February 28, 2011

24 Hours in Pittsburgh, PA

At the fine hour of 10 in the morning, I clambered into the old jalopy and headed north by northeast towards my destination of Pittsburgh and thus breaking my otherwise ironclad rule never to travel north of I-270 in the winter. Highway signs noted the way to Wheeling, WV which put me in mind of the old Glen Campbell song, "By the Time I Get to Wheeling". Or something like that. Somehow Wheeling doesn't sound as romantic as Phoenix, but maybe Phoenix didn't at the time the song came out.

The sun smiled, so I opened the sun roof and despite the 40 degree temps felt comfortable. The anticipation was keen enough that I delayed any and all entertainment for the first hour. Just silence and sun and the rustle of the wind above my head.

Arriving just after 2, I parked and walked away from the destination, the Carnegie art museum, without knowing it. My sense of direction was befuddled but I half-wanted to walk anyway, to see some of the ‘burgh. The University of Pittsburgh dominated the scenery, which lends it a bit of a fake tableau. Colleges are a bit too faux, too much artificial constructs. Transients (in the form of 4 and 5-year and 6-year students) predominate, and they are too homogeneous in terms of age and cultural interests.

Finally I arrived at the Carnegie museum complex and soon found myself diving into beautiful and meaningful art. I’d begun in the European middle ages, when art was art and knights were knights. The slow soaking in the beauty made the hours slide. I was taken by a transplanted Russian artist who painted a wondrous Eastern icon of the Theotokos. A wall quote says that we should look at the art of Russia to know its soul. Interestingly, it seems he was openly homosexual, which led me to wonder how he dealt with that in relation to his devout Russian Orthodox faith.

The modern art section, or anti-art section, featured one eye-catching tableau: a '70s-era television that was loop-playing a two-second scene from the old television show "The Secrets of Isis". In it, the actor playing Isis twirled around and then FLASH!. No Isis, just the flash and then the return to the twirling pre-Isis character.

* * *

How civilized to be able to walk out the front door, two blocks, and be in Heaven on earth, also known as the Mass? And St. Paul's Cathedral reminded me of the perfections awaiting us in heaven since the singer was extraordinary, the organ magnificent, the architecture wondrous and the homilist excellent.

Two artworks that especially hit me yesterday showed God embracing man. In one case, it was a sculpture of the Prodigal Son, the other a statue of the hand of God doing the embrace. And there seemed a personal touch in the lyrics to the song, "God is Our Strength", about God "holding" us.

Then too the homily struck a chord, which was based on the gospel message of Jesus not to worry. And I thought about how that is necessary if anyone is going to GIVE anything. If we worry, we will hold on to things. The only thing that lasts = love. Of course what I tend to worry about is my status with God, which isn't money but isn't exactly helpful either. But St. Paul, in the second reading, says he doesn't even judge himself, so why judge? "There must be no passing of premature judgment. Leave that until the Lord comes; he will light up all that is hidden in the dark and reveal the secret intentions of men’s hearts, and then everyone will receive praise from God." How positive St. Paul is in that last clause! Funny that on universalis.com the rendering more shadowed, "Then will be the time for each one to have whatever praise he deserves, from God." I suspect New American Bible funkiness, but God bless them since the Church exists to give us hope. [Update: turns out the NRSV puts it positively, so can't blame it on the NAB felt-banner crew.]

The sermon dealt with how we must begin with the true premise that everything we have belongs to God, including our very selves. Hence I don't have to worry, not only about financial stability in the future or what I'm going to wear or what I'm going to eat but the more seemingly likely things, like whether I will suffer greatly in the end. Because our minds are not our own! Our bodies are not our own! It is all passing. "This too shall pass." How freeing that is, and that's exactly what Jesus came for. To give us freedom, not guilt or insecurity.

After Mass I walked around the church and marinated in the stained glass windows awhile. I then did a mini-church tour, taking in a nearby Lutheran church and what looked to be a non-denominational church called "Church of the Ascension". I took a picture because never have I seen a more dreary, black, Victorian church than that of Ascension church. I almost laughed at the juxtaposition, thinking it might better be called, "Church of the Cross".

I also entered the imposing St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, where at the door I was greeted with questioning glances and polite hellos. I was underdressed, natch, but boldly went in and noted the frank scent of incense. The priest was just getting started, the altar open for Sunday business. It was a rather plain church compared to our Byzantine one, and the cantors were chanting what I assume to be Greek. Isn't it funny, I thought, how so many churches have this need to use a set-apart (original meaning of 'holy') tongue? American Jews go with Hebrew, Roman Catholicism has its Latin and my Byzantine church does its Church Slavonic.

Soon after I headed home listening to the classical music stations before the rest of NBA's David Stern on the Bill Simmons show. Then the terribly sad Christopher Hitchens interview with Brian Lamb. Hitchens was witty as ever, his voice hoarse. "We have little time left," said Lamb at the end, and Hitchens jokingly said, "don't say that!" Lamb ended the interview on the perfect note by saying that he hopes to interview him again in a couple years.

No comments: