Monday, February 19, 2007

Religion itself . . .

"To find religion itself, you must look inside people and inside yourself. And there, if you find even the tiniest grain of true love, you may be on the right scent. Millions of people have it and don’t know what it is they have. God is their guest, but they haven’t the faintest idea that s/he is in the house. So you mustn’t only look where God is confessed and acknowledged. You must look everywhere to find the real religion... Living with God is not an apparition but a wordless and endless sureness. Like the silence of two friends together."

Bernard Canter, (1962).

"It's hard to love the questions when you live in a society obsessed with answers. A believer takes a great risk in affirming the questions and doubts of others because to be a good Christian is to have all the answers and to never admit you have any questions. Consequently, we have a lot of people living out a spirituality they can hardly claim to be their own. On the surface they look good. They can sing all the right hymns and say all the right prayers. They quote all the right verses and support all the appropriate groups. They have even overcome great tragedy and despair and give claim to a testimony of great victory. But deep within their being, they are torn apart by this 'spiritual schizophrenia.' They have doubts....But the Christian culture 'code of silence' has forced them on a journey of 'Jesus is the answer' without ever having been allowed to ask the questions."

Scott Waggoner, (1993).

Among Friends

"Quaker thought is both mystical (waiting upon God) and prophetic (speaking truth to power)."

"A Friend's meeting, however silent, is at the very lowest a witness that worship is something other and deeper than words, and that it is to the unseen and eternal things that we desire to give the first place in our lives. And when the awake and looking upwards, there is much more in it than this. In the united stillness of a truly 'gathered' meeting, there is a power known only by experience, and mysterious even when most familiar."

Caroline Stephen, (1908).

I'm enamored of the idea that religious experience is about trembling in the face of what's greater than ourselves. I'm even more fond of the Religious Society of Friends because this notion, reflected in their common name "Quakers", derives from an insult given by a seventeenth century judge to their founder, George Fox (1624-1691). Fox suggested the man should, "tremble at the word of the Lord."

It has been weeks since I attended a meeting, and yet I'm still excited about that morning. A friend of mine had been interested in the RSFM, so we decided to look into local gatherings. We found one in the U-District and drove over on a Sunday.

Quaker meeting spaces are generally laid out so that each person can see all others. Some, like the one we visited, are set in the round. This eschews all hierarchy, any sense of differing roles or status among the participants. Even if there is a facilitator, this person sits among the rest. The RSFM is an egalitarian community that from its earliest days stressed the unity of its members no matter their race, sex or place in society. The structure of a meeting--if you can call it that--encourages all viewpoints to be offered and the Friends will hear them out with the intention of understanding God's will through this dialogue. Within the non-binding tenents of the church there is even an acknowledgement that there is much to learn from non-Christian faiths and systems of thought.

"Religious knowledge, like the appreciation of beauty, is not attained by a logical process of thought but by experience and feeling. Quakers maintain that the teaching of Jesus is a practical method for the guidance of the world today, that religion is concerned with the whole of life, and that, beyond a certain point, definition becomes a limitation."

What does bind the Quakers together is the Light of Christ that resides in every person. Meetings are taken in silence (for the most part, though there are programmed events as well depending on the individual customs of a particular community), with each person delving inside to listen for the Light of God to speak through her.
Within the RSFM no one creed is espoused, no direct study of scripture is engaged in, no sermonizing is included. There is no need for these when one can access the Light.

"The term comes from John 1:19:
'The true Light, that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.' Logical consequences of this belief are:
*that every man and woman has direct access to God; no priestly class or 'steeple houses' (churches) are needed
*that every person - male or female, slave or free is of equal worth
*that there is no need in one's religious life for elaborate ceremonies, rituals, gowns, creeds, dogma, or other 'empty forms.'
*Following the inward light would lead to spiritual development and towards individual perfection."

As a product of one of the most stringent and doctrinal institutions in the world I was awestruck by the simplicity of the meeting. Anyone had license to speak at any time, were they so inspired. Some gave reflections on their personal battles, others recounted stories of hope and still others initiated debate with political or philosophical prompts--Quantum Mehanics, Zen meditation. By in large, however, words were absent. I spent a lot of my time pondering the faces of the congregation. What were each of these people gathering from the silence? My mind was overactive...but throughout the hour--which seemed longer for its lack of ritual--there were brief passages when my spirit was quiet and receptive; through these I felt at the tip of a funnel of collective peace.

The Quaker movement has an important history that I won't chronicle here, at least not in detail. I think it is useful to highlight, though, that as much or more than any other Christian denomination the Friends have been instruments of social justice. They were at the forefront of abolitionism, pacifism and struggles for American Indian rights in this country. With all of the emphasis on personal discovery and seeking the Light, one might assume a lack of perspective. However, the RSFM makes clear that belief is not the key--there is no immediate salvation in acceptance (if the point is even to be saved, which it is not for many Quakers)--but how we translate our spiritual understanding into our everyday actions.

This history and way of life that complicate my immediate tendency towards an old family dilemma: without rules, rituals or worship--when we put religion on our own terms--we fall into relativism and away from selfless loyalty to God. Quakers as a whole, skeptical about the Bible and strict terms of belief, offer some of the greatest examples of living in unity with Christ.

A short bibliography for further reading:
*The New York Yearly RSFM's statement of
Faith and Practice
*A history of the Religious Society of Friends

Monday, January 29, 2007

Are you afraid of the Catholics?

The Catholics are so mysterious.

Or, what's up with the Catholics and their mysteries?

Or, I don't get Catholics. They're weird.

These and other statements are not merely dramatizations. No, people actually think this way.

Growing up as a Catholic, I didn't encounter much of this, and I wasn't exposed to anything else that might force a confrontation with my religious habits.

Now that I'm a non-practicing Catholic, venturing beyond the altar to other denominations and religions, suddenly it's clear that outsiders know as little about Catholics as I did about them--and possess any number of stereotypes.

Here's what insight I can offer: Catholics are ceremonial. Their method of worship is ritualistic and not studious. It is about recitation, not consideration (that is more personal and not shared with the congregation).

I have been to several non-Catholic services as a curious pilgrim. A few, such as the Methodists and the Lutherans, are reflections of the more delicate pageant of the mass. Those denominations have variant theologies, which set them apart. They're close relatives. The rest take a much different approach to church. Here is what defines Catholicism, as far as I can tell:

*Call and response
*Proclamation of the word (as opposed to examination)
*Memorized prayers
*Biblical hymns (as opposed to worship music)
*Transubstantiation (the literal altering of material substances by the Holy Spirit)

You know that your religion is a strict ceremony when you find yourself faced with a slight alteration or addition. I was in Idaho, at my aunt and uncle's church. Their mass was, as to be expected, the same as any other I've been to. Except, it included an optional prayer, a Marian devotion known as the Angelus:

"V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary, etc.

V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done unto me according to thy word.

Hail Mary, etc.

V. And the Word was made Flesh.
R. And dwelt among us.

Hail Mary, etc.

V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.


Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen."

This prayer arose in the eleventh century. There were several monastic customs involving Hail Marys recited at intervals throughout the day. It was standardized in the seventeenth century. In many countries it is still practiced as a thrice daily devotion, signalled by the toll of an Angelus Bell. I was not aware that it could also be part of the mass.

Nice bit of trivia, Nick. I bring this up as an example. Notice how formal and theatrical it sounds. For Catholics, the power of religion is in practice. Through a common form that is quickly learned and rarely altered, their faith and convictions can be renewed each week. Study of the word, discussion of ideas, personal expressions of worship and discovery are relgated to other arenas than the mass. Music, prayers from the congregation, readings from the Word are all elements of a larger rite, and they reflect its structure. It's like going to the opera--and fifty years ago even more so: you'd have had to settle for an old Italian language.

So yes, there is mystery, and yes, one feels estranged at a Catholic mass. That's the point. It's in the doing, not the understanding. This does not work for everyone, and I might include myself. However, it's not that what Catholics do is so mysterious--check it out for yourself, it's pretty transparent: a tour of the new mass (since the 70s). It's that Catholics are more concerned with the mystery than with knowledge. This, of course, appeals to me. How it applies to one's life...that's the bigger question, and that's why I do what I do.

More soon.

A standard deviation . . .

I cannot consider myself a prodigal.

There's been no uncommon recklessness to my lifestyle, no overtly wasteful habits or deplorable actions filling my hours (at least not by my standards), what I've experienced over, well, the past seven years is more of a giant digression. I've found myself eager to peregrinate, to ramble, and this isn't just a physical longing.

I'll pause for a moment. Yes, "peregrinate". The word stood out to me in the thesaurus like the dark punctuation of a hawk in the sky. What have I been up to? Eyes open. Sight extended. Hunger like a raptor. Distance like a bird above the water. No rest. I think at about 18 I realized my childhood had been the equivalent of one of those falcon-trainer's bags over my head. Its removal showed me blue, an expanse of atmosphere that I knew could be traversed...there's so much of it, I haven't even covered half a mile.

Thus arose my pilgrimage, because sitting on a limb during college, interesting as it is to survey, included no wind or peril or exhilaration.

Why did I stop almost four months ago? What, if we look at them as a journey, were these accounts in the blog leading up to? And where do I find myself now?

Hello again, readers or friends (both?), I'm writing to you once more. I'm writing because again I feel that wanderlust, I know that in my heart, post-modern surface living doesn't fly. I can't survive in this day and age on dollars and donuts. I can't wake up with a routine schedule, reading about the problems of the world and leave the larger questions unexplored. I may have feigned objectivity as I reported on my institutional and community experiences at Seattle churches, but, just as one could infer a food critic doesn't just write columns about vinagrettes, fondues and wine-pairings for scholarly interest but because she loves to eat and she gets free meals, so one could surmise that I go to churches for other reasons than my expertise about them. I need to sip my coffee.

You all know Socrates. Yes, the critic of the "unexamined life", that's who I'm referring to--what was he about? Questions. So many questions, that man had. I have a few myself. Actually, I have more than a few. I have questions about ritual, questions about doctrine, about myth about sin about predetermination about...maybe too many? Where do faith and questions coexist? On what path of living do we rest calmly in our trust of God while constantly resisting the status quo of human ideas and traditions?

I'm taking up the pilgrimage again. This time, however, you'll probably sense more of my own journey in the posts. Many people have asked me if this project was about finding a church, finding a wasn't, not in the beginning. It is now. I'm still curious about how others worship, about how they seek the I'm also looking for my own pratice, what can function for me.

Monday, October 16, 2006

What is your Quest?

I am continually surprised--whether I should be is another question--by the age segregation that is rampant in Christian church culture.

On September 24 I made my way over the Fremont Bridge to Quest Church. Outside were a handful of twenty-somethings dressed about like I was: not formally, in the classic Sunday sense, but with flair, because maybe this was a place to be seen. And not by God. I stepped inside and this trend was confirmed. This was as much a hip spot as it was a place of worship. I chatted briefly with a pleasant young woman and meandered over to a seat. I was prepared for any number of things.

What came next was a much more intimate, and therefore honest variant of the rock concert format you will remember from Mars Hill. Imagine a Bright Eyes show at Neumos as opposed to Sufjan Stevens at the Paramount. The song leader was passionate, and there was a heartfelt acoustic quality to all of his selections that hit the right chord with me. OK, I thought, after this will come a little sermon that could go by the name of telling everyone what to think and do. This assumption was only reinforced by the text for study, printed on the front of their program, Exodus 34:10-17, which includes choice portions like: "Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going" and "Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles", or my favorite, "Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God."

The values espoused by Quest:











I respect pastor Eugene Cho (who has a blog, if you're interested). One of the first things he emphatically proclaimed was to "understand context". I was intrigued and surprised by the way he deemphasized the political/moral implications that a literal reading of the passage might encounter and looked much more closely at the notion of our place in a larger global/cutural context. He spoke of Quest (and the whole body of Christians, really) as a "missional" church, devoted to honoring God's sending. For us, in our middle-class Seattle routines, there is a "danger of being rooted", and God's call is for a "freedom to move". "Jesus would have a MySpace account," he said, "I'm sure of it." But not--he was quick to clarify--to shove a belief system down anyone's throat. Like my dad, pastor Cho subscribes to a "Don't force it" philosophy. The missional project of the church is to bring its values out into the larger community in a way that is complimentary to various cultures present within it.

What pastor Cho wanted to highlight in the text was love. That's right, God's message here in Exodus could be construed as a narrow-minded genocide against foreign cultures, but in this reading is an expression of His love in a context where the pressure to stray was great. Jealousy according to pastor Cho (and coincidentally the therapist whose book I have been reading) is an integral element of passionate devotion. The irrational, vigorous desire that we feel for a beloved is inflected by jealousy because it is all-encompassing, unyeilding and uncontrollable. So God is looking for recognition.

Whether I agree with this interpretation or not, Cho's focus on loving relationships and a respect for a multireligious community that Christianity can operate within was refreshing. It was that much more refreshing as a call going out to a bunch of young people--many of whom probably grew up in less inclusive religious settings.

"'Quest is the expression of a vision and dream of a church where truth is sought, mystery acknowledged, compassion and justice embodied, culture and arts engaged, creativity and innovation fostered, diversity and multiethnicity embraced, authenticity and community pursued, and sharing the love of Christ is the great cause.'

On Sundays here at Quest Church in Seattle, a growing number of people--believers, skeptics, and even cynics--gather together for worship. There are college students, single adults, married couples, older members, and children. People in the congregation come from a variety of different nations and cultures. The congregation is a mix of those that are churched, unchurched, dischurched, and overchurched. One of them is "Jane", who had never stepped foot into a church before coming to Quest. She was raised as a Buddhist, and visited Quest through an invitation of a friend. She has been with us ever since, and continues to wrestle and rejoice about the possibility that a man named Christ was indeed the Son of God who came to die for our sins and reconcile us unto God. "John", who was living what others perceived a "successful" life, woke up one morning wondering to himself if there was more to life. His questions led him to Quest, and through many conversations (and many more questions), John understood and believed that truth was indeed personal in Christ. He was baptized into the body of believers last year."

Reading the statement of faith that represents Quest and its congregation, I see paralells both with communities like Mars Hill and some of the emergent churches like COTA. I would be curious to hear more from pastor Cho and assess the direction their beliefs take these fellow pilgrims.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Closer to Free

This, pilgrims, is what your conservative parents warned you about. This is the other evil, worse maybe than those hidden legions scrawling pentagrams on floorboards. This is universalism at its apex. The religious melting pot. Welcome to the Center for Spritual Living.

Or, as it was once known, Seattle Center of Conscious Living. That was back in 1921, when our city was hankering for new places of worship. I can't tell you what that prior incarnation was about, since at some point the community became part of the United Church of Religious Science.

Boy, were they in for a treat! Little did they know that their future held Rev. Kathianne Lewis. Now, my coming roast of their service aside, I genuinely appreciated this woman. She was funny, in that way that televangilists never are but aspire to be. None of my favorie parts had to do with the message of her speech, because honestly when is prayer--or "spiritual treatment" as the late, great Dr. Ernest Holmes dubbed it--ever funny? Here are two choice quotes:

"Open your textbooks to page 149...did you leave them at home? This isn't unusual, for those of you who've never been here. Not that they leave them at home, but that I open mine at all."

"How many people have heard that story in the Bible?...Ah, one?! I could tell you anything!"

OK, now, let me take a deep breath before I plunge into the landfill of things I have to say about what I experienced at CSL. There we go...whose idea was it to change "Amen" to "And so it is . . ."? I guess the first indicator of general balderdash would be the notion that religion is a science. I can be persuaded that there may be scientific elements to spirituality, and that the metaphysical doesn't have to be at odds with the physical, but you rob all the mystery--which is the ice cream of religion--when you turn it into BioChem.

Ernest Holmes, the founder of Religious Science, called it "Science of the Mind". OK, so it's Psychology. No. It's a way to use the mind to control the laws that govern the spiritual world. According to Holmes and his followers we have access to universal consciousness, and this access is brought about through the equivalent of lab work.

Center for Spiritual Living is a member of the United Church of Religious Science. The denomination of Religious Science began as the the Institute of Religious Science and School of Philosophy in 1927 founded by Ernest Holmes, (1887-1960). Set up as an educational institution with the focus being on teaching people how to think in new ways about spirituality and their connection to life itself. The Institute eventually evolved into the Religious denomination, Religious Science. An eager and widely well-read student of world religions and metaphysics, Holmes created the Science of Mind philosophy as a synthesis of all he studied. He believed that religion should be practical and provable, hence the name Religious Science, and created a unique and effective style of affirmative prayer known as Spiritual Mind Treatment. --from the CSL website.

When it comes down to it, their belief system is not all that appaling. Essentially Religious Science defines an eternal God/Cause/Creative Force that is coexistent with everything. It is One. The buzzwords for my time at the CSL compound were "spirit" and "being". We are incarnations of this spirit and have consequent power over things like chicken pox and earthquakes. Sort of an amalgam of Christian themes and the major underpinnings of Eastern Philosophy. Read more here.

But what did grind my teeth, as college students with Lexuses do so very well, was the pristine whitening-strips coating masking all the unseen coffee stains. During the service we had songs featuring harmonica and accordian, I mean right out of an early 90s T.V. opening. Everybody's shirt was multicolored--Southwest themed, picked up at a Dead concert, sewn by friends in Walnut Creek, CA--and I swear I heard someone say, "you rock, man". Then I picked up something eye-catching in the seatpocket in front of me that turned out to be a DVD about the campaign to expand the CSL (which already contains a small bookstore and can seat around 1,000 people). When I perused the offering envelope I discovered that the tithes given by the congregation were funds for said campaign! Then I remembered that one of the first things the minister talked about was the plans for renovation and how surely some people could relate to that--"'We love remodels', it's a great affirmation, say it with me, 'We all love remodels'". All the emphasis on personal power and enlightenment seems to have made this community a little too comfortable.

Which may be why, in the end, I felt more like I was at a promotion for a Light Rock Radio Station than at a church on Sunday. The only person who said "Hi" to me--and I said "Hi" to a few but that didn't go over so well--was one of the welcoming committee and I sensed a note of desperation as if he knew these folks were blowing their chance to be hospitable. I had such a desire to dig this place. I'm all for the kind of broad study that their bookstore's selection encourages. I'm intrigued by the notion of drawing on all the world's major religious philosophies. I'm just disappointed that what The Center for Spiritual Living ended up with is suburban religious entertainment.

Thursday, August 31, 2006


My apologies for the gaping hole in the blog the past few matter how much one wants to move, sometimes your feet are held to the ground beyond your control.

That said, please peruse all the entries again, as significant additions and revisions have been made, specifically to the earliest ones.

More soon from the Curious Pilgrim.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Taizé for the Generations

I broke my fast last week . . .

I returned to a Catholic place of worship. St. James Cathedral, at the end of Capitol Hill.

There was no mass last Friday, though. I ventured to St. James for Taizé. Asking what exactly that is leads to exciting questions for those of us with an ecumenical--or universalist, choose your poison (as some might say in fundamentalist circles)--bent.

Taizé : two very short syllables, curt almost, that snap out without lingering. Like a punctuation in sound. A name to condense things essential, to draw together the inexpressible. Taizé to be silent in, Taizé to speak to yourself in. Taize to come to, by thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, over nearly two thirds of a century. Taizé to set out from, charged with the invisible. Taizé for the generations.
"Taizé, always" by Bruno Frappat

Ah, what a goal for a pilgrim! Taizé, first of all, is a village in France. It is the place where Brother Roger began to form a community of humble Christians in the 1940s.

With a significant amount of searching I haven't found much information on Brother Roger's life prior to the inception of the Taizé community. I think this might be as he would have wanted it (he was killed during evening prayers in 2005 by a woman with a knife). There are hundreds of men who make up the brotherhood and they come from a myriad of Christian backgrounds. The point is not difference, but communion. The community was founded on the idea that Christans can live simple, meaningful lives that emphasize goodness above all else. This is how philosopher Paul Ricouer saw it.

If religion, if religions have a meaning, it is to liberate that core of goodness in human beings, to go looking for it where it has been completely buried. Now here in Taizé I see goodness breaking through, in the community life of the brothers, in their calm and discreet hospitality, and in the prayer. I see thousands of young people who do not express a conceptual articulation of good and evil, of God, of grace, of Jesus Christ, but who have a fundamental tropism towards goodness.

I write about the ideal, central nature of Taizé because what I experienced last week was a less hopeful version. My response was lukewarm--not to the cathedral, which was grand and humbling--but to the depth of the prayer service. Ultimately Taizé strives for a profundity that I cherish but did not taste last weekend. There were moments, within the songs, that caused something to well up inside of me, but this was shortlived, without the monumental build they seemed to be working at. Of the elements of the Taizé service that have been borrowed by countless churches around the world, music is probably the most tangible and affecting. The community in France has developed a method of songwriting that utilizes the quiet intensity of Latinate chants and the intimate lyricism of contemporary worship. I was looking for this on Friday, but I found a lukewarm congregation that couldn't quite enliven the text with their hearts. It's a lot to ask, I know--many Christians get by with lip-synching during their times of worship. However, something is lost without full investment when the whole service is based on their voices.

Maybe it's just my old Catholic grudges plaguing my judgement--what am I judging for anyway? One of the reasons I stopped going to church was because I felt there was no passion in the congregation. I looked around and saw lips reciting memorized lines in a tired play. No audience would be roused by those voices, not me and not God. But it's not my station to judge. There's no room for this zealotry on my pilgrimage. As my friend from Skagit puts it, we're all after "life-giving" experiences, and that search is what I need to focus on.

That's what Taizé was founded on.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Pokrov Means Protection


I almost hesitate to muse on last Sunday's pilgrimage. There was a certain sanctity to the experience that calls for descriptive restraint. I have never felt closer to the origins of the Christian Church than I did at Pokrov.

Pokrov, or the Feast of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin, is a religious holiday celebrated by the Russian Orthodox Church on 14 October. The Russian word “Pokrov” has a complex meaning. First of all “pokrov” is a cloak or shroud, but it also means protection or intercession.

Pokrov is a small Russian Orthodox community that was founded in 2000. In the remarkably few years since, the congregation has grown into the hundreds and taken on a palpable vitality. To some degree all the children who roam during the service engender this feeling, but there is more to it than that. This is a liturgy that has endured--essentially unchanged--for centuries. The preservation of ritual to a degree not seen at American Catholic masses maintains the beat of a strong heart.

Now, reinforcing these rituals are doctrines I find unreasonable. For instance, I dispute the notion that making children emotionally aware is overly burdensome to parents. I cringe at a refutation of evolution on par with any in Kansas. The conservative bent of much of the literature Pokrov has compiled online reminds me of the worst versions of Catholicism. Without being fundamentalist, it seems to extend from a very narrow point of origin. That said, I felt eerily at home.

As a quick recap, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, originally one Christian body, suffered through a long schism that climaxed during the Middle Ages and Crusades. This break was not sudden, thanks to cultural and political differences that arose when the Roman Empire moved to Constantinople (in modern day Turkey). The Byzantine era refined an Eastern version of the Church that became less and less compatible with what was happening in Europe. Rome came to resent the growing power of the Byzantine Church, and ultimately declared its authority by excommunicating the patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius in 1054. The two major points of contention between the two branches are the primacy of the pope and the procession of the Holy Spirit. In the Eastern Church it is inconceivable that one church leader should have ultimate authority over the others. As they see it, all bishops are descendants of St. Peter and have equal footing in matters of leadership. This creates frustration with the clear, top-heavy heirarchy that has its pinnacle in the Vatican. The Easten Church also cannot accept that the Holy Spirit proceeded both from the Father and the Son. To me this seems like a moot point, but apparently it was enough to break-up over.

I had hoped that an Orthodox service would feel like Catholicism, pre-Vatican II. I have no point of reference, save scattered accounts from my family elders, but there is a certain way I imagine it to be, to which Pakrov was faithful. Uncomfortably impersonal. Strictly dignified. Emotionally strenuous. My foreignness allowed me to a remove from the language--the beautiful symphony of Church Slavonic--as I would be were it in Latin. The backs of the priests during the essential mass parts filled me with longing--yes--and a sort of theatrical anonymity not available as an American Catholic. The nearly fanatic devotion of some of the congregation--constant signs of the cross, zealous kissing of icons hanging on the walls--is seen now only in traces in the habits of aged Westerners (I say this in reference to the Western Church). I felt like a post-modern child in the face of all this.

A clear distinction must indeed be drawn between veneration (proskynesis timetike) by which an icon should be honored, and worship (latreia) which belongs alone to God.
"History of the Orthodox Church"
Aristeides Papadakis, Ph.D.

And yet there was a certain familiarity. There was a sense of tradition that was not unknown to me, on some unconscious level.

After the service I was invited down into the catacombs of their basement (I should note here that the building Pokrov uses is actually a Presbyterian church that they convert during their hours of worship) and welcomed like family to a hearty meal of sliced meats, warm rice and vegetables. These I washed down with wine. Ahh, wine, that blood which flows through all of the severed pieces of His (and our) church body. For the next few hours I was engaged in conversation with people to whom I am truly a foreigner.

Estragon emigrated from Russia about fifteen years ago. That's the point at which he started watching Seinfeld. It was the one thing I could manage to learn that he truly enjoyed. Otherwise he spoke of his life as "uninteresting", even though he works construction, has a wife and kids and has lived in two dramatically different countries. He was a shy and kind man. Then I was introduced to the father, a man whose early spiritual journey is echoed by my pilgrimage. He was born into the Church of England and left it as a young man, roaming around Germany exploring various faith traditions. He found his place in the Orthodox Church. We spoke at great length about theatre, about the formation of his church and about the power of tradition and ritual. Finally I was introduced to Vladimir, another immigrant, but one with a much different history. He had lived in New York for some time, spoke much better English, and had tomes to say about philosophy, dogma and faith. He too had explored the range of Christian faiths, after having grown up in a Soviet Georgia that mocked religion as so much hocus pocus. He told me of reading Mormon and Jehovah's Witness texts, and finally coming to a crossroads at Catholocism and Orthodoxy. He eventually sided with the Orthodox views on the questions that caused the schism. He was insistent on the need for personal bonding with a particular religion--knowing it in and out, and arriving at its truths yourself.

Pokrov seeks to have open doors, through which anyone can walk. The strange thing is that they do not alter or adapt their traditions to facilitate growth. They carry on, and do not judge any who enter and join the mystery.

Are you feeling depressed? Are you grieving or suffering from the burdens of life? Then come to Pokrov, the protecting veil of the Theotokos and you will find healing, love and friendship! (from the Pokrov website)