Poulsbo First Lutheran Church

Dear readers of World Religion Weekly,

If you’ve ever been to Poulsbo, you’ve probably heard the bell-song rolling through the town at twelve and five o’clock.  These chimes emanate from the tower of the Poulsbo First Lutheran Church (check them out here).  This tall, sky-blue building looks out over Poulsbo. It graciously hosts a variety of community functions and I have been to a few of them. However, December tenth was my first time actually going inside the historic church nave.

I arrived at the Poulsbo First Lutheran Church ten minutes or so  before the start of their eight o’clock service.

I followed the stream of church-goers through the stained glass doors of the main entrance.  Several Christmas trees stood around the lobby, the gifts underneath meant for disadvantaged children in the community. The Poulsbo First Lutheran Church is very active with volunteering, especially in cooperation with Fishline, a local charity. I introduced myself to a man who seemed to be greeting individuals as they entered. He revealed himself to be Paul Davis, Director of Faith Formation and the person I had been in correspondence with.  He ushered me into the nave of the church and seated along the side with his wife.

lutheran-church-cross-on-wall
A cross hung on the wall, silhouetted in light against a beautiful wooden backdrop.

She cheerily introduced herself and explained the basic layout of the service, which was helpfully detailed in a pamphlet.

Poulsbo First Lutheran Church Pamphlet
This helpful pamphlet payed out each element of the service with helpful instructions for communion and sheet music to a few hymns

The helpful pamphlets of  Christian churches never cease to impress me. There would be a lot of standing up and sitting down, she explained, and we would sing assorted songs from the little red hymn books conveniently stored in the back of the bench in front of us. She promised to alert me before any group movements but doubted it would be that confusing. We both took little red hymnbooks from the ingenious compartment in the back of the bench in front of us.

Convenient Pew Book Holder
This convenient compartment in the back of the pew held everything a parishioner could need, from the hymn-book to pencils.

The benches ran all down the lower center portion of the church’s cross-like layout.

From my seat, I could just see the space where the left arm of the cross would be. A Christmas tree stood beside a blinding stained glass window.

blinding-stained-glass-window
Light streamed through the beautiful stained glass window.

The main focus of the space was an altar centered around a beautiful painting of Jesus.

lutheran altar

The very tip of the cross-floorplan had a cross suspended on it, silhouetted with light. The cross’s other arm now drew my attention, as the blue and white-robed choir-singers launched into Wake, Awake, for the Night is Flying and The Advent of Our God.

The pastor, a woman in a white robe, approached the congregation.

She began by going over the news in the blue sub-pamphlet. People were advised to pray for things like the health and well-being of community members going through rough patches, wisdom for our nation’s leaders, and the people in California who are impacted by the wildfires.

People and things to pray for

She went over upcoming events, including the concert later that day, which highlighted the North Kitsap High School Vocal Point Jazz and a group who were to play the array of bells behind her. After the upcoming events were gone over, there was a brief silence for reflection and prayer.  The group chanted a “Confession and Forgiveness” prayer before another “Silence for Reflection and Self Examination”.

There were then a series of hymns, led by the choir and pastor, with a few solos by the pastor. However, every church member had the opportunity to raise their voices, aided by the sheet music in the pamphlets and hymnbooks. The succession of hymns were interspersed with group prayers.

Next came the weekly bible-reading. This week’s verse was “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live…” –Ezekiel 37:14

The pastor read aloud the surrounding section of the bible titled “The Valley of Dry Bones”. It detailed a dream-vision shown  to the prophet Ezekiel. He sees a valley full of old and dry bones, God says he will bring the bones back to life, God does exactly that, and it is established that this is metaphor for the scattered Jewish people who will one day be reunited by God.

Sharing God's Story @ Home
Church-goers are expected to keep up with the scripture so that the sermons have week-to-week continuity.

Paul Davis led the children’s sermon. All of the children of the congregation rushed up onto the stage to sit by him. He asked them a few questions and gave them a puzzle. He explained the moral of “The Valley of Dry Bones” using the puzzle as a metaphor for the people of Israel and simple, engaging speech. The congregation laughed as the children predictably did little mischiefs and gave insightful contributions. Then the children were sent back to their seats and the pastor took the stage again.

She connected the sermon to the stress some people feel around the holidays. “Christmas can be a dry bones time,” she admitted, detailing some of her own struggles, offering solutions like the church’s groups for yuletide stress, and describing how Christmas is really about the glory of Christ and has a lot of great aspects too. She clearly spent a lot of time composing this well-thought-out sermon.

More hymns and prayers led up to the offering.

(I did not give an offering because the only money I could find on my person was souvenir pennies from the zoo. I plan on giving a better offering at the next church I go to.) There was more prayer and song.

Then came the distribution.

The benches all gradually rose to walk down the center aisle to take communion. Poulsbo First Lutheran Church offered gluten-free wafers for those with dietary restrictions and grape juice for those who didn’t want to consume wine, in addition to the typical wine and wafers. The I cautiously took a wafer and dipped it in the grape juice as I was dutifully informed that I had been given the flesh and blood of God. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the taste (Sluy’s Bakery’s bread is a bit better than your average communion wafer).

More hymns and prayers followed communion.

I’m terribly sorry that I am not giving these songs and prayers the in depth description they probably deserve. Their numerousness and individuality precludes any in depth representation, and I don’t think they would be terribly surprising to the reader. The hymns do detail the glory of god. The prayers do ask for forgiveness and strength. It was quite lovely.

The service ended with

a sending hymn, a promise to go and peace and serve our neighbors, and a request to share God’s peace with your neighbors. “Peace be with you,” said my helpful neighbor. “Peace be with you,” I reciprocated. Young children raced up and down the aisles, wishing peace to be with those they ran past. I took a moment to enjoy the stunning stained glass.

A friendly woman zeroed in on me, an apparent new-comer, introduced herself and invited me to join them in refreshments downstairs.

COngregation-leaving-Lutheran-church
The congregation, including a well-trained feline and their owner, filtered out of the church’s main hall in search of refreshments.

I explained the premise of World Religion Weekly, and she enthusiastically talked about her own experiences with other religions. She soon had to leave, but first she introduced me to a group of similarly friendly individuals who talked about some of their friends who belonged to other religions. I regrettably had to leave before the Faith Education program.

Thank you for reading World Religion Weekly,

Audrey Cole, the agnosti

Alive Covenant Church Sunday Service

Dear Readers of World Religion Weekly,

Some time ago, I attended a church service at the Alive Covenant Church Poulsbo Chapter. Several of my closest friends are regular attendees of this church, and it was lovely be part of something that was so important to them. You can check out the church’s details here.

I entered the Sons of Norway building about half an hour before the service began. My early arrival gave me time to read through a few brochures and chat with my friend, Molly, as the church band practiced and tuned. The church offered breakfast options in a corner.

Alive Covenant Church Sign
A red and yellow sign directed me into the sons of Norway building.

First came a Sunday School type discussion group. Children were separated into elementary school and below or middle and high school students. The instructor, a nice woman in Seahawks attire, split the crowded table of adolescents into boys and girls and gave a whiteboard to each. She instructed the group to list everything they had to do in a given week. The boys hotly debated everything, eventually presenting a list scrawled in every direction, listing everything from soccer to sleeping. Merry took charge of the girl’s list, organizing it by day, until a neatly written list of a ridiculous number of activities emerged ranging from lacrosse to jazz band to volunteering at an assisted living home. The instructor read Luke 10:38-42:

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

The instructor then advised the assorted middle and high school students to always make room for God in their schedule.

After this Sunday school lesson, the church band launched into a series of hymns. It was absolutely gorgeous. The entire Cockroft family, augmented by a few additional church members artfully executed a number of tastefully chosen hymns. The guitarist artfully avoided the dreaded “Christian Strum.”

The Musical Cockroft Family.
The Cockroft family, augmented with a drummer, performed a series of beautiful hymns throughout the service.

Pastor Jagodzinske delivered a thoughtfully worded sermon, emphasizing the need to make room for God in each Christian’s individual schedule, interspersed with announcements regarding the church’s various activities. These ranged from encouraging individuals to go help with hurricane relief to describing the fun the church would have at their next retreat/parent-child bonding camp.

Alive Covenant Church Service
The congregation observed the sermon from clusters of tables, as the tech crew projected accompanying quotes onto the screen.

The entire church, including myself,  lined up and took a communion of Sluy’s Bakery bread and Welsh’s grape juice. It was delicious, despite its representation of Jesus’s flesh and blood. The church concluded with an encouragement yo take a few Alive Covenant Church chip clips, and my church experience concluded with an interview with Darin Jagodzinske. While I conducted this interview, my property and person became festooned with these chip clips, artfully placed by the impish children of the Cockroft clan. Those little girls could be secret agents.

My binder and bag are adorably stolen.
One child makes off with my bag, while another clutches my binder of notes from the service.

Thank you for reading World Religion Weekly,

Audrey Cole

Sunday Service at North Kitsap Baptist Church

silhouette of a cross
The silhouette of a cross was illuminated against the stage curtains.

Dear readers of World Religion Weekly,

A person never truly knows how many Christians they know, until they say that they want to attend a church service.

My small town of Poulsbo is absolutely swimming in churches. When I mentioned that I wanted to attend a church service, I immediately received suggestions of Christian churches from Catholic to Protestant to non-denominational. Ultimately, I chose to visit the North Kitsap Baptist Church because my friend, Gary, presented this option before the other suggestions and offered to drive me. You can learn about them here on their website.

We walked through a maze of hallways to stage-centered room the North Kitsap Baptist Church uses for services.

Impressive lighting and sound equipment perched on a metal frame that spanned the areas in front of the stage. Diaphanous curtains draped the back of the stage, and a message of welcome beamed from the projector screens. Gary and I were on the earlier side, so I had time to get one of the little interactive sheets that a church-goer would fill out throughout the sermon. This struck me as a sensible and clever way to keep individuals engaged.

The service began, as a man with a guitar took the stage, along with harmony singers and a rhythm section.

He introduced himself and launched into a Jesus-centered song. Gary later explained that he was not the usual North Kitsap Baptist Church preacher, though he was a very good public speaker. He sang several songs with his group, most revolving around the themes of God’s greatness and Jesus’s sacrifice. The crowd of worshippers stood for this, most singing along. Several people raised their hands, in apparent devotional ecstasy. This musical opening was quite similar to the many of the other services I have attended (check here for those stories).

This musical section soon ended and was succeeded by a woman announcing upcoming church events.

Awanas, a youth program that teaches children bible passages, was praised, an upcoming Christian finance consultation meeting was promoted, and an advertisement for a grief-therapy program was shown. The church evidently remained busy most days of the week.

Then the sermon began.

I had arrived for the final segment “The Armor of God.” It included metaphors such as “The Helmet of Salvation,” ” The Breastplate of Faith,” And “The Shoes of Peace,” “The Sword of Spirit.” I’ll give a brief summary.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.(Ephesians 6:10)  The preacher elucidated that this passage warned Christians to be vigioent against the clever traps of the devil.

 “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephegians: 6:16) This is when the preacher began to go in depth about ancient Roman weapons. Roman shields were usually more than five feet tall and were made of wood wrapped in animal hides and other things which prevented the shield’s bearer from being stabbed. These shields could also be soaked in water, so that they could quite literally extinguish the flaming arrows of the Roman empire’s enemies. 

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews: 11:1) The preacher explained that trusting in any knowledge was faith. He knew the exact weight-holding capabilities of the stage, and he trusted that they were accurate. To emphasize this he jumped up and down a few times. Of course this act of faith wasn’t quite on the same caliber as most occurrences of faith in the bible. Rather than faith in the reliability of measurements, these acts of faith usually involved trusting in the ultimate goodness of god and that even bad things are part of a higher purpose.

“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” (James: 2: 17-18) This was followed by a call to action to “take up the shield of faith.”

“For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” (Roman’s 10:10) The preacher explained that faith in God’s word is the only true faith and that faith in yourself is fleeting. Compare it to the Buddhist take here, in my interview with Pra Sandee. 

At this point we pulled out our handy-dandy worksheets to fill out Satan’s Fiery Arrows:

North kits Baptist Church Sermon Worksheet
Satan’s Seven Fiery Arrows

A new piece of God’s armor was now introduced, the Helmet of Salvation. A helmet is pretty imperative to any sort of protection gear, as your head is the most vulnerable part of your body. Moreover, the Helmet of Salvation guards your mind from the Fiery Arrows mentioned above.

“But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (Thessalonians: 5:8-11) The preacher grinned as talked about how cool it would be to see Jesus face to face. Eventually, Christians believe that they will meet Jesus, whether in the afterlife or apocalypse. He instructed the audience to turn to the person next to them and say “Jesus is coming back.” “Jesus is coming back,” stated Gary, grinning. “Okay,” I replied, “That might happen.” I am not Christian, and I cannot honestly say that I have faith in the accurateness of that statement. It was very impressive, how excited the people around me became as they shared their faith with their neighbors.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” (Revelation: 21: 1) Christians believe that God will one day live alongside his people, and the preacher instructed the worshippers to frequently think on this and their eventual salvation.

“Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians  6:17) He pulled out his phone, and explained that while we no longer keep swords on our belts, our cell phones can be an equally advantageous tool, especially with a bible app.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword,it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

“The weapons we fight withare not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10: 4)  He then talked about the Hebrew words which were translated to “word” in England. Rama means utterance, while logos means something more like logic.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) Here the preacher brought up the importance of memorization to Christians. I was only made aware of this recently, but it has cropped up quite a bit since then. Christians like to memorize bible verses that have meaning to them and keep them in their minds, to be meditated upon when the occasion arises. The preacher hastily elaborated that this was not like an incantation, but more like an inspirational quote. Jesus, himself, used scripture (the “Sword of Spirit”) to ward off Satan when he was tempted.

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18) He concluded his sermon by calling on the worshippers to pray for each other.

The North Kitsap Baptist Church sermon ended with more singing.

I thanked the preacher as I walked out the door and chatted for a moment , promising to send him a link. It was a lovely sermon, and I am sorry for the general disheveledness of this post.

Thank you for reading,

Audrey Cole

 

New Life Youth Group

Dear readers of World Religion Weekly,

This week, I am studying Christianity!

It has been fairly uneventful Bible reading, up until a few days ago, which is why there hasn’t been much posting.

New Life is a youth group conglomerate of several chruches, with around sixty members in this branch alone. If you aren’t familiar with youth groups, they are groups of children and teens, assembled by churches in order to develop a sense of community. Which mean that though they are organized by churches, they often focus more on non-church-related things.

I had investigated several youth groups beforehand, realizing that many of them are inactive during the summer. I ultimately chose New Life because it was closest. My friend, Emalee, a longtime New Life goer, invited me to one of their end of summer parties. I understand that usually there is a larger church focus. This gathering included rides on one of the member’s boat, root veer floats, frisbee, and a scavenger hunt that spanned all of downtown Poulsbo. Yes, it was fun. Yes, the root veer floats were delicious.

I mainly talked with several people that I knew from school. The usual questions came up, “How has your summer been? What have you been up to?” I explained my project a few times over.

There was prayer at the beginning and end of the event. The first prayer was just a minute of silence with bowed heads, where the bearded pastor prayed that no one would die on the boat.

Over the course of the event, I spoke to a few people about what Chrsitianity meant to them. Interviews are coming. One mother explained that she really loved youth group because it encouraged her daughter to socialize with people outside of her usual friend group. A few other rearticulated those sentiments. Youth Group is mainly a social occasion, which strengthens individuals bonds with their church by strengthening bonds between it’s members.

The message at the end of the service tied everything back to Christianity. The pastor skillfully made the passage more relevant to the youth by tying it into the Olympic Dream Team. He spoke over how individuals needed to completely yield to Jesus (“go all in for Jesus”) like the apostles who immediately abandoned their fishing nets. The dream team analogy tied into not only giving it your all, but the unique skills each individual has to offer their church and Jesus. This was concluded by referencing the fact that the apostles had to leave their nets behind. Apparently, everyone has to leave something behind in order to fully realize their potential relationship with Jesus. We were encouraged to find out what we, ourselves, have to leave behind.

All in all, it was a good experience, and I am glad that I finally attended one of these staples of modern Christianity.

Thank you for reading,

Audrey Cole

It was an attempt

Dear readers of World Religion Weekly,

Yesterday, I tried to observe three large concepts in Hinduism. I think I did alright. Definitely not perfect, but alright.

I managed to exclude meat from my diet pretty successfully. I am already an off-and-on peskatarian.  I consumed eggs in bread-type foods (tortillas, veggie pizza, etc.), so I was not nearly as strict as I could have been. As with any dietary restriction, this truly makes you consider what makes up your food and the processes that made it your food. I read several articles on the varying Hindu diets, and many modern Hindus are not necessarily vegetarian (especially many Kshatriyas who eat meat in most meals) but instead exclusively consume local, organic, sustainable food. While the association of diet and religion is sometimes considered odd by outsiders, it is completely natural that principles governing your interaction with the world extend to the processes regarding your food. If a religion prohibits harming individuals who can’t fight back (like animals) then it is fairly natural that they prohibit processes that would lead to that. Religions that promote taking care of the earth, naturally promote eating organic. These things are intrinsically linked.

I meditated three times, yesterday, and I chanted the Maha Mantra out loud three times and several more times mentally. Both these activities are deeply calming. I definitely recommend occasional mediation, regardless of religion.

I had mixed results with trying to be in the correct state of mind. I consistently forgot to offer food to Krona before eating it (honestly, I am slightly confused on how that works logistically) and forgot to leave small offerings, as well. I don’t know how I did with avoiding agitation, letting things go, and doing my duty. I watched some movies that night, so that probably was not the most dutiful thing. I feel pretty good about how I spoke, but I don’t think that I am the best person to judge that. People are very rarely aware of the degree their speech affects their listeners.

Thank you for reading,

Audrey Cole

 

 

Attempting to observe some principles of Hinduism

Hello readers of World Religion Weekly,

Finally, I have a free day to attempt to adopt some aspects of Hinduism into my own life.

Firstly, I will be adopting a diet consistent with Hindu principles. The main part is that I will try to keep a lacto-ova-vegatarian diet. The consumption of eggs is fairly controversial, but I already ate a cheese Quesadilla for breakfast (with egg used in the tortilla). It is too late

. I will just try to avoid eating fully formed animals. The Bhagavad Gita annotations placed an emphasis on how you really shouldn’t kill animals (and eat them), so I am largely going off that. I will also try to only eat moderately flavored food that are not spoiled. However, I can’t really promise to adhere strictly to the last one. Moderately-flavored is a pretty subjective term. The Bhagavad Gita recommended not eating food prepared more than three hours in advance. My family is eating a vegetarian frozen pizza for dinner. Is it okay to eat because it was cooked less than three hours before? Or is it not okay because it was prepared more than three hours in advance? Is this one of the rules that was made less relevant as people got better at preserving food? (This would make a lot of sense in the hot and humid climate of ancient India where it was a fair assumption that leftover food should not be eaten, but refrigeration and freezing made leftover food a lot safer.)

Secondly, I will chant the Maha Mantra and meditate throughout the day. The Mahamantra is Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare. Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Rama is one of the most important incarnations of Vishnu. You can read about him in the Ramayana. Krsna is the Supreme Godhead  (God). Hare is either a divine consort of Krsna or another name for Vishnu. I am kind of unclear about that. Chanting it is one of the best ways to enter Krsna Consciousness. It was actually part of the Hindu service I went to. It was one of my favorite parts because it was repetitive enough that I could just join in. I can attest that it is very calming. Meditating was another part of the Hindu service that I enjoyed. You exhale the supreme truth “Om” for as long as possible several times then you just sit in silence. As soon as I woke up this morning, I folded my legs into a criss-cross applesauce position chanted the Maha Mantra and mediated for a bit.

Thirdly, I will try to put myself in the correct mental state. I will try to only speak truth, not cause agitation, let things go easily, do tasks because of my duty, not for myself, and give little offerings to Krsna of flowers and my own food throughout the day.

Let’s see how this goes. Please comment any suggestions for additions.

Thank you for reading,

Audrey Cole

A Visit to a Buddhist Temple

Dear reader of World Religion Weekly,

Last week, my grandmother and I had coffee with a fascinating professor of anthropology from Linnfield College. I will publish a post about that encounter soon, once we sort through the details of her interview. In addition to going through some of the effects of religion from an anthropological standpoint, she also put me in contact with a Buddhist monk, to whom she frequently refers curious students of anthropology.

Sadly, I am leaving Oregon before the Saturday service, which he conducts in English. Yes, I specifically mention that it is in English. The temple where he teaches is part of the World Buddhist Preaching Association of U. S. A. They bring in priests, monks, nuns, and others from all over the world (Thailand, China, Manchuria, and Taiwan were given as examples). The monk I was put in contact with is from Thailand, and he is one of the few with training in the English language. Most of the services cater to the local immigrant community. The majority of the services are conducted in Chinese, with a few in Thai, Vietnamese, English, and a few other languages. This is pretty evident on their notification board.

The monk warned me that, if I did not speak Chinese, I probably should wait until Saturday. However, I decided to risk it, just to get a glimpse of the temple. Inside my mind, I already had half-formed, worried plans involving a translating app on my phone. Luckily, I did not have to employ them.

As my grandmother and I entered the temple, a man at the front desk gave me a small wave while speaking English on the telephone. I breathed a sigh of relief. I examined the lobby. One glass case held beautiful jewelry for sale, which seemed like a sensible way to help support a temple. Next to it was an enormous book case labeled: Free Books.

These books about Buddhism were printed in Vietnamese, Chinese, and English. I spent a few minutes selecting a few that looked relevant to me, noting the instructions on the back.

My grandmother and I wandered into a gleaming room beyond the lobby.

I busied myself, attempting to read the numerous plaques next to each of the images. The four large, gold figures are spirits of the North, South, East, and West. They are important to Mahavana Buddhism.

The scenes depicted behind them are scenes meant to represent certain disciples of Buddhism. They have exaggerated features and actions which are meant to convey their personalities and even teachings to the viewer.

At this point, the man at the front desk seemed to done with his phone call. We introduced ourselves, and he rightly guessed that this was our first time in the temple. He showed us through the first room again, elaborating on the history of the elaborately carved black stone  and the nature of the figures throughout the room. The plump, gold figure seated at the other side of the room is the Happy Buddha. He shows the happiness and spiritual richness that await the followers of Buddhism.

I will put in the information given to me later where it is relevant, though this will make the experience a bit anachronistic for you, dear reader. I think that the immediate explanations will be worth it, though.

We then moved beyond that room, to the less sumptuous room behind it. Tables with “Happy Birthday!” tablecloths draped over them stood alongside another bookshelf of free books and a few images of either the Buddha, the Bodhisattvas, and/or disciples of the Budhha.

The man explained that this was where they ate their post-service meal.

Then he showed us to a set of stairs leading to an open door. he said that we could enter, if we took off our shoes. My grandmother and I quickly scraped off our shoes. The man returned to the front desk, as we entered a new chamber.

It was breath-taking and fairly unexpected. Overwhelmed with awe, I spent a moment just absorbing the majestic, golden beauty. My grandmother and I only spoke in maybe three sentences to each other, each whispered.

Beneath the windows, gold plates beautifically displayed even more disciples of the Buddha.

With bare feet, I padded over the to left side. One thing stopped me in my tracks.

This had to do with I Ching, I later learned. It is a kind of fortune-telling. A person throws the sticks on the ground. Each stick has two different sides, like a coin. Someone tallies up the “heads” and “tails” sticks. Depending on what you get, you open a certain drawer, which holds a fortune.

I next came to cabinet full of books used for prayer and chanting. Most of these were in Chinese, based off the lettering on their spines.

This table is used if individuals want to pray to their ancestors or other deceased personages. People can leave offerings of food and burn incense to aid in this. I don’t think that this is strictly a Buddhist practice, but many Asian cultures hold high respect for ancestors. I then wandered back towards the center of the room.

This individual is a deity who, the priest explained, is neither male nor female but, at the same time, is both male and female. Gender is one of the mortal things which are ultimately meaningless on a deeper level.

The majority of the room was taken up with prayer stations. Individuals kneel on the cushions and chant from books, which are propped up by chopsticks.

This large pack of water bottles seemed out of place, seated among gold renderings of deities. However, it was there for a purpose. During service individuals chant, which is a very holy activity. The water is thought to gather a purifying influence from this.

During the service, bowl-like cymbals and drums aid the chanting.

Now I moved to the right portion of the temple. This table is dedicated to asking for things which currently affect you. Again, individuals can burn incense and leave food offerings to assist in this.

Like many of the prayer books I’ve seen, Buddhist chanting books contain both the original Chinese, phonetic rendering of the Chinese in the Latin alphabet, and an English translation.

Before leaving, I spent a moment regarding this enormous bell. I assume it must be deafening when rung.

These are pictures of monks, nuns, and other religious leaders who work with  the World Buddhist Preaching Association of U. S. A. Yes, in the top left, a man is being balanced on the tips of swords. Yes, in the top right, those are martial arts master Buddhist monks.

We then met up with the man from the front desk again. This is where he explained most of the things that confused me in the worship hall. Find out what happens next in the Interview section of Buddhism.

Thank you for reading,

Audrey Cole

A Hindu Sunday Service

Hello readers,

Yesterday, I finally attended a Hindu service! My grandmother accompanied me because of her interest in Indian culture and curiosity in what happened at Hindu services.

We arrived at Brahma Premananda just in time to be forty minutes early for the eleven o’clock Satsang and Aarthi service. I believe that my grandmother overestimated the Sunday morning traffic and was very excited.

The temple looked out of place in the small Oregon town of Tigard. A marble-covered temple with astounding architecture rose up from behind a dusty Kinder-Care facility. You could only just see the temple from the busy town road.

We waited in the car until we saw a sari-clad woman slip into the temple. We went all the way to the temple before I remembered that the service was conducted in the less impressive residential building slightly to the left.

We were shown the correct room by a kind gentleman who spoke little English. After we kicked off our shoes (symbolizing leaving behind the grime and concerns of the material world as you enter the separate realm of worship), we entered through the white door. There was a beautiful shrine at one end of the room with a large, red-garbed deity in the center. Smaller deities ringed this centerpiece, along with photographs and paintings of people. When we entered, there a string bag of mandarin oranges sat near it, and, as people entered, more offerings joined those oranges.

A woman in a blue and green sari sat in a chair next to the shrine and welcomed us warmly. She knowingly asked, “Is this your first time here?” and responded to our resounding yes with some basic information on the service and kindly small talk. She was a first generation immigrant who arrived here fortysix years ago with her infant daughter. She recomended speaking to the priest about Hinduism, as he had taught her what it really meant to be a Hindu. My grandmother took a seat in a kindly provided chair next to this woman and I sat on the ground with crossed legs.

Once four more elderly individuals arrived and bowed to the shrine in formal Indian clothes, one woman took charge. She led a series of oms and a period of meditation, throughout which a few more individuals trickled in, payed their respects, left offerings, and took a seat.

The next portion of the service required small booklets from a bin in the center of the room. These books held the prayers that the majority of the service would consist of. In addition to being rendered in a language and alphabet I was unfamiliar with, most of the prayers had a phonetic version of the prayer in the Latin alphabet, and a few even had an English translation. I tried to read along as the congregation sang these prayers. At some point, a man fetched a pair of small finger cymbals (manjira) from a cabinet. Soon, the growing group was singing prayers accompanied by clapping and the loud chiming of the manjira. Though I had little idea what I was singing, aside from the familiar names of deities and characters from the holy books, the positive feeling in these songs was palpable. The devotees took turns choosing and leading the songs, however one man appeared to be permanently in charge of the manjiras.

After the singing of prayers concluded, there was another round of om chanting and mediation. After this, everyone bowed to the room’s deity, with hands,forehead, knees, shins, and feet touching the ground. Them everyone stood up. One woman attempted to explain to me what was to come next, ultimately giving up and just saying “you’ll see”. The man who played the manjiras now went to the side of the altar and picked up a conch shell, which he blew into, producing an astoundingly loud noise.  A woman began ringing a bell, adding to the cacophonous affect. The group collectively began to turn in circles, with hands in prayer position at chest level.

Next, a tray of candle stubs was lit by a woman in a flowered kurta. She faced the deity and lifted and lowered the tray of candles in a circular motion several times. One by one, every member of the congregation received the tray. Part of the way through, I began counting and noticed that most individuals either did three or six revolutions.  Several individuals and families went twice.

Once this was concluded, the woman who lit the candles took possession of them once again. She held them, as individuals came up, placed an offering of money  in a bag, placed their hands over the flames for second, and placed their hands over their eyes. I feel the need to say that no one forced me to donate, and not everyone did. It was entirely a matter of choice that I gave a donation. I mimicked the motion of putting my hands of the flames then my eyes.

After this portion of the service concluded, the organized portion of the service appeared to be complete. A woman in a flowered kurta insisted that my grandmother and I stay to have lunch with them. She explained that the meal had been blessed by the gods and that everyone who participated in the service had to have some. The meal was absolutely amazing, and it consisted of some naan bread, a deliciously spicy yellow curry, spiced vegetables, a rice pudding called kheer, and an almond paste dish. I sat with a man and his daughter, each dressed far more Westernly than some of the older devotees. They both wore jeans with semi-formal shirts (a polo shirt for him and a forever21 blouse for her). He explained that the word “ana” was said so many times throughout the service because it meant happiness. The prayers’ content was just as joyful as the mingling voices of the devotees.

Bright small talk crossed the room in several languages, as everyone enjoyed their food. The manjira-playing man fetched a tray of figs from the altar and passed them around to individuals as they began to filter out of the room. I was slightly surprised to be offered one, but I quite enjoyed my first fig,once I deduced from observation that I was meant to eat it.

I actually assumed that the man who handed out the figs was the priest. This turned out not to be the case. When I asked to see the priest, a man said that he would call him and see if he was in the building. If he wasn’t then he was probably out doing home ceremonies (funerals, weddings, etc.). Luckily, the priest was nearby. However, he had not been present for the service. The man who I assumed to be in charge of the Hindu service was just one of the several devotees who took charge at different parts in the ceremony.

A man wearing an orange kurta and bluetooth earpiece turned up at the door, asking if I had questions. Read what happens next in the Interview section of the Hinduism tab.

Thank you for reading,

Audrey Cole

 

Finishing the Zend Avesta

Dear readers of World Religion Weekly,

I finished reading the Zend Avesta! In summary:

Part I consisted of the Vendidad, which I described here.

Part II was made up of the Sirozahs, Yasts, and Nyayis. The Sirozahs were addressed to Aura Mazda and other gods and largely consisted of praise. The Yasts and Nyayis went along similar lines, though I previously referred to the Yasts as hymns. The importance of both sections was the addressing of the divine by the human.

Part III included the Gathas, Yasna, Visparad, Afrinagan, and Miscellaneous Fragments. The Gathas consisted of more addresses to the divine. However, there was something slightly different that made this part my favorite. The Yasna focused on sacrifice and the associated rituals. The Visparad detailed other aspects of worship, including the treatment of saints, male and female. The Afrinagan focused on what it really meant to be a Zoroastrian. The Gahs were more prayers which sort of spanned all of these previously discussed aspects. The Miscellaneous were just that: miscellaneous.

The Zend Avesta was fascinating because it was a time capsule of the society of the first Zoroastrians, who, historians believe, lived in or near Iran.

Thanks for reading,

Audrey Cole

 

Reading the Zend Avesta

Hello readers of World Religion Weekly,

So far, I read Part I of the Zend Avesta (the Vendidad) and most of the Yasts in Part II of the Zend Avesta.

The majority of the Vendidad was a sort of dialogue between Zarathustra and Ahura Mazda, which outlined how human beings can best live their lives.

It had an interesting amount on the treatment of dogs (including otters), as well as humans. The majority of the rules concerned human interactions with water, fire, and earth. There was also a large emphasis on death. Death is an unclean state, and no human should actually touch a dead body, unless they are unburying it, preventing its cremation, removing it from a body of water, or properly disposing of it.

How does one properly dispose of a dead body?  The Zoroastrian practice is to build four walls around it, with an open top. This prevents people and bodies of water from being rendered unclean by it, and allows carrion birds to assist in its disassembling.

Additionally, the body is rendered clean as it dries. The demon of death (the Drug) abandons the body as it ages and dries.

The Yasts are quite different. While there are still snatches portrayed as a conversation between Zarathustra and a deity, much of the content is hymns. Multiple gods and demons are described, however, I believe that Zoroastrian is monotheistic. I do not completely understand this, but I will look into it tomorrow.

Thank you for reading,

Audrey Cole