrow is long, must begin early, and the 6 hours of teaching immediately following (ending at 10pm), is not something I can do short on sleep. Regretful. I leave the house by midnight, but my mind does not.

fifty-first visit: April 17th 2011 Jehovah's Witnesses

7:30pm sunday
Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses
observance of commemoration of Jesus' death
5311 Mossfield St, Pittsburgh PA 15224
stanton heights

I had been wanting to attend this place of worship for some time. Impetus came to my door in the form of a flyer-invitation to this particular service. Apparently 100 others ...100 beyond the regular membership also rose to the occasion. At this service, worshipers spill out onto chairs in the front lobby, where I find my spot. I am the only female in the room, though it's easy to tell that otherwise we (the group in the lobby) are of all walks of life, all ethnicities and races. Honestly, this surprises me a little.

Here we listen to the sermon via ceiling speakers. Verses from Revelations, Jeremiah, Isaiah. I look for something to draw, to mark my visit. Because some of us are standing against walls, others seated on chairs lining the walls, I notice that I can see everyone's shoes, something not possible with pews. So I draw each and every shoe that I see, blind contours, some not blind. Some feet wiggle and standing ones step before I can finish.

Here's what I learn:
• God is referred to "our gracious heavenly father Jehovah."
• Jehovah's Witnesses are a Christian denomination with nontrinitarian beliefs.
• During communion, a plate of bread and a glass of wine is passed, but only the 144,000 members of the "anointed class" are condoned to physically partake. These are the only members who are "born again" and it is believed they are the only who will go to heaven.
• Because followers object to military service, Jehovah's Witnesses' activities have been banned or restricted
in some countries.
• Holidays such as Christmas, Easter and birthdays are not celebrated due to the believed Pagan origins of these days.

After the service, a member named Nyah introduces herself, introduces me to everyone in our pathway, and makes sure I see the sanctuary before I go. She offers her phone number and encourages me to call if I have any questions, or would like an in-home Bible study. She interacts with me kindly and convivially.

This following notion suddenly becomes clear to me, as I start to collect myself to leave. The timing is a mystery; the thought arrives in the same sudden manner in which it will almost seem out of place in this blog. It suddenly dawns on me that, as an adjunct professor, I never tell my college art students specifically what they should believe—except for encouraging belief in themselves—because it has always been obvious to me that it's not my job, though I never really directly thought this through. And I suddenly consciously realize why: some artists (not all, but I'd venture to say many)... many artists would feel that they could not be artists if they were told what to believe. But instead, through our work, that's what we are trying to figure out. Secularly, yes... but even spiritually, there is some overlap I think, with the questions we ask.

fiftieth visit: April 17th 2011 Roman Catholicism, Polish Mass, Palm Sunday

8:30am sunday
Polish Mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church
Palm Sunday
3058 Brereton Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15219
polish hill

The later Masses are in English; I specifically choose this one. I love a service in a language I don't understand.

Lately I've accepted the fact that I can no longer even pretend to myself that I look anything like the other worshipers. And underneath my shyness, maybe because of it, I think this is fun. (We had an awful lot of rules about what we could and could not wear to church when I was growing up.) Many comments have been thrown my way, but the Good Witch of the North remark is still my very favorite.
It's really surprising to me at this point when someone says I look nice, referring to my dress. Today, this happens. It sounds really sincere. Appreciated.

The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday. Commemorating Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. I had expected to have difficulty finding parking at this large parking lot-less church, on a holiday. But this was not the case. Hunting for the one unlocked door, I wonder for a minute if I had the wrong time for the service, wrong day for Palm Sunday. So quiet. A small smattering of devotees.

Sitting, I realize I have maybe never listened to spoken Polish. I mean really listened, and definitely not at this length. Nothing familiar. Even if it is right next to Germany.

Within 45 minutes, the service concludes. An usher notices I missed grabbing a palm when I hurried in, and offers one to me. I stay almost an hour looking and drawing. Gorgeous sanctuary. Gold stars pained on the ceiling among icon paintings; both domes. Electric candle-lights dominate in patterned sprays at the alter.

At first I am not alone; others stay to pray. Later I look up from my drawing to see I am the only one left in this massive space. Sculpted Saints covered in cloth* become red an purple ghosts scattered throughout the sanctuary. Angels lofting electric chandelier are left undraped ...visible I mean, not covered in cloth except for the clothing in which they are sculpted. I draw one of the pair. 3-D Elihu Vedder. In the dark, more or less. But it's not just the dark; it's the first day I realize I need my reading glasses, to properly see my marks. Sigh.

Eventually congregants trickle in for the next service, an hour early. A woman stops to speak to me while I draw: it's the next service, the 11:00, that is the big one. Pageantry. And won't I stay? I like pageantry. But I had to go.

And I can add to my running count of
worshipers spotted wearing Steelers garb while worshiping:

1 worshiper wearing a Steelers jacket.
Running Total for the project: 27 (to date)

* I had to look this up: images, crosses and sculptures of saints are covered the last week of Lent... why? Much speculation and differing answers. My favorite is that perhaps even the illiterate need a visual indication that Lent season had arrived.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

forty-ninth visit: April 3rd 2011 Presbyterian, emphasis on multiethnicity, social justice, and racial reconciliation

10:30am sunday
Friendship Community Presbyterian Church
181 Robinson St, Pittsburgh PA 15213
edge of hill district and west oakland

I'm in a rare less-is-more mood
(as far as words) and welcome it. We'll see how long it lasts.

Every once in a while I attend a place of worship whose mission overlaps with the ideas in gatherings. This is one of them. An acquaintance of mine, Natalie, encouraged me to attend this (her) church. She explained that this church aims to thrive in successfully addressing issues of "multiethnicity, social justice and racial reconciliation" within their own congregation and beyond. She says that honestly, it's a lot of work and not without pain, but obviously she wouldn't be a member if she didn't believe in it.

I choose a spot at the end of a pew, middle section. Sing. Listen. Watch a mime performance.
Fellow worshipers seem very grounded. Not worried about what others are thinking. Not experiencing judgment. Natalie and I find each other at the end of the service. I explain that I thought about telling her I'd be there today, but then realized I do a much better job at this when I'm alone. She is also an artist. I think she understands.

Later that day when I'm between errands, in a completely different neighborhood,
someone stops me on the street. He remembers seeing me this morning, across the sanctuary. And I him. I tell him about this project. Unexpected connectedness.

forty-eighth visit: March 27th 2011 Krishna Consciousness, Abhishekam

4:30pm sunday
Krishna Consciousness
(congregation does not carry a name)

Guara Purnima celebrations: Abhishekam
Dormont Hall, municipal center
1444 Hillsdale Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15216
south hills

I have a student to thank for this visit: Carla, in my "Obsessions" (upper-level painting) class at MICA. She asks if I had managed to include Krishna Consciousness in gatherings. She mentions that I have just missed
Guara Purnima, the celebration of the appearance anniversary of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, occurring on March 20th. A few minutes of research reveals that I can catch the tail end of the celebration: Abhishekam, the bathing of the deity.

First some background info:
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)—the non-preferred street term is Hare Krishna—are the largest branch of the Gaudiya Vaishnava religious organization. Krishna Consciousness devotees are considered followers of Hinduism, distinguished by monotheism; devotees focus their worship on Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu. (Vishnu, the preserver, is one of the three deities of Hinduism. The other two include: Brahma, the creator, and Shiva, the destroyer.)

More about Krishna: Krishna (whose name means "black, dark, or dark-blue"... or "all attractive") is revered as the author of the Bhagavad Gita, a holy text of Hinduism. The Bhagavad Gita is considered to be a poem and the documentation of words spoken by Vishnu to his brother, Arjuna, on a battlefield, some 5000 years ago. Imagine the days-length of that conversation, amidst surrounding violence and death. Remarkable, no?

So, I arrive at Dormont Hall municipal center to observe Abhishekam, the bathing of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is considered to be Krishna and Radha combined. Radha is Krishna's lover, by the way. Beautifully romantic notion, no? It is believed that he has been in the presence of his devotees for the past week.

Six or more families, many children. Even the youngest are so focused in their worship—no shyness about taking part in the ceremony, chanting, playing instruments, nor the short sweet skit following. Men on one side, women on the other. Cross-legged on blankets spread on linoleum floor. (Floor-sitting: I swear that's half the reason I leave feeling calm and centered.)

I explain my presence to several to of the wives there. Not a blink of an eye as if to say, "Well of course you are visiting 100 places of worship this year. Why would you not?" A full welcome. Questions as to how I found out about this evening's observance. "This is the first time we have celebrated this part of Guara Purnima. How did you know to find us?" Answer: The web, and another moment of gatherings' coincidental luck, I guess. Questions as to why my husband (whose family is Hindu) didn't join me. (smiles) This is my project.

Early on, during chanting, finger cymbals are passed to me. "Just play whatever." And so I do.

Abhishekam: Each observer, one at a time, pours milk, ghee (butter), yogurt or honey from a conch shell onto one of two Vishnu deities (physical representation of the diety; sacred metal figures). I think of this: the role of honey in Judaism, and in Joseph Beuy's Wie man dem toten Hasen die Bilder erklärt, and in the title of Charles LeDray's installation Milk and Honey. (All of which come up in my MICA painting class.)

The sermon, and then dancing. The dancing, like the chanting, is fully accessible for first-timers; simple, repetitive, inviting, passionate.

I see Carla in class the following Tuesday. We talk about the
deities and alter, dancing and separation of gender, among other things. At the end of our conversation, she asks: "Did they have food for everyone after?" Yes, but the service had run over by more than an hour and a half, and life's duties were calling (such as planning her class). I needed to head out, but not without a heavy bag of vegan vittles to go. Enough to share with Arohan at home.