Saturday, August 27, 2011

eighty-third visit: Aug 27th 2011 Seventh-day Adventist

11:00am sunday
Ethnan Temple Seventh-day Adventist Church

1205 Wood St, Wilkinsburg PA 15221

I have not been to Wilkinsburg for a visit in a while, and the idea of book-ending last Saturday's service with another (the only other) Pittsburgh area Seventh-day Adventist church makes sense to me.

I am not feeling great this Saturday morning. At first I am sure it is just tiredness. Ninteen visits in 31 days, and keeping up with sewing and writing between each, amidst the rest of life's obligations... will do that. But shortly after the start of this service, I recognize that I'm actually fighting the beginning of a migraine. So my memory of this visit is a bit clouded.

I remember three white hats in front of me. I remember drawing on the back of my printed driving directions because I forgot to bring clean gessoed paper.
I remember the pastor speaking a lot about finances.
The importance of having a mentor.
I am welcomed warmly during visitor greeting time.
This is a call and response service.
A girl of 4 or 5 years plays with dolls in the pew in front of me. One of the dolls has a dress on that is a miniature match of the girl's. Lined white netting dotted with lavender flowers.

Because of my migraine, I need to leave three minutes before we are officially let go... slipping out quickly is pretty important as the edge of nausea creeps in. I drive home very, very carefully...

eighty-second visit: Aug 26th 2011 Roman Catholicism

11:30am friday
Saint Joseph Parish

4712 Liberty Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15224

It recently occurred to me that I have not been to a place of worship in Bloomfield. Bloomfield cannot be skipped. A quiet weekday morning Mass in this historic landmark on the main thoroughfare seems right.

Often I am the only _______(something) at these services.
The only Caucasian. The only non-Jewish in the synagogue. The only one wearing long sleeves in 87 degree weather. Today I am the only worshiper younger than age 60.

The sanctuary's interior is cake-white with gilded trim. Today, the homily mentions the universal desire to be holy. That marriage should not be entered for reasons of lust alone. (Though I must interject that a little of that in the mix can't hurt.)

The woman in front of me fingers green rosary beads. I had been wanting to include the notion of the rosary in this project, but had not encountered a reason until now. Idea for this post-service addition to my dress is set.

Every once in a while I prefer a service during which no one speaks to me, and today it suites me. I stay a bit and draw before heading home.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

eighty-first visit: Aug 24th 2011 Zen Buddhism

7:00pm wednesday
Zen Group of Pittsburgh

Korean Zen (Mahayana)

4836 Ellsworth Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15213

Tonight's practice is a part of the Kwan Um School of Zen, specifically following the teachings of Zen Master Seung Sahn (1927-?2006), who arrived and established himself in Providence, RI in the 1970's.

The Zen Group of Pittsburgh meets in the Friends Meeting House, the same location as my 23rd visit. I am a few minutes late and then have a little trouble finding the room (had to follow the sign that said "restroom").
Excuses aside I feel really, really terrible that I enter mid-chant—into a room of only two others, and I still now feel awful about this. But I'm not made to feel badly by Will nor by William. And maybe this is partly why: It is part of Buddhist philosophy that things are not inherently good nor inherently bad; they just are.

Have I mentioned that I used to work in a small print shop when I lived in Portland, Oregon?
Well, I did, and whenever something happened to go terribly wrong... 1000's of copies terribly wrong, (which can be terribly common in any print shop), our press operator would amble slowly into the front room and calmly recite this mantra: Things are not inherently good nor inherently bad; they just are.

Will patiently helps me to find my place in the prayer book, and chanting continues. Some prayers are in English.
Later I learn that students are discouraged from looking up the meaning of non-English chants. As I understand, chanting is meant to clear the mind, not necessarily contribute to the day's mental input, so a full grasp of meaning can actually be less productive. This brings to my mind two things:
1) the pundigee's Sanskrit that my husband repeats during pujas, for which my husband and many devoted Hindus know no meaning.
2) a quote by Salvador Dali, recently emailed to me by a former student: "Just because I do not know the meaning of the images I paint does not mean they don't have meaning."

We then move on to the meditation portion of the night. I want to mention that at this point in my story, Will has not seen my blog—he does not have the address, nor does he know my last name; he could not have looked it up. Will talks a bit about some principles of Buddhist meditation. He begins by saying, "Buddhism, not unlike art, [and not unlike other beliefs,] seeks to answer the questions we have about life, such as: what is life? And how are we to live it? What does it mean to be human?" Umm, look here if you have not yet: (last 4 lines of second to last paragraph). Pretty amazing, huh?

In my meditation instruction for tonight, there is particular emphasis on remaining physically still and specific suggestions of what to do if I am unable. Unlike my first session of meditation exactly a week ago (visit 76), this is not audibly led by someone else in the room; instead it is self-driven. I am given instruction on repeating a mantra in conjunction with the timing of the breath. And that the breath should remain relatively natural, with special attention to full and long exhales. And I learn something else: This is compatible with and reflects the idea that meditation is more about letting go than creating focus.

After meditation, a letter from one of Zen Master Seung Sahn's books is read aloud. I learn about Kong-ans. Kong-ans are specific to Zen Buddhism, but are not necessarily included in all branches of Zen. As I understand from the quick conversations that our time allows, a Kong-an is a private interview during which a Zen Master raises a seemingly unanswerable question to the student. (Such as: "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" Or: "Where did you come from?," whereas the names of geographical places are not acceptable.) It's the Master's goal to know his pupils well enough to be able to come up with the question and the phrasing of this question that will allow his pupil to achieve a new way of thinking, expand his/her current capacity of thinking, break out of concrete thought.

If it interests you, go back and read that last paragraph, only this time read it as if I am describing my relationship, as a grad student, to my mentors, professors, and critics, when I was obtaining my masters of fine art. Because it does describe this. Though, of course, with all due respect, there's a huge difference between my mentors in grad school and a Zen Master. ...this also describes how I approach critiques with my undergrad students, hoping to help them experience personal breakthroughs in their artwork.

Throughout the evening is an emphasis on achieving a state of "not knowing." Not just saying that I don't know what will happen; that I don't know everything—but more of a state of being "unknowing." Personally, I interpret this (not knowing if it is fully correct) as adopting a sense of wonder, perhaps? A faithful embrace of the unknown? It's the best I can do at such a short introduction to the idea. Makes me want to learn more.

eightieth visit: Aug 22nd 2011 Roman Catholicism (murals)

11:30am monday
St Nicholas Croation Catholic Parish

Maxo (Maksimilijan) Vanka's murals

24 Maryland Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15209

Nearly two years ago, another artist I know visited this Millvale church for a tour of Maxo Vanko's murals. This was before gatherings was even an blip in my mind. She highly recommended. "The murals, the tour was so great, perfect—everything about it. Even the fact that the tour guide's name is Mary."

I had been saving this visit, trying to maintain an even sprinkling of landmark-Pgh-classic-visits in the flow. Finally, I give Mary a call. I ask if it's possible to have a tour after a Wednesday morning Mass. She tactfully suggests that I sign up for a Monday instead. Though Mass is not offered on Mondays, she hopes that this may be alright with me. "See, on Monday," she explains, "I have already agreed to give a tour to a photographer from out of state. I'm 83, you know, and it would just be easier for me that way." Agreed.

I arrive. The photographer is not present. Instead two other tour-goers. And also Mary, of course, but only for a short while. Between our phone conversation a couple of weeks ago and this morning, Mary has officially retired from her tour guide duties. We listen to her give final advice to Bill, who is to permanently take her place, and we watch her ceremoniously hand the church keys to him.

Bill grew up in Millvale. After
obtaining a degree in art history, he lived for 30 years in New York City, and gave tours at the Frick Collection there, before recently settling once again in the Pittsburgh area. (Which is, ironically, the Frick family's homeland as well.) Today he is providing his very first tour of the Maxo Vanko murals at St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church.

These murals were not created simply for the sake of beauty in worship, and they go beyond the usual narratives and ideas of Catholicism. Vanka, who was born in 1889 and immigrated to Pittsburgh as a result of this commission,
began the murals in 1937 and then returned again to the project in 1941.

The parish priest at the time gave Vanka very specific perimeters to follow regarding the painting behind the main front alter, but beyond that, the design and content of those on the remaining three walls and ceiling were left completely up to his artistic discretion.

Though they do
address religious content, Vanka's 1937 murals are very much about the immigration experience, specifically that of Croatians. The paintings executed in 1941 directly address the atrocities of WWII—gas masks, death, religious persecution and all. Want to know more? Oh, too many words can ruin things sometimes. You'll just have to see for yourself.

seventy-ninth visit: Aug 21st 2011 Hinduism and Jainism (Shri Krishna Janmashtami)

8pm - 12:45am sunday evening
Hindu Jain Temple of Pittsburgh

(Shri Krishna Janmashtami: celebration of
Krishna's birth)

615 Illini Dr, Monroeville PA 15146


In Novermber 2010, I gave an informal talk about my artwork (including this project) to a group of University of Pittsburgh art students. Present at the talk was Yog, who subsequently signed up for my spring 2011 foundation design class. Yog, who is on his way to becoming an amazing illustrator and graphic designer via his recent admission into SVA in NYC (yeah), ...and whose father is a priest at this temple, invited me to Shri Krishna Janmashtami. Thank you, Yog.

I arrive, Indian standard time (fashionably late). Others are also just arriving and yet others are already leaving for the night. But there are enough worshipers seated across the wide room to necessitate a lengthy visual hunt for Yog. No worries. I have never felt awkwardly alone at Indian-cultural events. Never excluded. Before long, an elderly woman named Indhira approaches me. She has come from India to visit her daughter, to whom she introduces me. She asks me what country I am from, I'm assuming because of my dress. It almost makes up for 40 years of wishing that I could claim a non-American ethnicity and had learned a second language at birth. Just a life-long jealousy of those who can. Maybe in my next life.

Finally, I spot Yog across the room. Though I wish Indihra could join us, I worry that the awkward zig-zag trek through a sea of seated worshipers would be hard on her, so I excuse myself as politely as I can manage, and join Yog.

Some of the things Yog and I talk about:
Obviously the temple serves both Jains and Hindus. Yog's family is Hindu. Though there is some commonality between the two beliefs regarding larger theories and concepts, Jainism is not a branch of Hinduism, (nor the reverse) and a distinction between the two beliefs is made within the temple.
I look into this later at home. If taken in detail, the differences between Hindu and Jain beliefs are great in some respects. For example, they do not share scripture. And to Jains, the origin of the world is eternal; to Hindus it is a creation. Additionally, Yog explains that there is a specific Jain alter, and that Jains don't believe in a god(s), while the Hinduism is centered around three main Gods and their avatars. Yet tonight, and assumingly on many other nights, in this temple the two groups are interspersed throughout the same room. Yog says: "Hindus and Jains get along. We share the same culture."

Beyond this, I learn:
This temple is more festive, colorful and less orthodox than the SV Temple (my 14th visit). Or simply put, here there's a little more emphasis on general Indian culture as opposed to religious culture.
Until the rituals at midnight, the observance comes mostly in the form of music, with different groups of musicians taking the stage. Including Yog's father. Later a priest offers a homily, some portions in Hindi and some in Sanskrit.

Though it's optional, Yog fasted today, eating only fruits and drinking water. So, in answer to my question raised during my 68th visit (5th paragraph), we can add Hindus to my list of religious fasting in August (+ Eastern Orthodox Christians and Muslims.) Others?

for more about Krishna: see this entry, 48th visit...

It is well after midnight when I leave. The night owl in me does not mind, though it has been a while since I've followed a late schedule, so I am a little out of practice. "Is this the longest service you've been to?" Yog asks at two separate instances. Maybe. Or maybe tied with my Passover Seder, 52nd visit (for which unfortunately I could not stay the full length—so I guess it doesn't count)... Longest? We shall see. 21 more chances left.

seventy-eighth visit: Aug 20th 2011 Seventh-day Adventist (Christianity)

11:15am saturday
Hillcrest Seventh-day Adventist
2340 Wylie Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15219
hill district, middle hill

Often others ask how I decide which places of worship to visit.
Some I attend because of their local prominence. Some because of suggestions from congregants I meet...
But a lot of it has to do with maintaining balance:
To balance grand-scale architecture and congregations with visits to the intimate. Familiar neighborhoods with those that I seldom pass through.
Beliefs that I know very little about with those of which I already have some understanding.

This, my 78th visit:
is intimate in congregation and building-size, in a neighborhood I tend to only pass through for the purposes of this project.
This is my first encounter with Seventh-Day Adventists. Besides the fact that here the Sabbath
is observed (and services are held) on Saturdays—hence the name "Seventh-Day,"—and besides an emphasis on the second coming—hence the name "Adventist"—to me the teaching is familiar.

I am greeted warmly. Almost all of the speaking, including the sermon is delivered by Elder Mamie Clemons. Elder: yes; but firecracker, too. While she addresses us, from my place in my pew, I take in my surroundings and think about ideas for the drawing I'll do during the service. Until I hear this: "I'm not going to name names, but you know who you are. You'd better put that away and listen to what I have to say." She continues preaching for a minute, but then, again: "I don't know what you are looking at, but you'd better put that away. I will wait. You know who you are." She's actually not talking about me; I have not even unpacked my pencil and paper, am sitting attentively throughout. But needless to say, I don't draw during this visit.

What else:
a drum set and electric organ.
a fabulous lavender, sequenced jacket.
mention of hope for a safe school year, free of gun violence.
I concur.
More warm wishes from those around me as I exit and head home.

Friday, August 19, 2011

seventy-seventh visit: Aug 19th 2011 Roman Catholicism

7:00am friday
Epiphany Catholic Church

184 Washington Pl, Pittsburgh PA 15219
downtown, central business district

This week I got an urge to get up really, really early and go to a Friday morning Mass, in a huge, old historic building in a bustling part of town. Those who know me, know this not in line with my normal behavior. But then again, one might raise the same point about this project in its entirety.

Not long ago I learned that Epiphany is no longer holding their 2:30am Saturday night (technically Sunday morning) Mass.
(First begun in 1905, dropped in 1991. Began again in Nov 2010, and apparently dropped again.) But they do have a 7am Friday morning Mass.

I went.
Yes, it was really, really early (for me). Yes, the building was huge and old and historic. And gorgeous. Does downtown Pittsburgh ever bustle? Close as I'll get. Craving satisfied.

seventy-sixth visit: Aug 17th 2011 Theravada Buddhism

7:00pm wednesday
Pittsburgh Buddhist Center
111, Route 908, Natrona Heights PA 15065
natrona heights

Theravada Buddhism is the "oldest of the surviving Buddhist traditions." The two resident monks (or Bhantes) at PBC are from Sri Lanka.

This is a story I will tell through snapshots of the people I meet.

Before the meditation, I meet:
Ven. Soorakkulame Pemaratana ("Bhante P")
I phoned him last week. He has offered to coach me a bit on meditation before the session actually begins, as long as I come early. I do. My lesson: sit on a pillow (zafu), cross-legged (lotus-style for the more advanced), back straight, but shoulders relaxed, openness in heart, chin parallel to floor, tips of thumbs touch each other and hands rest at calves, or palms down and hands rest on thighs. That is the physical part. The rest is mental. Two kinds of meditation will occur today: Loving kindness and Breath.

He asks me a few questions about gatherings. Before I get very far, Bhante P interjects: "Art and drawing is a form of meditation." I stop explaining.

I meet Odessa. She says she knows she's seen me here before. (Not possible.) Ends up that she remembers me from a conversation we shared at the Nuin Center, my 12th visit, last paragraph. And I remember her, too.

In the next minute, I meet Joshua, who serves a leadership role in the meditation sessions here and knows a lot about the different forms of Buddhism. He is a former photographer (journalism) and to that end has traveled the world. He says my dress looks steampunk. I can sit with that. Seconds before the session starts, he puts a vase of flowers in my hands saying, "We'll give you the full experience here tonight. Let everyone touch these." (I am to carry the vase past every participant, offering each an opportunity to touch the bottom of the vase, before I ceremoniously place it on the front alter.) He has noticed my camera and also calls on me to photograph the first few minutes of the evening—a short ceremonial acknowledgement of three regulars at PBC who are celebrating birthdays this week.

We chant. Prayers are chanted in the Pali language. Phonetic prayer books are provided to each, with English translations on facing pages. We meditate. Afterwards, we are given an opportunity to talk about our meditation experiences. Two do. One is the youngest in the room, a boy probably ten years old or so. He says this: "Usually, when I meditate, I am a horse at the derby, but this time I was a dog in a meadow. It was really good."

We talk about a principal of Buddhism. Characteristics of the human mind: it wanders, does so alone, dwells in a cave (our body), it is formless. A simple summary: If we learn how to subdue our minds (with awareness), a freedom is achieved. ...basically, how to chill out when we are stressed or worried about things that probably will never happen. Pretty useful skill, I think.

In the end: a blessing ritual involving a string that unites the room. It reminds me of the blessing of the challah, during Sukkot (5th visit, 6th pgh). From one of the Bhantes, each of us receives a sprinkle of blessed water and a yellow string tied around our wrist, similar to the Hindu Diwali observance (14th visit, 5th pgh).

After the meditation, I meet:
A young ceramicist, also a first-timer. She comments that she feels Buddhism is so applicable to current life situations. So far, I cannot argue. I also feel that, in my gatherings experience to date, Buddhism is the strongest example of religion existing as a philosophy.

I also meet Keith, the owner of a new restaurant in the Regent Square neighborhood: Root 174. (If plans hold, Arohan and I will go there in two days.)

And I meet a quiet, gentle man who asks if I've been to Rodef Shalom and Poale Zedeck (yes, both)—where his family once worshiped; experiences there played a huge role in his childhood. He thanks each person for something specific as he leaves; he turns to me and mentions my project.

I had been saving this visit, thinking that (according to my web research) it would be my only Buddhist gathering experience, located 20 miles outside Pittsburgh proper. However, I left today with a list of other meeting groups, including some within Pgh city borders. I am already booked full as far as the remaining 24 visits in this project, but I'll have to adjust and make room.

Interestingly, at the end of this and my last visit, both religious leaders asked if I had been to a mosque yet. They asked in a way to make sure that I don't forget. Refreshing. I have been to one, 7th visit. Been trying since last week to contact another. As 9/11 nears: not forgetting, not forgetting, thank you.

seventy-fifth visit: Aug 15th 2011 Eastern Catholic Orthodoxy (Dormition of the Mother of God)

9:00am monday
Holy Ghost Byzantine Church
(Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God)
225 Olivia St, McKees Rocks PA 15136
mckees rocks

In the same way that the High Holy Days did not feel complete unless I attended Yom Kippur services, my 68th and 69th visits would not feel complete unless I attended Mass on this day, the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God. The day that Mary's great sleep (death) is observed. This day is also known as the Assumption of Mary.

Holy Ghost Byzantine was recommended to me by, Lynn, a member of Door of Hope (21st visit); she attended this church while growing up. "Go there," she said. "It's beautiful."

I go. It is.

During the sermon, I notice that the chandelier (400 pounds-worth) is slowly, but undeniably spinning. I am tired. But I am sure of this.

After services, on her way out, Helen introduces herself and comments on my dress. I explain. "Oh, can I take a minute to look and see?" She asks about some of the different additions. She tells me about an annual Eastern Orthodox pilgrimage that takes place in Uniontown, an hour-and-a-half's drive away, every Labor Day weekend. (I look it up when I get home: one of the largest in North America. Have I mentioned that I would not have as much reason do this project in any other part of the US?) She offers to take me there next time she makes a trip. Says there's a Catholic gift shop the size of a supermarket. She encourages me to say hello to Father Firko, before he leaves the sactuary. "He's always very busy and is sure to slip away any minute, but I'm sure he wants to meet you."

I do. Busy or not, he offers a memorable conversation. Very much in the spirit of gatherings.
About icon painters: they fasted and meditated while working, as their work is considered to be manifestations of messages from the Spirit. And what they do is actually referred to (by church officials) as writing, not painting. (Maybe alluding to the idea of message-communication? Or to the fact that images in churches served as teachings for those who could not read? Or simply the fact that visual art is a language in itself?)

We talk about carry-over from Judaism to Orthodoxy and Catholicism. "You see, the intent was not to destroy the previously-established religion," he says. Elements were carried over, adopted by and preserved in the new faith, the earliest forms of Christianity. This includes the architecture of the sanctuary: a screen separates the large, common space from the space where the most holy objects are kept, echoing the structure of Jewish synagogues at the time. And in this designated space: an Ark in synagogues, here the Tabernacle; a staff in both (Aaron's, which blossomed); even the Eucharist, kept behind the screen, offers metaphorical reference to Judaism.

So often I witness such negative emotions when others have spoken of this phenomenon. Or they simply deny it, emphasizing differences. Why do some see this sharing as bad?

Prompted by the painted murals that surround us, so many winged creatures, we talk about the hierarchy of angels: Seraphims, Cherabims and Archangels. Messengers. All invisible in normal circumstances, but believed to be present in a sanctuary during worship. And to frolic in the chandelier, perhaps?

seventy-fourth visit: Aug 14th 2011 African Methodist Episcopal Christianity

11:00am sunday 

Bethel AME Church 

(first AME Church west of Allegheny Mtns, 

& oldest black congregation in Pittsburgh) 

2720 Webster Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15219

hill district 

I admit that am surprised that I am still discovering things, 74 visits into this project called gatherings. Realized during this visit: part of why I do this is to seek out evidence of passion. Expression of passion. Here in Pittsburgh. The kind that has nothing to do with football. 

Many times I don't find this during my visits. But Bethel AME does not disappoint; at the first AME Church west of Allegheny Mtns, the oldest black congregation in Pittsburgh, passion has not dwindled.

"Something came over me this morning... I said something came over... Can somebody say 'Amen'?" Now I know why I am drawn to call and response. I need to witness passion to feel human. And I can't make art without it. I need to make art to feel human. 

Before the service begins, Chris comes up behind me. "You are Becky? I apologize that the staff and clergy did not get your email yet. I run the website. It was just now forwarded to them." No worries: more my timing than his, my last-minute email. 

It's refreshing (and rather surprising) to find someone who cares so conscientiously about this as to approach me.

And others approach and welcome me, full-heartedly. The sun is not the only emitter of warmth this morning.

Do I fully agree with all that is said this morning? If I said yes, I would not be doing this project. And this project would not mean anything without such moments.

Music is a huge part of the service here. Choir at front alter. Electric organ hums at will. Boy no older than ten years sits behind a drum set. Not just sits. He's pretty amazing. 

Nick Cave began singing in an Anglican church boys' choir. And who else? All of Sly Stone. Otis Redding. My rocking hair-stylist in Portland, at her father's services. She's pretty special, too.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

seventy-third visit: Aug 13th 2011 Orthodox Judaism

9:00am saturday
Young Israel of Greater Pittsburgh
5831 Bartlett Street, Pittsburgh PA 15217
squirrel hill south

Upon arriving, I am nervous during the moment that it takes me to find the women's section. But it's just a short moment. A half-hour into the service, the woman in front of me welcomes me and asks: "Are you here for the Bar Mitzvah?" Her name is Marlene. I explain that I did not know there was one. I explain gatherings. Lucky: I had not attended a Bar or Bat Mitzvah since I was 13 or so. Back then there was a long string of many—growing up, about half of my friends were Jewish. None of them Orthodox, though. All of the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs I attended then were formal and took place on Saturday nights in ballrooms rented in hotels. They were a huge part of my early teen social life, a complicated and not always pleasant period of time. It was nice to experience one in fresh perspective.

The sermon: Why do we repeat things? Why are words and phrases sometimes repeated in holy text? For emphasis, perhaps. Or for poetics; sound and rhythm. Final answer: so that the words become your personal שִׁירָה (shee-RAH)—poem or song (the same Hebrew word means both). The Torah is a שִׁירָה (shee-RAH). Psalm.

Another woman in front of me, next to Marlene—Maya—turns to me and whispers that the cantor we are listening to was saved by Schindler; his family's name was on the list. I breathe in reverse for a moment.

At service's end: Kiddush, in a large upstairs room. I exchange greetings with Rabbi Silver in the stairwell on the way up. Marlene comments repeatedly—we are a small group. I have to say that Young Israel of Greater Pgh is much larger than many churches I've attended, for certain. The room is filled with several long tables and a multitude of serving bowls: lachs, pickled and pasta salads, challah, bottled lemonades and teas; delicious.

I sit with Marlene, Ed, Ed's parents and I talk with Maya. She had been attending different synagogues in Pittsburgh before this one. "After living in a country where there is no religion, you work your way through the levels," she explains. Maya grew up in Russia, under laws aimed to render the practice of Judaism impossible.

A speech of gratitude is delivered by the newly-mitsvahed.

Ed says they must go, as the family is having lunch at their home. And might I join them? I answer that I should really return home, too. Goodbyes and they leave the table.

Maya turns to me: you really should go with them; they are really very nice people and would not ask if they did not want the company. With her description, I realize that the meal is as much (or more) a part of observing the Shabbos as the meal my mother would make after church on Sundays.

I catch up and join the ten-minute walk to Marlene and Ed's home. Then Marlene and I run ahead—Ed's homemade challah, inadvertently left in the freezer, needs to be put out to thaw.
At my hosts' home: I am gently reminded that what has been turned on and/or off since sundown on Friday (lights and switches) stays in the same state until sundown tonight. I stir slaw. Put out another place setting. Meet Gladys and Uncle John. Seven of us all together.

I am humbled by the hospitality, but it's come on a day that I'm more tired than usual, (short on sleep for several days) and though I'm known as a quiet person, I'm a little more quiet then usual today. But this is also my way of taking in, being present. I hope that my great appreciation of Ed and Marlene's opening their home is perceived. This afternoon is pretty incredible in the respect that I've never been offered an invitation to Shabbos lunch; perhaps a once in a lifetime opp? Thank you.

First: hand-washing. From the two-handled cup, three spills of water on the right, then left. And no speaking between this and the blessing. Instead: miming and nods. This was my favorite part of Passover, too.
The food is absolutely delicious. Salads in which every ingredient tastes like the purest form of itself. Ed's challah is well-worth the earlier speed-walk-rescue.

Talk: Every time a Hebrew or Yiddish word is spoken, Ed, Marlene or Gladys turns to me and says the English equivalent, with a nod. To the point where we all start laughing.

We discover that Ed's mother's niece lives with her family three blocks from the house in which I grew up in Wyoming, a tiny suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. This coincidence is pretty remarkable. Her kids attend my same high school, classes of 100 and same swimming pool in the summer. And Ed's Mother (and then Ed) grew up a couple of blocks from where I live now. Ed's mother attended the school we walk our dog past every day. The world is smaller than you'd think.

Marlene hunts for a prayer booklet for me with English translations and the best pictures. The biggest blessing comes after the meal, quietly and to one's self.
... And fruit and homemade meringue cookies: mint and coconut.

Eventually, it's time to go.
One thing I wish I had asked: A life of orthodoxy is not for the passive. It requires a remarkable level of devotion. Every Friday, (after a 40 hour work week), before sunset, two days' worth of work must be completed in the time-span of less than one ... Does Friday night/Saturday feel twice-earned and twice as relaxing? Does this play a role in the way in which one looks forward to Shabbos? (a day away from driving, cooking, writing, photography, spending money, and use of electronic devices)?
I can't say how long the others remain after the meal that day, talking and visiting. To know that this day is set aside for such: Last week I scrambled among three friends (ten emails in more than a day's time) to find an agreeable evening when we were all free to sit together for dinner. Nearly a month out from now.

... At home, I keep a folder of ideas for an upper-level painting class I will be teaching next June. In it I write: "Assignment: Before next class, do something or experience something for the first time." Repeat throughout life's practice.

Friday, August 12, 2011

seventy-second visit: Aug 10th 2011 Mission Christianity, prayer service

7:30pm wednesday
Missionary Temple Ministries
intended: prayer service
238 Penn Circle East, Pittsburgh PA 15206
east liberty

This sweet red brick church is not far from my house. I pass it often. Recently I notice the signage listing "Wednesday 6pm prayer."

Only, in my mind, late this Wed afternoon, while frantically trying to finishing my dress-sewing in response to the previous visit before leaving for this one, I mix up the starting time of this visit (6pm) with that of next Wednesday's Buddhist meditation (7pm). At 7pm, I need a few more minutes to finish sewing, and so it is 7:30 before I pull in at Missionary Temple Ministries... and read the sign again... and realize that I am not just 30 minutes late (in itself, BAD) but instead I am a full hour and a half late. Wanting to avoid being all dressed up and having no where to go, I find the door unlocked and enter, selfishly hoping that the group has a lot of praying to do, and that perhaps things are still going on.

And indeed so, full on. Or so it looks to me.

What I do not know at that time, is that the lettering on the exterior sign has very little to do with indicating the times at which things actually take place at MTM. The sign contains old info. I had arrived at a time when actually no prayer service was scheduled at all. Arriving at 6pm would not have helped, either. But mysteriously, it all works out in the end.

I'll just describe what I experienced.

First, to explain: To me, prayer is simply an expression of hope. I feel that sometimes drawing can be such. And so I enter today with specific intention—to hope for the end of the causes of rioting in London, and to draw. I choose a center pew, third from front.

In the sanctuary:
Is it inappropriate to describe? I had never been to a prayer service. I offer description in answer of my own want of understanding...
2 worshipers kneeling at the alter, elbows on its raised platform, heads bowed.
Plus another turned the opposite direction, back against the alter's supporting wall.
2 others walk along pew aisles, passionately calling praises.
A faint audio recording sounds in the background. I cannot tell if it is completely in English.
A man enters carrying a white towel folded into a small square. Places the folded towel on the ground. Lays his body prone, belly-down, full contact on the carpeted floor. Nestles his face into the towel, nose down, parallel to the floor, and prays.
A young boy plays a Game Boy in a pew to my right.
Once or twice a pray-er speaks in tongues.
Several others enter and join throughout the next 45 minutes.
Worshipers rock in concentration, not unlike the calming movement of worshipers at Orthodox Jewish services I've attended.
A man begins to play an electric keyboard.
And painted in beautiful Gothic lettering on the back walls of the great alter, are the words: "Wir aber predigen den gekreutzigten Christum." (As true with many languages, German words placed in phrases don't always carry their literal meaning, but here's my best guess at a translation: "But we preach [about] Christ on the cross." Or "We preach ?only? about Christ on the cross." (And according to my dictionary, "gekreuzigten" is misspelled... or a different or older form of German, maybe?)

I have no doubt that the present congregation has not a German bone in them, yet this, it seems, was carefully preserved (painted around) when the rest of the room was coated in its current mauve-pink. I could never bear to paint it over, either. A moment of Pittsburgh joy.

As I leave, a kind, kind woman follows and stops me just outside the door. Explains that usually they meet for Bible study at 7:30pm on Wednesdays, but this night was special, and the study-members had decided to open the session with individual prayer. Prayer services are normally only held on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 10am and Fridays also at 6pm. Lucky, I am. Or however you choose to explain it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

seventy-first visit: Aug 7th 2011 United Methodist

11:00am sunday

Calvary United Methodist Church

971 Beech Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15233

north side, allegheny west

Here: Outside, gargoyles eye warnings to me from the mismatched spires—one spire soars twice as tall as the other, otherwise the building's facade is symmetrical. Inside, Louis Comfort Tiffany windows. The largest completed by Tiffany at the time. The figures on these windows are astounding. With full turn-of-the-century romance. This church, like the last, is famous, and all of the above is info that I had heard before arriving. Fully confirmed.

I arrive early, with a little time to kill. Take a minute to call a friend on the front steps; a quick hello. I start to photograph. Two people on separate occasions see me shooting the Tiffany windows and say, "You really should come back at 4:30. That's when the sun is at the right spot so that the figures seem to be pulling forward from the window-plane, floating right here in the sanctuary, in our same space." I hope I can, someday.

I love that it's impossible to dial an exposure and correctly capture the values of the entire window. These windows defy reproduction. Must be seen in person. Visual art has a soul that can't be experienced except in its presence.

I settle in for the service. Curiously, the reading is the same as my previous visit (the 8am service at Emmanuel Episcopal), and sermon again is on doubt.

After the service Ellie invites me to lunch, served in the next room. It has been prepared and by children in cooking class: stuffed french toast, egg mini-omelettes, absolutely delicious and even vegetarian, too.

Meanwhile, Bob introduces himself to me. We talk about a lot of things including...
-His take on why congregation sizes are dwindling. Long story short: Immigrants gathered in their churches b/c they missed home and craved the comfort of being with others from their home-country. The next generation was different in this respect and spoke English.)

-Maintenance: The worship-place was symbolic of ethnic pride, and members were more willing to donate personal funds to the maintenance of places of worship rather than spend it on the upkeep of or purchase of a new home for themselves, amongst other things. Priorities changed. Or some feel that the families initially were pressured and convinced to donate to their religious institution, and over time they became less vulnerable to this pressure. "They became smart, began to make more of their own decisions," Bob says.

-He confesses that he chases worship places, too. (see 67th visit, first paragraph) While driving, he will spontaneously pull over, convince his reluctant wife to join him, hop out to see if it's open, run inside, explore.

Phew. Seven visits in nine days. Lately the more I do, the more I want to do. For me, this is normal and expected in art-making. A friend of mine comments that he feels it's also common in religious practice. In my case, which is the source of the drive? Here, making artwork and going to service are the same things; teasing the two apart for an answer is impossible. But truth be told: I never felt this way when I was going to the same place of worship every week.

seventieth visit: Aug 7th 2011 Episcopal (Bake Oven Church)

8:00am sunday

Emmanuel Episcopal Church
(The Bake Oven Church)

957 W. North Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15233

north side, allegheny west

This is a Sunday focusing on physical structure. This visit: wholly unique architecture. My 11am today: that and especially the stained glass.

Emmanuel Episcopal was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson, constructed in 1884-86, and declared a National Historic landmark in 2000. Its moniker, "The Bake Oven Church" came about for obvious reasons. I find its stout, sturdy, honest shape to be endearing. Refreshing: no intention to intimidate. The building's original design called for a stone exterior, but proved unaffordable; brick was the answer. The Bake Oven is also famous for the unintended outward slope of its exterior wall, which stopped increasing when the parish house was added to the far side of the church. Ninety percent of the slate covering the sweet, village style, dramatically-sloping roof is original.

Today, it's appropriately sweltering hot. Lately it has been hard to be enthusiastic about adding fabric to my dress. I will, I will make it to September without slowing my pace in response to the temperature.

 And apparently Reverend Don Youse shares my sentiment, appearing in shorts. I like him immediately.

Reading: walking on water.
The sermon: The inability to accomplish unless focus is achieved. Times of doubt =floundering. Doubt comes about as a result of fear. Asking for help is a strength, but not encouraged enough in today's society. Applies in the studio? I think I've lectured my college kids on doubt before. 

Later I meet Jessie. We talk about gatherings and the importance of artistic community in this field that can be rather isolating. From someone else I catch a 1/2 tale: something about a murder and a mistress in a story involving one of the original donors for the construction of this church.

8am is really early for my brain to even think about drawing, so instead of fitting it in during the service, I stay after, with Pastor Don's blessing. First I am alone in the sanctuary for a bit, then I am accompanied by the pianist, warming up for the 10:30 service. I finish and head out for my next visit, a block away.

Monday, August 1, 2011

sixty-ninth visit: Aug 6th 2011 Antiochian Orthodox, Arabic service

9:30am saturday
St George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral (Syrian)
Arabic Orthros (9:30) and Arabic Liturgy (10:30)
3400 Dawson St, Pittsburgh PA 15213
central oakland

Speaking with Father John Abdalah by phone last week, he says I am more than welcome, but (pause) the service will be in Arabic. Exactly why I chose it. For me, it's not necessarily always about exactly what is spoken. It's about being there. And it's actually easier to experience "presence" when I'm not caught up in semantics.

This has never happened before:
I arrive 10 minutes into the service, and am the sole worshiper amongst the pews. Solitariness does not bother me and I am glad to offer the chanters an audience, but I am definitely conscious of the fact that I cannot take cues from other worshipers, as far as confirmation that I am behaving reverently, sitting and standing when I should, joining prayer, etc. A half-hour later others join. And yet more join for Liturgy at 10:30.

This is at least the third time in gatherings that the icon painter, Andrei Rublev, comes to mind; to avoid tiresome repetition, I hesitate to mention, but here is the strongest yet. It was in March or so that a student turned me on to Tarchovsky's film and the impression is apparently lasting. I don't think I had previously fully appreciated the beauty of Greek and Russion-influenced iconography, but ever since, I am quite taken. (Thank you, A.B.) Thus, this roomful of such is quite a treat. Gorgeous. Red with green and teals. No chroma shyness here. Between icons and painted saints, red and green surfaces are embellished with a patterning of gold, which, from my pew, becomes an intricate network of shining filigree.

And I can't help it that this reminds me exactly of the dress I wore in our Hindu wedding ceremony, 14 years ago.

Will it offend others if I write that, as an outsider, I feel there exists an intersection between the observance (physically, visually, ritually) of Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism?
Chanting, standing, bowing, taking steps as specifically dictated, rituals of touching (or not touching) objects, gesturing on one's own body, turning to face this direction or that, flowing robes, praying prostrate, kissing items to express reverence,
flames wafted, peacocks, the taking in of the spirit through food, drinking wine, marking time with sun down and sun rise.

Today I do not take communion, presuming it is not offered in open form. After the service, Father John Abdalah approaches me, wants to answer any questions, and hands me a large piece of communion bread.

I needed to clear this for myself, the relationship of Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism:
For more than 1000 years the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church were one church. In 1054, they split. Orthodox Christianity (with a capital "O"; small "o" is different, less specific), or a.k.a. Eastern Orthodoxy claims origins in Eastern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. Generally these churches are grouped into 3 categories:
1) Orthodox Churches of the Middle East: including this church, Syrian (Antiochian).
2) Orthodox Churches of Central and Eastern Europe: including Greek, my last (68th) visit. (These more closely follow Byzantine traditions... Byzantine is included as a part of the first group. To me this emphasized interconnectedness over separation. In the same way that no part of art history is fully separated from the rest.)
3) the Orthodox Diaspora: those organized outside traditional Orthodox countries.

sixty-eighth visit: Aug 4th 2011 Greek Orthodox (Great Paráklesis)

6:30pm thursday
Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral
Great Paráklesis (Eastern Orthodoxy)
419 S. Dithridge St, Pittsburgh PA 15213
north oakland

So much to learn.
I am here for the Services of the Great Supplicatory Canons to the Most Holy Theotokos, otherwise known as the Great Paráklesis. The Most Holy Theotokos is also known as the Mother of God, or Mary. Just in case any of my readers are as new to this as I am, here's some background info, below...

Observation of Dormition Fast: Aug 1-14. During which the Great and Small Parárakelses is chanted on alternate evenings. If Aug 1st falls on a weekday, the cycle begins with the Small Paráklesis. If not, the Great is first. Saturday evenings and on the night of the Transfiguration (August 5th), Paráklesis is omitted. On Sundays the Great is always chanted, except on Aug 5th. Many times rules frustrate me a bit. But these I find rather beautiful.

Transfiguration: considered a miracle. Happens when Jesus, Elijah and Moses gather on Mt Tabor. The Holy Spirit arrives in the form of a cloud. The figure of Jesus is illuminated. Did I completely forget this from my Sunday school years? Regardless, Father Demetrios Gardikes explains to me so patiently.

Dormition of Theotokos: the reason for this observance and of this Fast and Feast. Dormition refers to Mary's great falling asleep (her passing on), observed on Aug 15th. In Orthodoxy and Catholicism, the death is referred to as a "sleep."

In addition to Islam, how many other beliefs call for days of fasting in August?

And what I remember:
We stand throughout the service.
13 of us, including the Priest.
3 worshipers choose to pray prostrate, contacting the ground,
at the back of the sanctuary, in the aisles.
16 pages to turn.
3 voices chanting. At times it sounds as if there are 20.
1 Priest kisses the Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos.
A million times the bells of swinging incense.

So there is kissing in Christian ceremony; I stand corrected. (see 2nd visit, 3rd paragraph)

Father Gardikes stops to speak to me after the service. My impression of him is that of extreme gentleness. He exudes calm. He points out the peacocks adorning the alter's center "Holy Door," through with only Priests and Deacons are permitted to pass, those who carry the Eucharist. Peacocks: the oldest, earliest-mentioned, symbolic animal of Christianity, he explains. Yearly feather molting and regrowth symbolizing re-birth, resurrection. Also a prominent symbol in Hinduism, with different meaning. I notice peacocks during my next visit, the 69th (Antiochian Orthodox) also on the Holy Door, and again at the 70th (Episcopal) this time in stained glass over the balcony at the back of the sanctuary.

Left and right alter doors, "Deacons Doors" (also used by alter boys or anyone with a specific reason to enter the alter—but a specific reason is required) display iconography of Archangel Michael and Archangel Gabriel. I ask for the story of Archangel Michael. Request fulfilled, along with a farewell of peaceful wishes. For several visits after this, my obsession with wings is re-awakened.

sixty-seventh visit: July 31st 2011 Roman Catholicism

10:30am sunday
Saint Juan Diego Parish, at St. Mary Church
Penn & Garner Streets, Sharpsburg, PA 15215

Last week, while driving home from an errand, I turn off the main road for a moment of church chasing. This building dominates, hovers over the homes that surround it in a way that refuses to let me simply drive by without adding it to my list. I've been compelled to stop like this before, but this time it's a little different: I immediately feel that I HAVE to visit this church this weekend.
I decide to (know that I need to) come here straight after Oakmont Presby, visiting both churches on the same Sunday. I question this, figuring it would have nothing to do with my theme of German travels. I am wrong.

My mother's side of the family claims some German heritage, some Irish, and my father's some Irish and English. And me? All I know for sure is that I have a sixth sense. I joke about this, but it's also very real. See, I am sure that I was drawn off the main road, drawn to stop at this building, compelled to make this my 67th visit, because—as I found out during internet research the night before my visit—it fits exactly into my theme. This parish began in 1845 as a combined German Catholic and Irish Catholic congregation ...until disputes arose between the two ethnic groups. The Irish then went elsewhere, and the Germans built their own church and got their own German-speaking Redemptorist priests.

Visually, this church is very special. There's a twelve-page pamphlet at the entrance on its design and artwork. Worth the trip.

What do I remember?
Emails from Father Frank Almade: I will be witnessing his last delivered service there. An invitation to read his blog. An invitation to stop by the sacristy before the service, to say hello to him.

In the sacristy, while waiting to meet Father Almade: A conversation with a church member. She has belonged to this church ever since she was born and her family has belonged for generations before that. She now lives on the hill behind the church
in the home where her father grew up with his 7 siblings. (Yes, of German heritage.) She says to me that one thing you will notice about Pittsburgh is that people don't really leave their neighborhoods. I've heard of this phenomenon, this fear of bridges. I tell her that I suppose it has to do with the fact that everyone can simply find what they need in their immediate surroundings. She says, "No. It really has more to do with family. The family is usually right there, has been forever and so no one leaves. Except that I'm getting better, lately. My daughter moved to the South Side, and I go there to see her. I'm getting better about it."

And in the sanctuary, this is what I remember:
The ornate has hardly ever felt so solid.
Attached to the sanctuary, through an archway: the sweetest little chapel, just past the last pew. (Walk in the main entrance and turn left.) A tiny painted, weathered, wooden carved lamb in its Gothic cubby. Relics here, too. (Would I have recognized them as such, had I not been to St Anthony's?) And the most beautiful votive candles I've ever seen.

At the end of the service, Father Almade receives (in his words) "an Irish farewell blessing delivered by a Polish woman amongst an originally-German(/Irish) parish." He is leaving for his new parish, waiting for him in New Castle, PA.
And me? I leave today's visits, both in the near suburbs, drive over a bridge and re-enter Pittsburgh.

sixty-sixth visit: July 31st 2011 Presbyterian

8:15am sunday
Oakmont Presbyterian Church
415 Pennsylvania Ave, Oakmont PA 15139

As mentioned in my last post, in order to convince myself that these first couple of weeks back in Pittsburgh are simply an extension of my travels in Germany and the Czech Republic, I am choosing to visit worship-places with elements that carry over from my trip.

There's a backstory to this one. In fall of 2010, shortly after beginning gatherings I received a text from a friend, Dave English. His family owned a funeral home in the Pittsburgh area, so he's well-versed in religious culture here. He sent a short list of visit-suggestions, including this comment: "Oakmont Presby has a cool bell tower." The sentence holds significance to me for several reasons. 1) I have an unfinished body of artwork concerning a story about a bell-ringer. 2) E.A. Poe's poem The Bells
—sharing a fascination with the range of the historic purposes of bells and their range of sonic expression. In additional to this, I'm simply enchanted by church bells' massive physicality and that of the gears and ropes that make them move; I'm enthralled by bell-ringers, and also the bellmakers in Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev.

In Prague, my husband and I climbed to the top of St. Vitus Cathedral's bell tower. The
462 year-old spiraling stone staircase, the bells, the gears, the ropes, a window-peek into the ringer's quarters (old wooden table, chair, stacks of books) and finally the view from the top—an experience I won't forget. 96.65 meters, or 317 feet, or more than one football-field-length in height.

This morning I wondered if I could obtain permission to climb Oakmont Presbyterian Church's bell tower. I remember as a child, climbing the stairs of the tower at the church my family belonged to. I remember ringing the bell, my feet lifting from the ground on the up-swings. No such experience today in Oakmont. The only access was through a ceiling panel in the church's entryway. A far-fetched fantasy.

I think gatherings is a little far-fetched for Oakmont, too. Following the service, I introduce myself to the associate pastor. I could tell from his reaction that he was a little uncertain of me. Unexpected ideas can be a little frightening to some, I guess. Sometimes my ideas scare me, too. That's when I know they're worth doing.

sixty-fifth visit: July 29th 2011 Roman Catholicism (relics)

1:00pm friday
St. Anthony's Chapel

(houses over 4200 relics
1704 Harpster St, Pittsburgh PA 15212

troy hill

Over 5000 relics here. Saints' bones, skulls, teeth, hair, threads from garments, vials of blood. Said to be the largest collection outside the Vatican. The photo above fails to tell the story—apologies: photography of the interior is forbidden. This you must see for yourself.

Having returned from seven weeks in Germany (including a few days in Prague) I have decided to ease myself back into life here by intentionally seeking out, in these next few visits, certain elements that carry-over from my travels in Germany. To make life here feel like an extension of German travels, because I'm already nostalgic.

When I travel, I skip a lot of things listed in the guide books. I'm more interested in learning about what it's like to live in places other than my home. I love fumbling through language at the grocery, becoming addicted to müsli-yoghurt breakfasts and taking trains into neighborhoods that are labelled as industrial or recovering. But in the end, I am no doubt, a tourist. And so for this first visit back, a tourist I will be.

Though the website said otherwise, St. Anthony's secretary, Becky, was not sure there would be a tour-guide available at the time of my visit. If not, there was always the CD tour. I decide to take my chances. I arrive and look for head-docent Carole. I look for the the tour-CD. I find no one around to ask. I end up just staring at the huge victorian wooden and glass cases containing 5000+ relics. That's when Betty finds me. "Would you like a tour? Would you like me to point out some of the relics and talk about them?"
I learn that technically, she has retired from this, her former duty as tour guide and now-a-days normally serves as chapel attendant, simply watching-over the space during visiting hours. But I guess she notices my interest and can not help herself. Luck is with me again.

BTW, from St. Anthony's website:

Relic Classifications
• 1st Class - Are typically remains from the Passion of our Lord, Jesus Christ or a bodily remain of a Saint

• 2nd Class - Any item or possession of a Saint (i.e. Prayer Book, Rosary Beads, Vestments...)

• 3rd Class - Typically a piece of cloth that comes in contact with a 1st or 2nd class relic

Betty is pretty amazing. She implies that she remembers WWII. Long ago, she and one other woman catalogued the relics at St. Anthony's—all of them. Before this, it was thought that the church owned five pieces of the True Cross. When she was done, the number was corrected to fourteen. A piece of the table from the Last Supper. A thread from Mary's veil. A lock of her hair. The larger relics are wrapped in translucent silk or linen and displayed in a reliquary (such as a box with a glass window); the smaller ones are reliquaried in tiny, gorgeous ornately-guilded frames. (art: an object—or an act or event—that holds value beyond the elements of it's physical existence.) The front surface of many frames are round with watch-glass, some tied at the top with guilded bows. Many of the relics themselves are the size of the head of a pin, or the tooth of a zipper. In these cases, the item's label—the tiny strip of yellowed paper with a one-line typewritten description—dwarfs the object itself. But you will also find encased skulls and the complete skeleton of St Demetrius (disassembled, the compact bundle gingerly wrapped in silk, encased in a box).

At the bottom of several of the cabinets are sculptures of life-size figures of Saints carved from wood, in reclining poses. Look closely and you will see death-wounds on their necks and elsewhere. "Because many of these saints died by the sword," Betty explains. "You know, back in the times when people were killed for being Christians." Rather large vials of the Saints' blood accompany the figures.

"Now let me ask you," Betty says, "When you walked in here, did you get chills? Well, after all the afternoons I've spent here, I still do. Chills every time."
I mean this in the most positive and respectful manner (it's the dark side of religion that I always find most interesting): This tour gives me new understanding of the relationship between Christianity and all things Gothic.

An aside—
Speaking of the intersection of Art, Religion and
the Gothic, I was able to see this in Berlin. In person, it is absolutely breathtaking.

Back to relics... FAQs

• Relic authenticity? Known because each item was wrapped and/or encased by a bishop, witnessed by two other bishops, and sealed with wax imprinted with the bishop's signet ring.

• How did they end up here? Canon law forbids the sale of holy relics. This collection is credited to the founder of the church, Father Suitbert G. Mollinger. He came from a wealthy Belgian family and gained a reputation for offering monetary support to Catholic churches in need—building maintenance and such. In return, he might accept a thank-you in the form of a relic or two. Or at least that's how Betty explains it.

• Why relics? "The veneration of relics strongly influenced piety in general from the 4th and 5th centuries onward, and it also helped greatly to promote pilgrimages. Relics attracted large bodies of pilgrims in the middle ages. ...They made an impact too, on art (reliquaries from the days of Charlemagne, Romanesque and Gothic shrines, relic tablets, relic ostensories from the 13th cent)." ~The encyclopedia of Christianity, Volume 4, Erwin Fahlbusch, Geoffrey William Bromiley.

A few more unexpected, German-travel connections by consequence:
Some of the relics are boxed with wood from the Black Forest. (I overnighted there last month.) St. Anthony's also houses wooden life-size figurative sculptures comprising narrative scenes from the fourteen Stations of the Cross. These carvings were created in Munich, where my feet last touched German soil. Sigh. Am I easing myself into my normal life, or enabling denial? Does the fact that I haven't fully unpacked affect your answer?


Back from Germany.
Spent over a month at an artist residency in Schwandorf, which is located just north of Regensburg in Bavaria. Also serving residence with me were a composer, a writer and another visual artist. All amazing—their company is certainly missed. We lived in individual apartments within ein Künstlerhaus and worked all day long in our individual studios on our individual projects. My studio was near a wooded area, guarded by a grand iron gate. There I completed 22 unfinished drawings and inked 53. Additionally, I edited 2 video pieces. All for this project.

We also made scrumptious meals, sometimes for each other. When I ran out of groceries, I rode a little borrowed German bike along a path next to a tiny flowing river all the way to the farmer's market in the adjoining village.

Following, I traveled with my husband: the Black Forest, Regensburg, Berlin, Hamburg, Prague and Munich.

And I visited worship places: two Catholic Masses in Schwandorf/Fronberg, one Protestant service in Schwandorf, and one Jewish service in Regensburg. I have a few ideas for a project I would like to do there soon, before I forget the little bit of German that I know, and after I can perhaps learn little more.