Looking for Small Private Places of Worship
Photographs by Donna DeMari
Foreword by Thomas Moore
Discovering private spiritual spaces in America.
"[This] book represents the best way of doing theology—keeping it relentlessly human and thoroughly concrete.... The ultimate effect of a worthy spiritual life would be beautiful lives in a beautiful world. This beautiful book is an excellent start." —from the Foreword by Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul
"In the world of the holy personal, ordinary people enter the mysteries of the microcosm. One of the charms of the private chapel is its small scale, which can transport one back to ‘spiritual childhood.’ In fact, the smaller the space, the more the imagination is engaged. The idea for this book came unexpectedly, almost like being surprised by love when you are not seeking it out. As with love, I had to follow, see where this pilgrimage would take me, moving from one small sanctuary to the next, from one radiant story onward, connecting me to these small bird nests of worship and to the wonderful spirited people who had built them." —from the Introduction
Holy Personal: Looking for Small Private Places of Worship begins with the design and construction of the author’s own private chapel, activities that compelled her to set forth on a pilgrimage to 28 other private places of worship—temples, chapels, stupas, and shrines. Her text delves into the spiritual paths that lead people to create private places of worship. Donna DeMari’s luminous photographs reveal the personal and private nature of these unique places.
Holy Personal documents the American landscape as well as the American soul. In New England, Chester visits a root cellar chapel and one converted from a garage. She discovers an American stavkirke in Door County, Wisconsin, a Mother Goddess altar in San Francisco, and a straw bale milagro chapel in Arizona. The author describes the origins of a chapel made from tires in Alabama and one fashioned from wine casks in California. All these creations, whether formed out of found or traditional building materials, invite Chester to pose many questions. What spiritual path leads someone to create a private place of worship? Does such a space conflict with or supplement worship in a more public sense? How might a priest, rabbi, or minister react to a place of worship that is so individual? Does a private space nurture a marriage at a deeper level? Why do artists so often feel moved to explore their spirituality?
Holy Personal, says Chester, "furthers the idea of honoring our differences, while being mindful of our oneness.... [It] bears witness to a yearning for religious privacy, a deep desire to create for oneself a holy chamber, a place where creative expression joins hands with devotion."
Laura Chester has been writing, editing, and publishing poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for over 25 years. Her most recent books include a new edition of Lupus Novice, an account of her personal struggle and breakthrough with the autoimmune disease S.L.E.; a short story collection, Bitches Ride Alone; and a novel, The Story of the Lake. She has edited several important anthologies: Deep Down, Cradle & All, and The Unmade Bed.
Donna DeMari was the first and only woman photographer to shoot for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, in both 1994 and 1995. For 14 years she lived between Paris, Milan, and London, working as a fashion photographer. Her most recent exhibition of photographs, "Horse Show," was at the SAS Gallery. She is currently working on a book of horse photographs, Flying Mane.