My mother studied painting at the New York Art Students League with Joseph Solman, the American artist who died last year at age 99. Solman was briefly a member, along with Mark Rothko, of an artistic vanguard known as The Ten, which in the 1930s rejected the literalism of American art and championed expressionism.
"I have to tell you about Maggy," my colleague said excitedly. He had just returned from meetings with church leaders in east-central Africa. "Love made me an inventor," Marguerite "Maggy" Barankitse had told the group. The more she talked, the more my colleagues wanted to see Maggy's Maison Shalom (House of Peace), near Ruyigi, Burundi. There, after the horrors of civil war 15 years ago, she has rebuilt her village. It's an extraordinary resurrection story.
One of the most recognizable pieces of religious architecture in the world is the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, the most significant place of worship of the Sikhs. The upper part of this ornate rectangular marble structure is covered in gold. I saw the gleaming temple early in the morning, before sunrise, when it was bathed in soft artificial light.
When I was a child I spoke as a child, understood as a child, reasoned as a child. I knew my parents loved me best. I mistook abundant love for especial favor and blessings for entitlements. I mistook good fortune for God’s approval and worldly outcomes for the will of God. Kennedy won because God was on our side. When my grandfather died, I assumed it was me—something I’d done or failed to do. Maybe the first time I ate meat on a Friday, at Bobby Bacon’s house. It was baloney.
Harvard historian of religion Wilfred Cantwell Smith likes to talk about the origins of the rosary, the string of beads used for prayers by devout Catholics. Catholics got the idea for using prayer beads from Muslims, for whom prayer beads are quite common. The Muslims likely got the idea from Buddhists, and the Buddhists no doubt picked up the idea from Indian Brahmans, whose 108 beads account for the requisite number of Hindu prayers (Mark Juergensmeyer et al., God in the Tumult of the Global Square, University of California Press).