"Who is My Neighbor?"

This drawing was made for a painting that was never completed.  The subject was a man named Robert Couri, who lived in the Washington Heights Neighborhood and he was homeless. Robert would panhandle outside the grocery store, One Stop Smile Deli, located at 181street and Fort Washington Ave. I always remember him leaning against a tree. He seemed to know everyone in the neighborhood. He enjoyed talking to neighbors and my wife and I got to know him over time. We would buy Robert a sandwich, or give him a pair of socks. He had a sweet tooth and he was crazy for Goobers – the peanut butter and jam spread in a jar. I tried to get involved in helping him get off the streets and I tried to find social services for him. But I couldn’t move beyond a certain point in helping him.

From my conversations with Robert – or Bobbie, as he liked to be called, I learned that he was a demolition expert in Vietnam and saw a lot of gruesome stuff. He had PTSD. He put his life back to together got married and had a wife and a child and a home in New Jersey. He said he lost his family in a home fire, and completely broke down, became homeless. That was the story he told me.

I told Robert about the fact that I was a painter, and that I did portraits. I asked him if he would sit with me for a portrait and I told him I could pay him. He agreed, and one day came up to my studio and sat. I drew his portrait in pencil, as a plan for an eventual painting. After the session was finished he looked at the drawing and told me, ‘That’s me all right. Just sitting and waiting. I’ve spent my entire life waiting.” The date on the drawing is April 2001.

We never got the portrait finished. Robert’s health worsened, He didn’t look good. For some time, I didn’t see him in front of the deli and I wondered what he was up to. One day in 2004 I got a call from the city morgue asking me to identify a body. Robert had passed away, from a heart attack I was told. My number was in his wallet when he died.

There was no next of kin that I knew of. But I didn’t want to see Robert buried on Hart Island for anonymous bodies. I found out about a charitable burial site for the Jewish homeless and poor. I contacted them, they asked me “Was he Jewish?” and I told them, “I think so.” OK, I stretched the truth. I had no idea if Robert was Jewish or not. But they did claim his body and he was buried out in Long Island. My wife and I when to see his plot later when a headstone was installed. It was nice.

After I found out that Robert died, I thought about the many people in the neighborhood that knew Robert and I posted the news of his death on the tree that he leaned against. I placed candles at the foot of the tree. I thought that there might be a way for people to come together and remember him. I left my phone number on the sign for anyone who wanted to contact me to organize the memorial. I did get a call form about four people,

As a group, we approached the Marble Collegiate Church located across the street from the deli. We approached the head pastor and spoke to him about our plans to give Robert a memorial. He knew of Robert, and agreed to donate the use of the church space. Our committee of four formed a memorial service, a program, and posted signs.

On the evening of the memorial I would say we had about sixty people in attendance. We had readings, and songs, and people got up to share a favorite story of Robert. The drawing was placed in the front and people placed flowers next to it. We sang “Whatsoever you do, to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.” There was a jar of Goobers there too.

Wow, so many people came to his memorial. I had no idea so many cared for him. But Robert had a sweet side to his personality that was endearing. He really enjoyed greeting people and exchanging pleasantries with them on a warm summer evening; I guess if your homeless that’s about as good as it gets. He touched people’s lives.

I didn’t know I would become so involved in Robert’s life but I can say that Spirit moved me to ensure that his burial was respectful and that he was remembered. The drawing is probably the only tangible record of Robert’s image left in the world. And I have my story which I share with you.

 I called him Bobbie, and he called me Bernie. Not many people call me Bernie, but he could.


Bernard Winter

About the Psalm Series


In this series I am not trying to illustrate the text of the psalms, as such, but to reach a place in an inner landscape, a state of being.  The artwork in the end is the accumulated work upon a meditation upon a specific text and I hope that the meaning of the text will be felt when viewing the art work.  My desire to create visual meditations on the psalms springs from the desire to make the inner life visible.   The psalms are the most personal pages of the Bible, and wrestle with our most fundamental emotions – anger, fear, loneliness, grief, calm acceptance, praise, and joy. They speak of our fundamental needs - ‘help me’ – ‘I need you’ – to be found in a desire for a relationship with the Divine. The psalm’s structure of call and response, and of repetition rather than rhyme, has a visual equivalent in patterning. The verses, which were meant to be sung to musical accompaniment, read like lyrics, poems, love letters – and sometimes like a desperately scribbled note thrown in to a bottle and dropped into the ocean.  Yet by the end of each psalm, the psalmist has received assurance that his plea has been heard, and the order of the universe is upheld.

I gave myself many permissions in creating each piece. First, I did not feel compelled to stick with one translation, but freely mixed from several. These include The New International Version of the Bible, The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, and the translations from Robert Alter’s The Book of Psalms. As well, I rarely included the entire text of the psalms in the piece; part of this decision had to do with saving space, and part of it came from the realization that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’  - that the images in the piece not only included the descriptions in words, but an interpretation of the words through the image. In short, I saw no need to repeat myself. Finally, I gave myself permission to include images that were not described or alluded to in the text of the psalms, but rather came from associations that I had made in meditating upon the psalms. In all my decisions to consolidate the text of the psalms, or to add imagery to the piece, I was guided by the desire to illuminate what I perceived to be their inner meanings. Of course, such personal decisions mean that these pieces are only my own interpretation and that others may see and feel something quite different in their own reading.

A major theme – that of inner dichotomies within the psalms - gave me a lens by which the view the entirety of the psalms. For the psalms involve struggle – inner and external struggles – which the psalmist seeks to resolve through appeal to the grace and interaction of God. Frequently, the psalmist physicalizes inner struggles of doubts and fears as external threats, such as roaring lions, drowning, being stuck in a pit, or being surrounded by taunting enemies. In summary, the dialectic struggles I found in these pieces are:  Psalm 1, being grounded in God’s teaching, or becoming dissipated in own one’s willfulness; Psalm 93, that of God’s ordering the world versus chaos; Psalm 19, the sense God’s creation as movement throughout the world versus the immutability and changeless nature of God’s law, and Psalm 42, where the psalmist experiences a disconnect from his Source and the desire to reconnect to it.

Our Quaker Faith and Practice invites us to read the Bible in the light of our own experience: there are no pat answers. As well, the challenge of “What canst thou say?” issued by George Fox implies a freedom of inquiry but equally a responsibility for us to actually say and do something in answer to our concerns.  As a Quaker artist, I need to take these challenges seriously, and literally.  For me, I can say that it was only through the physical process of creating each psalm as a visual piece, did I come to fully experience their individual messages.  For while I began many psalms with an image that came to me in meditation, it is the process of working with materials, running up against difficulties, making selections in color and word placement, etc., that the psalm did open for me, and new associations came in.  That kind of process takes time, and I was given the gift of structured time, with all of my needs met, at Pendle Hill during this residency.  For that I am grateful.

Several books at the Pendle Hill library gave me valuable insights to the psalms and I would like to acknowledge them here.

The New Interpreter’s Bible, A commentary in 12 Volumes; volume IV

 Abingdon Press

The Quaker Bible Reader Edited by Paul Buckley/ Stephen Angell Earlham Press

The Book of Psalms translations by Robert Alter, Norton Press

Spirituality of the Psalms by Walter Bruggermann, Fortress Press


Finally, my thanks to my wife and partner Sandra Winter, who encouraged to take this opportunity at Pendle Hill - for her love and faith in me; to Doug Gwyn, for our lunch time conversations;  John Margerum, for his on-point technical advice and loan of his power tools;  Jesse White, for her encouragement and offering of possibilities;  Jen Karsten, for her listening ear and support;  and indeed everyone at Pendle Hill who made me feel so welcome. 

Psalm 42 and Reflections on the Psalm

Psalm 42


As longs the deer for cooling streams,

My soul longs for you, O God.

My whole being thirsts for God,

For the living God.

When shall I come and see the presence of God?

My tears become my bread day and night

As men taunt me all day long,

“Where is your God?”


These things I remember as I pour out my heart:

when I would step in the procession,

when I would march to the house of God

with shouts of joy and thanksgiving

among the festive crowd.


Why are you so downcast my soul?

Why so disturbed within me?

Put your hope in God;

For yet I will offer praise

For God’s rescue.


My soul is downcast within me;

Therefore I will remember you

From the land of Jordan

From the heights of Mount Hermon and Mount Mizar.



Deep unto deep calls out

In the roar of your waterfalls

All your waves and breakers have swept over me.


By day the Lord ordains kindness

And at night the Lord’s song is with me

A prayer to the God of my life.


I would say to God, my rock,

“Why have you forgotten me?”

Why in gloom do I go, hard pressed by my foe?

With murder in my bones

My enemies revile me

My enemies taunt me all day long,

“Where is your God?”


Why are you so downcast my soul?

Why so disturbed within me?

Put your hope in God;

For yet I will offer praise

For God’s rescue

For my help and my God.



This psalm opens the second book of psalms. Its first line “As longs the deer for cooling streams, so does my soul long for you, Oh God” is one of the most famous lines of all the psalms. Many people know only the first line, and assume that the overall tone of the psalm is comforting and peaceful. If you were to Google this psalm, the images returned always show a deer drinking by a pool of abundant water.

However, I believe that such images misrepresent the deeper messages of the psalm. The psalmist clearly wants to portray not abundance, but lack; deprivation rather than generosity. It becomes clear that the psalmist has lost way and his faith; he has become disconnected from his Source that sustains him. For as a deer needs water for survival, the psalmist cries out for a communion with God that has been lost. Bereft of this communion, the psalmist is reduced to relying on memories of happier times when he marched in joyous procession to the temple to worship. The grief of his situation is palpable; “My tears become my bread” is a striking example of an emotional state made physical in the psalms. As well, the men who taunt him daily with the question ‘Where is your God?” I believe are more examples of an emotional state – one’s own inner doubts and anxieties – made physical and externalized.

The psalm maintains a constant inner monologue: “Why are you so downcast, my soul?” In response to its own questions, the psalm gives reassurances: “Put your hope in God, for yet I will praise you, for my rescue.” Although this psalm speaks to a spiritually ‘dry’ time, this psalm ends with faith in the restorative powers of Divine Order.

In creating this psalm as an image, I was led by one association after another, one image becoming another. But I had no mental image by which to begin. I did want to convey the sense of becoming lost in the woods, of having lost one’s way. I was reminded of the opening lines of Dante:


MIDWAY upon the journey of our life  

I found myself within a forest dark,

For the straightforward pathway had been lost.


Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say

What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,

Which in the very thought renews the fear.


So bitter is it, death is little more;

But of the good to treat, which there I found,

Speak will I of the other things I saw there.


I felt that there was a real kinship between the psalm and the opening of Dante’s Inferno. It is hard for the deer to find the cooling stream, so I thought I would paint a tangled and jungle like forest scene like the one Dante encountered. I began laying out the stream, and realized I wanted to change its direction, and then again, and again. The stream then became a braided stream. I liked that image, but didn’t know how to proceed. I closed my eyes to meditate upon the idea/image of a stream – and when I did, a most amazing thing happened that opened a way for me. When my eyes closed, I saw an afterimage, which I realized to be the capillaries of my eyeball.  Well, here was a stream, a braided stream inside me. I felt then that the images I might be creating were about an inner search rather than an outward journey. The deer in the forest, and Dante’s walk in the woods were metaphors for this going within to reconnect with one’s Source. The psalmist’s internal monologue confirmed this approach for me. I thought then about how the capillaries were bringing sustenance to every cell of my body. In respond to this thought I began adding cell structures around the capillaries. For the anxious psalmist who is desperately seeking God, the answer he seeks is inside of him, and all of us.  We are not chaos, although our feelings may make us believe we are in chaos. No, down to the cellar level we are miracles of creation, ‘fearfully and wonderfully made.’ (Psalm 139) There is a purposefulness built within us, for good orderly direction, for flow in the stream of life. While painting, I settled upon the title “The Inner Life.” This image could be a that of a human, or of a plant, or even a forest, taken down to the cellular level of being.  New associations emerged for me; that of The Inner Light, and The Seed – both Quaker terms for the Divine Source that is planted within us by God. My stream terminates in an image which combines both the Light and the Seed, although I now also see the stream flowing out from the Seed. Finally, one more association emerged as I was reminded of the story in the Gospel of John of the Samaritan women at the well. Jesus asks her for a drink and they begin to talk; Jesus informs the women that he has ‘Living Water’ and that she would never thirst again if she drank from this source.  It has amazed me to discover how many themes of the psalms become enacted as a Gospel story.

While painting the panels I took walks along the wood chip trail at Pendle Hill, gathering images and sounds. As well, I gathered leaves, branches, stones and an occasional animal, a dead garden snake, a cicada, an insect exoskeleton. I was still considering painting or collaging a forest scene onto the panels of “Inner life” when I laid the branches on top of it. Looking at the overlaid branches, I realized that here was psalm 42; to be among the branches, woven into them and tangled among them somehow. The branches were obscuring the stream underneath, and that obfuscation echoed the very doubts and anxieties that the psalmist gave voice to. The art piece then became two co-existing layers, a layer of questions and doubts, and an answer which is beyond words.

I also decided that the words needed to become physical and three dimensional, as the leaves were; small wooden letters were perfect for this. I needed to condense the psalm once again, freely choosing between three different translations. For example, I chose the word ‘bread’ in Robert Alter’s translation as I found it to be so much more concrete than ‘food’ used in the New International Version. I color coded the words so that the verses, arranged in two columns, would be read moving down the panel, rather than across. The two columns at the end of the panels come together into a third color, here is the resolution of the psalm. If the two columns were read across, they would form a complete thought – “for yet I will offer praise” – “a prayer to my God for my rescue.”

Having worked out the words and arrangement of the verses, I still wanted to add collage. I found an art book titled “A Certain Grace” by the photographer Sebastiao Salgado. I feel deeply indebted to him, as an artist and human being. He photographed the drought in Ethiopia in the 1990’s and the gold mine pits of Colombia. The desperation of the circumstances of these people, the sadness and grief in their faces and in their every gesture, their physical suffering, speaks to the spiritual grief expressed by psalmist. So their faces give a human face to the words, framed by the leaves, as they wander in the woods, looking for answers to troubling questions.





Psalm 93 and Reflections on the Psalm

Psalm 93


The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty;

The Lord is robed in majesty

And is armed with strength.

The world is firmly established;

It cannot be moved.

Your throne was established from old;

You are everlasting.

The seas have lifted up, O Lord,

The seas have lifted up their voice;

The seas have lifted up their pounding waves.

Mightier then the thunder of the great waters,

Mightier than the breakers of the sea

 The Lord on high is mighty.

Your statutes stand firm; holiness adorns your house

 For endless days, O Lord.







Psalm 93 is a called one of the enthronement psalms, that is, is deals specifically with the concept of God as sovereign over the entire universe. The psalm speaks to God first as praise – “the Lord is robed in majesty” followed by an appeal “the seas have lifted up their voice, O Lord.” At the end of the psalm, assurance in God’s dominion is restated.

Psalm 93 looks back to the Book of Job and forward to the Gospels. It addresses the question that Job put to God, as to why is there suffering, disasters, catastrophes and death. God’s answer to Job is simply: God reigns.  God further asks Job “Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb. . When I said this far you may come and no farther, here is where your proud waves halt?”

I had the insight in painting this psalm how frequently the psalms elevate the readers’ viewpoint of personal concerns, worries and fears to seeing from God’s point of view. If one were in a hurricane or tempest, then one would experience only chaos. But seen from above, the hurricane’s energy is resolved into an awesome, but orderly, spiral of energy that has direction and even its own centeredness.  I thought often how this psalm prefigures the Gospel story when the apostles awaken Jesus asleep in the fishing boat. The apostles are terrified at a human level but Jesus sees the situation from the Divine, and he calms the waters. 

My vision of the psalm was that of two energies – a driving chaotic force, and a majestic, stabilizing force would be interacting. The image of a hurricane and the Latin cross presented themselves. Specifically, I thought of the Latin cross as its outstretched arms are capped with ‘T’s and that shape, I felt, could contain the energies of the hurricane. In painting the interaction of the two, however, I discovered that the two energies did more than contest with each other for dominance. I discovered that the cross and the hurricane interacted by embracing one another.

As this psalm is about God’s majesty I conceived of the image on a big scale, and could even have done it bigger. I made several choices in condensing the text, notably, changing the third person ‘the Lord’ at the beginning of the psalm to ‘you O Lord’ so it was consistent. As well, centering the text in the two columns seemed to be important. Finally, repainting the woodblock stamped letters in a reddish copper color brought out the text so it stood with the burnt orange of the cross shape.


Psalm 19 and Reflections on the Psalm

Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God;

The skies proclaim the work of God’s hands.

Day to day they pour forth speech;

Night to night they declare knowledge.

There is no speech nor are there words;

Their voice is not heard;

yet their voice goes out through to all the earth

and their words to the end of the world.


In the heavens God has set a tent for the sun,

Which comes out like a bridegroom from his canopy,

and exults like a warrior running his course.

It rises from one end of the heavens,

and makes its circuit to the other;

for Nothing is hidden from its heat.



Restoring to life.


ARE STEADFAST, Making the fool wise.

THE LORD’S PRECEPTS ARE UPRIGHT, Delighting the heart.



Giving light to the eyes.

THE FEAR OF THE LORD IS PURE, Enduring forever.

THE LORD’S JUDGMENTS ARE TRUTH, All of them are just.


They are more precious than gold,

 than much pure gold;

and sweeter than honey from the comb.


By this teaching is the Lord’s servant warned;

Keeping them is my great reward. 

Keep your servant from willful error,

may they not rule over me,

that I may be blameless

of great transgressions.


May the words of my mouth

And the meditations of my heart

Be acceptable to you,

O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.



This psalm belongs to series of ‘royal’ psalms as it asserts God’s sovereignty across the universe.  It does this in two ways, through the description of the heavens which proclaim God’s creation, and in extolling the torah, which assures God’s wisdom and justice. The first part of the psalm, the creation part, is filled with movement. We are given a vast sense of scale in the words “their voice goes out through to all the earth and their words to the end of the world.” The voices that proclaim are silent however; or perhaps unknown to humans but addressed to other living creatures and to the angels. Certainly, stepping out at dawn on the way to Main House in Pendle Hill I sensed being surrounded by voices – of crickets, birds, and peeping frogs. Aren’t they singing too of God’s creation? Looking up at the sky, seeing pink wisps of clouds – could they be the traces of divine fingertips? The opening of the psalm, is, for the poet and writer C.S. Lewis, “one of the greatest lyrics in the world.” (Reflections on the Psalms, page 63)

The sense of movement continues in the description of the sun, as the psalmist likens the sun to a bridegroom emerging from his tent, and an athlete running his course. The sense of movement is that of an ellipse, of a circular track, which befits the arc of the sun moving across the heavens.

Suddenly, the psalm switches gears; the psalm becomes very static and regular in rhythm. (Robert Alter speculates whether this psalm was created as a hybrid between two different psalms, perhaps as a copyist’s error.)  The psalmist now extolls the virtues of studying the torah and the jewels within for those who commit themselves to study and obedience. The teachings, decrees, precepts, commands and judgments of the Lord prompt in us a proper fear of the almighty. But for those who study the word of God through the torah, the value is beyond gold and sweeter than honey.

In reading this psalm, I found that the conclusion makes a unification of these two very different set of verses. The final part brings circular movement to the immutable laws of God. The lines “By this teaching is the Lord’s servant warned; keeping them is my great reward” imply a downward movement from heaven to earth. The next stanza, “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable to you. O Lord” imply upward movement to heaven. Therefore the circuit of the sun is replicated in our own cycle of daily prayer.

I organized the painting to express this contrast of movement and stability. In my meditations, I saw a sun on a pedestal. The sun was dawning, its rays traveled across the heavens proclaiming the word of God. The pedestal reminded me of the ancient stele on which the kings of Babylon and Sumer had their laws carved into stone. I surrounded the pedestal with stones to form a cairn. Around the image of the sun and the stele was a banner, on which the wisdom of the torah was inscribed. I used the book of Esther again, as I did in Psalm 1. Over this I stamped the conclusion of the psalm, descending from the top of the image and then heading back up to the top. The color changes in the banner were meant to imply moving from day to night, so that movement is circulating along with the circular movement of the verses. Color wise, I imagined the entire psalm to be fairly dark, as the I wanted to capture the sense of the light of dawn just coming into dominance. There is a kind of ‘glow in the dark’ luminosity in this painting which I think also unites the two halves of the psalm.

One more association I made while I was creating this psalm: again, I found a reference in the Gospels to this psalm. Jesus in the Gospels refers to himself as ‘the bridegroom’ which was a reference that I didn’t understand, because I didn’t know this psalm yet.  Now I believe that Jesus was referring to this psalm, for as the sun is likened to the bridegroom emerging from his tent, Jesus, like the sun has come into the world as the Light of the world.

Psalm 1 and Reflections of the Psalm


























Psalm 1 is the introduction, the gateway to all the other psalms. The psalm describes what it means to be truly happy and fulfilled. The source of true happiness – reliance upon the God’s direction, is the major theme of all the psalms that follow.

This psalm makes a sharp distinction between two paths in life. There are the blessings and rewards of following God’s teachings – that one will like a tree planted by streams of water – OR – the choice of being willful (wicked), disregarding God’s teaching and become rootless, dissipated and eventually lost.

The Hebrew word ‘tora’ in the psalm means ‘instruction’ or ‘teaching.’  Psalm 1 is more than simply following legalisms, as system of rewards and punishments. It is a call to be open to hearing, and receiving God’s voice and promptings on a deep and personal level. When we base our decisions, our thoughts and our attitudes on the Inner Teacher’s promptings, we are grounded as the tree is. Persons open to God’s instructions are deeply rooted in an ever-renewing source, symbolized as water. The tree – symbolizing flourishing and productivity is also a source of nourishment as it produces fruit.

I gave the tree a double symbolic meaning by having the leaves become sources of wisdom – in this case, I photocopied the Book of Esther in Hebrew, to shape into leaves. (I received permission from a rabbi that I could use the text in collage, as I was aware that cutting the name of God would be sacrilegious. However the Book of Esther does not contain the name of God, and the idea was given approval.) The tree is now the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and study of the Torah becomes the acceptable form of ‘eating’ from the tree of knowledge. In the second panel of the wicked, these leaves from the tree are scattered – their wisdom dissipated and ignored.


Psalm 1 does not mention a rainbow. However, as the entrance to all of the other psalms, I was thinking of the image of a doorway, or an arch, for the psalm. Arriving at Pendle Hill on July 1st, that afternoon there was a thunder shower, followed by clearing. I saw a rainbow in the sky and took that as a sign I needed to include it in the Psalm. God’s visual promise of mercy and hope in heaven comes down to earth as rain to feed the living waters of the stream.

Choosing a translation of the psalm as my primary source was challenging. Most translations of the original Hebrew read “Happy (or blessed) is he. . .” Historically, as men only were allowed to study Torah, this is an accurate translation but it felt exclusive. I found in the Newly Revised Standard Version (NRSV) a version with the plural ‘they’ which solved my dilemma. As there was a simile between the individual and the flourishing tree, now that the pronoun was pluralized it gave me the idea of situating the tree within an orchard, so it is one of many.

In comparison to the rootedness of the first panel, the second panel of the wicked has no specific orientation by which it could be displayed. It is rootless, spinning around. Additionally, the second panel of the wicked is not a rectangle, rather, it is in shards and pieces of a rectangle trying to fit itself back together.  Regarding the disparity of the sizes of the two panels, the majority of the psalm is given to the tree imagery (three lines) while the image of the chaff is given one line. So the unequal weight placed on the first image is adhered to in visual scale.

Finally, the question that came up for me – who are the wicked?  - had to be answered. In preparing for this work I had gathered images of ‘wickedness’ – Nazi soldiers, scowling businessmen, and KKK hooded riders.  But in the end I realized I couldn’t be the judge of who was wicked or righteous. I was incredibly fortunate to find images of figure sculptures whose sad anonymity and dead postures spoke to me of alienation and lost-ness.

Anyway, by Biblical standards of the Ten Commandments I’ve been wicked. I’ve fornicated, I’ve lied, I’ve blasphemed. As a human being, I straddle both panels, for I have a desire to listen to God’s teachings and I can be incredibly willful.  I am not alone in this, of course. We seem to be constantly presented with the choice of being God centered, or self-centered, in our actions and intentions. Psalm 1 calls to us to make a decision, offers us a promise and delivers a warning.