Puja at the Hindu Temple Society of North America

We took a bus from the Union Theological Seminary to the Hindu Temple Society of North America out in Flushing, Queens. I get super car sick so most of this ride was spent trying NOT to look out the window. When we arrived we got treated to a yummy (but spicy!) meal in their cafeteria. Here’s a photo of my plate, but I quiet honestly can’t tell you what we ate. lol


So after our lunch we walked to the main temple space, had an informative group discussion with a board member, then a private tour of the shrine. No photos are allowed inside the space so I took a few outside to get the feeling of the location. One of the funniest signs for were the “coconut breaking” signs. We learned that coconuts are a common item to offer in a puja (ritual worship) and there are specific places to break them open before entering into the shrine.


As you can see from this last photo, once inside all shoes come off (we also did this in the Buddhist Temple and both the traditional and sufi mosques – the idea of sacred ground is common to all these religious traditions). Personally I love taking my shoes off, maybe it’s because I’m a Florida girl, but I feel so much more connected to my surroundings barefoot.

Read more: Student Series! A Hindu Union

They even provide little cubbies downstairs for your shoes. My shoes are on the bottom right – flip-flops all the way!

As I mentioned, there are no photos allowed inside so that we can preserve the sacredness of the space and the rituals within it. In Hindu belief, the statues are inhabited with the spirits of the gods, so the are so much more than just visual representations of deities. They are bathed, clothed, and ritualistically fed by the priests. This temple has about 25 deities, each deity with a different specialty and some worshipers feel more akin to one deity over another at different times in their lives. Although, theologically speaking, not the same as Catholic saints, there is certainly some parallels to be drawn (see my post about the catholic shine of the Bronx Lourdes). This image below is outside the temple, so it does not have the significance of the ones I described above but you can see the clothing and style that is also on of the deities inside the shrine.


Unlike some other houses of worship, there is no prescribed communal worship time. The main action in a Hindu temple is individual prayer and puja. When needed, the practitioners will come to perform a specific action to a deity for something they are asking for or thankful for in their lives. Luckily we got to see two different pujas while  there. I cannot tell you anything that was going on but there was chanting, incense, ghee, and a little cone people kept putting on their heads. I was trying to watch without being intrusive to their worship.

I loved walking around the temple, and as an AP Art History teacher, it really brought to life the Hindu temple and Shiva statue I teach. I’ve never been to India and the Metropolitan Museum is the closest I’ve gotten to seeing a Hindu god in person, so having the ability to see them in situ, in a worship site, really made me understand the Shiva as Nataraja much better.

This is at the Met Museum, not the temple.

After our group departed, I hung around alone a bit to walk in solitude in the shrine. I spent more time looking at the priests doing their daily tasks and the beauty of all the statues. Personally, I loved Saraswati, the goddess of music & knowledge.

Then on my way to the train station to visit my aunts for dinner, I popped into any other sacred spaces that let me in! Here are a few I saw on my walk:



P.S. I am not an expert in Hindu theology or practice and the little I know comes from study in college and teaching high school. If you see something incorrect here, please message me so I can fix it!

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Religious Worlds institute.  For detailed information about the institute, see http://religiousworldsnyc.org.

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Worshiping at Convent Avenue Baptist Church

One Sunday of my Religious Worlds of New York Summer Program took us to a black Harlem house of worship, Convent Avenue Baptist Church. Although a Christian venue, I actually felt more “out of my senses” at this church than at the mosque, Bronx Lourdes, or even the Hindu Temple. I think it’s because Catholicism actually has closer ritualistic roots with other religious tradition than with some strains of Protestant and/or Baptist roots. However, I always think it’s a great thing to put ourselves in “uncomfortable” settings – it’s the only way to experience new things!

So first off, we were told the service could last 2 hours…or more. This surprised me because I am used to “getting in and out” in an hour flat. I had no idea what we were going to do for 2 HOURS. But I was about to find out!



As we were walking in the choir and church members already started their singing, and boy can they sing! If you’ve seen Sister Act, you have an idea of the type of singing I encountered. It was incredibly lively and made you want to move your feet. As I understand, this is a standard in predominately black Harlem churches.

As the service was about to begin the choir members filed in and went to the second-story choir with the organ player (seen in the photo below). They remained an important part of the service for the next few hours.



This aspect was certainly different from what I was used to! There were multiple people preaching and their sermons were passionate to say the least. It’s easy to see how the audience could get wrapped up in the lively messages of the pastor and elders. Most of the sermons aligned with my personal Christian beliefs but there are two I want to point out:

  • During the pastor’s sermon he veered off into the realm of politics, specifically talking about Trump. I personally agreed with everything he said but it does bring up the question of how much (if at all) should religious houses bring politics in such an obvious way to their worship. A few of the parishioners, made their disapproval vocally known with some audible “Why’d you have to bring that man up here!?”
  • Then one of the elders stood up to proselytized about the reason for giving more money to the church. We all know houses of worships rely on donations to keep their doors open but her sermon felt really over the top and I certainly had disagreements with aspects of it. I specifically had issues with the part when she said “G-d always provides for your needs. Don’t worry about the financial aspects.” Now that just feels wrong to me but I understand where she was taking it.


Altar Call

Another part of the sermon that was new to me was the altar call in which the preacher made a passionate call for someone who wanted to convert to come up to “get saved by Jesus.” He kept calling, and calling and I was wondering what would happen if no one came up. And then of course 3 people did walk up to the altar and the whole congregation put their hands up to pray for their conversion. In my tradition, we are not so communal about conversion until someone makes the final step during the Easter Vigil. But maybe we should celebrate the decision to step up to start the journey!

Final Thoughts

I know Convent Avenue Baptist Church is one of hundreds (if not thousands) of Protestant Christian churches in America and it has made me want to research how different churches, both large and small, deal with issues of politics, donations, and conversions.


The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Religious Worlds institute.  For detailed information about the institute, see http://religiousworldsnyc.org



Jumma Service at Islamic Cultural Center of New York

The day after our exhausting Zhikr Service we went to the more tradition and mainstream Islamic Cultural Center of New York, which is actually the largest mosque in NYC.

Gendered Dress


For most of us women, gender roles and proper dress were foremost on our minds. We all wanted to be respectful but weren’t given a ton of tips before we arrived. :/  knew we had to be covered ankles to wrists and wear a head covering. So I decided to dress in my black maxi dress with a tan cardigan and a light grey and cream scarf for my hair. As we rushed out of the cab and I put up my head covering I could feel the eyes of strangers on the street on me. This was interesting as I was explaining how I felt to my small group of all guys.

Read more: Student Series! Women and Islam

Below is my video of trying to put on this head covering in the bathroom on our way out. I guess I did a good job because I got asked by a few of the ladies if I was Iranian…lol


Entering & Segregation


After we dropped off our shoes at the entrance of the mosque, the women were quickly ushered upstairs. Although we all knew we were going to be segregated it bothered me that I couldn’t see a thing! Instead of a clear balcony riling or little TVs, we had an opaque half-wall in front of us. This really prevented me from “getting into it.” And then considering I can’t understand a word of Arabic and we were not given a translation of the Qur’an portion read, I spent most of the time just watching the other ladies around me. There was a huge variety of dress style and level of modesty (although all of us has ankles to wrists and heads covered).



The one part that I could see and partially engage in was the Shahada which is the Islamic creed declaring belief in the oneness of God and the acceptance of Muhammad as God’s prophet. The moment that part started all the women got into strict lines sitting shoulder to shoulder and performed a series of kneeling, standing, bowing, and prostrating. It was beautifully orchestrated; kind of what I imagine it looks seeing a bunch of Catholics during the Eucharist if you are an outsider.

I performed some of the same body movements as the other women so I was not “out of sync” with the line but did not proclaim the Shahada: 1) because I don’t speak Arabic, 2) I feel that would be disrespectful, and 3) it’s not my religion’s creed.



After the service we had about an hour Q&A with the imam when he explained all aspects of the running of a mosque to us, from the sermon to donations, charity, and current media pressure. It was a great way to end the past two days learning about the practices of Islam in contemporary New York City.


The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Religious Worlds institute.  For detailed information about the institute, see http://religiousworldsnyc.org.

Jumma Service

Jewish Holidays: Foods of Rosh HaShanah

Again, I am not Jewish but I do seem to study Jewish rituals and traditions enough. I have never personally celebrated Rosh Hashanah, so all of the information in this post (& over photo) comes from Chabbad.orgMyJewishLearning.com.

FYI this is the “Weekly Deal” advertisement from my local grocery store, I felt it was quiet appropriate for this post!

Traditional Foods

Like most holidays, it is typical to have a big meals. Specifically for the Jewish New Year, two big meals are had on both nights of Rosh HaShanah. For 2017, the holiday falls on Wednesday evening, September, to Friday evening, September 22nd (tonight). The three most known food items associated with Rosh HaShanah are apples, honey, and a round loaf of challah. Therefore many of the other items eaten during these two days that also incorporate these items.

Read more at My Jewish Learning: Rosh Hashanah Traditional Foods and Recipe

Apples, Honey, & Challah

The apple symbolizes the Garden of Eden and the sweetness of Adam and Eve being in G-d’s presence without sin. Although the forbidden fruit of the garden is never mentioned, it has been kind of religious and art historical tradition to depict it as an apple-like fruit (this applies to Christian mythology also).

The sweetness of the fruit, along with the honey, also point towards the hope for a “sweet” year to come. The apples are traditionally dipped in honey and then eaten, but there are a ton of very delicious recipes I have stumbled upon with apple and honey cooked into it (like honey and apple cakes, yum!). Now that it is moving into fall I think I might have to try some of these out!

Challah is eaten at every Shabbat meal, however, this challah loaf is different because it is round. The shape symbolizes a couple of different things:

  • Cycle of the seasons throughout the years
  • A crown = the kingship of G-d
  • Repentance for self-improvement (sounds like New Year resolutions huh!?)

Sephardic Foods

Each of the foods on a Rosh HaShanah seder has a symbolic meaning associated with a wish or blessing for the new year. Each item’s significance is actually associated with a pun on that food’s name in Hebrew. Some of these food items are: pomegranate, date, string-bean, beet, pumpkin, leek, and fish head.

Best wishes for a sweet new year!



Experiencing a Sufi Zhikr Service


One of the most surprising and unusual site visits while on my Religious Worlds of New York City summer program was the visit to the Dergah al-Farah Sufi Mosque. I really do not have the words (or pictures) to describe this night but I will do my best!

First off, we had no idea we had even “arrived” at our location until our group leader announced that we were here. Everyone kept asking “Where?” and then he pointed to the most unassuming green storefront. I don’t know if they are low-key because of recent attacks or if that is just their normal operations. Anyways this door that you see below was like the rabbit-hole in Alice in Wonderland (the whole night felt like a LSD trip too!).


Unfortunately I do not have any pictures beyond this point; they asked us to preserve the sacredness of the space and the night and we all dutifully listened.

This was the first time that the Religious Worlds program was going to a Zhikr Service so no one was quiet sure what to expect. Our program leader told us it could be a long night but that we could pop out when needed. They actually ended the service short by a FEW HOURS for us and we still left at 10:30 pm. Woah.

Read more: Religious Worlds of New York Site Visits

The unsuspecting group not sure of what the evening would entail!

Introductions & Q&A

The fist part of the night was an informal question and answer session with a few of the mosque’s leaders and practitioners. I can’t remember the questions but it really helped me to understand Sufism’s place within Islam and some of the similarities and differences between their practices and other “more mainstream” Islamic rituals.

From where I was sitting, I had a good vantage point of the front door so I could watch people streaming in and going upstairs to prepare for the rest of the evening. The most striking thing to me were the type of people coming in. I totally had to check my stereotypes of what kind of New Yorker would spend their Thursday night gyrating at a Sufi Mosque. This one guy especially threw me off because he looked like a typical Key West fishing charter captain (with his Colombia fishing shirt to match). And not only was he there tonight but he had been coming to the mosque for 20 YEARS. Goes to show you never know what are on people’s hearts!

Tea Break

This is tea I had while in Rome, but reminded me of what we were served this night.

After about an hour, we took a break upstairs for some tea, dried dates and conversation. This was an opportunity to have more one-on-one time with some members and also talk to each other about surprises we had so far. The tea was sweet and strong, which was going to be necessary if I was going to survive the night. I was determined to stay as long as I could but a few others and I made a plan to leave by 11 pm at the latest if the service was still in full swing.

Chanting & Whirling


We were told that the next part of the night was going to be the “real service.” We were invited to participate as much as our personal religious consciousness would allow and thankfully they translated all the Arabic first so that we knew what we were saying. I decided to participate fully, except for this one chant about Muhammad as the ultimate prophet since I felt it wouldn’t really be right for me.

As we were chanting, I tried to mimic the body swaying of the female lead (who had a break taking voice and rhythm). Once I started to sway in tune it all started falling together into a trance-like state. I cannot even count the hours or minutes of anything we did that evening!

At one point two people, a man and a woman, got up and started to whirl (picture above for reference). The incredible thing (and I do not know if this was planned) was that he was in all white and she in all black. As they started to rotate around the center and then around each other, they blurred into a human ying-yang. It was an incredible view of opposing forces in tandem: light v. dark, male v. female, old v. young.

Once they started to whirl, the rest of the group got up to dance in a circle around them. We were chanting, jumping, swaying, and moving in this heart-beat union. And then it all suddenly stopped. I felt like I woke up from a dream. The leaders told us thank you for participating and we were on our way, back on the cold and noisy New York streets onto a world that had no idea what was behind that small green storefront.


The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Religious Worlds institute.  For detailed information about the institute, see http://religiousworldsnyc.org

Zhikr service

Catholic Culture: Female Veiling

So crazy enough I have decided to try to start veiling for Mass. It feels silly and important to me at the same time. This has been something on my mind for YEARS but I always pushed the thought aside as something for über churchy women, which I was not, and still am not. But ironically enough, veiling for a mosque visit during my Religious Worlds of New York Summer Program and researching Judaism this past year has reignited by interest in veiling for mass.

Read more: Student Series! Women and Islam

I’m still doing research on veiling in different faith traditions and looking into the Catholic theology of it. Even though I have already ordered my veil, I’m still nervous about wearing it to Mass and people thinking I’m faking being holier-than-thou, which I am totally not even close to or desire to be! LOL Currently I only see two women at my church wear them and I really don’t like that I will only be the third…sound silly but I’m probably going to go to another church than my “home” church the first time I wear it to test it out among strangers. 🙂

196This photo was taken while visiting the Islamic Cultural Center of New York for a Jumma service

This Q&A was adapted from the website I bought my veil at: Veils by Lilly.

Why do Catholic women wear chapel veils at Mass?

The veil is an external sign of the humbleness one is supposed to feel before G-d, who is present in the Blessed Sacrament (aka Eucharist). In Catholic theology, woman are the symbol of the Church, also known as the Bride of Christ, and the veil recalls a woman’s role in this relationship (think of the wedding veil).

For most of the Catholic church’s 2,000 year history women have worn some kind of head covering while in church. It only went out of fashion after Vatican II when it was no longer a requirement, but at no point did the church say it was not a good idea. Rev.  Bugnini  said: “The rule has not been changed. It is a matter of general discipline.” Basically speaking, women can now choose if they want to veil in church or not.


But men don’t have to wear veils?

1 Corinthians 11:7 “A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.”

Just like the idea of a woman wearing a veil goes back to the bridal imagery,  a man is seen as bridegroom in this senario. Since the Church is considered the “bride” of Christ, the women (as the “bride”) should cover her head as submission to the bridegroom, Christ, which is represented by men. The idea of submission makes any feminist cringe a little, me included.

Jewish side note: the yarmulke is a head covering worn by Jewish men at all times to show their humbleness towards G-d. I wonder why Christianity did away with that tradition but not female head coverings?

When to wear the veil?

You are supposed to wear the veil whenever you are in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament (aka Eucharist). So for most people, that would happen only at Mass. For example, I teach Catechism classes at my church but they take the Eucharist out for the class times so I don’t need to wear my veil then.

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This is the veil I bought, I figured it would blend in with my dark hair

Is the veil supposed to be a full head covering?

No. It can be a small little piece of fabric (no need for something like a Islamic hijab). The idea behind it is to be an external reminder of the religious nature of the Blessed Sacrament.

I asked Will to help me pick out a veil because I was really nervous of making this step. I wanted one that was dark in color but long enough that I didn’t have to worry about it falling off.




Student Series! Chartres Cathedral

This piece is all about the AP Art History cathedral of Chartres but funny enough it written by a Humanities student who never took Art History. I may or may not have gently guided my student in this direction. 🙂


Chartres Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres, is a Gothic cathedral located in Chartres, France, about 80 kilometers southwest of Paris. This is also a Gothic church with pointed arches, naves, and most significantly, flying buttresses. The cathedral is also significant for its many stained-glass windows and sculptures. Because most of its 12th-and 13th-century stained glass and sculpture survived the fire. Chartres Cathedral is one of the most completely surviving medieval churches in history. Chartres cathedral was also one of the first sites to be included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979. (See! I even get my students hooked on UNESCO lol)

Read more: Cologne: The city of the Rhine, the Cathedral, & the Three Kings


Chartres’ Architecture & Design

The oldest parts of the cathedral are its crypt and the west portal, also called the Royal Portal. Both are remnants of a Romanesque church that was mostly destroyed by the fire in 1194. The present cathedral was constructed on the foundations of that earlier church and consecrated in 1260.

In many ways, Chartres cathedral’s design resembles those of contemporary Gothic churches, especially Laon Cathedral, but it also displays significant innovations with its tall arches, narrow triforium, and huge clerestory. The flying buttresses enabled the builders to eliminate the tribune above the aisle.

Read more: Student Series! Stained Glass and Gargoyles


Stained Glass Windows 

By the beginning of the 13th century, the influence of the Gothic style on stained glass windows was increasing. The stained-glass windows transmit light through the glass rather than reflect it, so it transforms the natural life into a beautiful kaleidescope. Chartres nave is so dark because of the colored glass in the windows instead of clear glass. This would block some of the sun from entering the church giving the dark feel inside the church.

On September 5, 1194, a fire broke out in the church of Chartres. However, 152 out of the original 176 stained glass windows survived this fire. The best Chartres window that survived the fire was called the Notre Dame de la Belle Verriere, also called Our Lady of the Beautiful Window. The central section with a red background depicts the Virgin Mary enthroned with baby Jesus in her lap. This glass window is over 12 feet high and full of color and intricate details.

Read more: Pilgrimage in Art History

TEMPLATE_ Student Series!