Thursday, April 09, 2009

Remembering Washington, D.C., March, 1970

National Gallery of Art
Washington, D.C.

I have already about this event that took place in March of 1970, but it all came back to me yesterday and, besides, I think it makes a good story for Maundy Thursday.

From December, 1969, to March, 1970,as a fairly new army officer, I was assigned to the Military District of Washington (D.C.) while attending the Defense Language Institute at Anacostia Naval Station. In early March I received orders to go to Europe. According to the plan, I understood that this assignment was a two-year hiatus prior to being assigned to Vietnam. My feelings were mixed: my gung ho-ism low; my spirituality nonexistent.

I spent the day before I left Washington in the National Gallery of Art. As I wandered from room to room, my attention wasn’t really on the beauty surrounding me. As it has been today, my mind was centered on war in general and specifically on the meaninglessness of the Vietnam War. For weeks the evening news had centered on the courts martial of Lieutenant William Calley and the My Lai Massacre. The incident—the murders—was not something a young army officer like me wanted to consider as he looked down the road to his own involvement in that war.

As I wandered through the rooms of the National Gallery, I questioned my faith in God and my willingness to lead men into combat and, perhaps, to take human lives. I became more and more disheartened.

I was about to leave the museum when I noticed a stairway to a lower level where I had never been. Like descending into the bowels of Hell, I started down the steps. On the lower level, I again wandered around, not really noticing the paintings or sculpture…until I turned and corner. There before me was a painting by Salvador Dali that almost covered the entire wall. I stared. I stood and gazed at this astounding painting until the guard told me the gallery was closing.

For me, in the lower level of the National Gallery, it was one of those mountain top experiences that come so rarely into our lives. Not one that immediately changed my life, but one that pointed me in a new direction, a new path. In those moments I truly began the journey of a seeker of shalom.

May you have a blessed and spiritual Maundy Thursday.


  1. What a wonderful work of art to encounter when in that state of mind!

  2. Art has such power to speak truth to the soul. I remember feeling incredibly moved standing in from of Van Gogh's The Potato Eaters in Amsterdam. to me, it seemed to show the lostness of humanity...although I do not know if that was what was intended!

    Happy Easter weekend to you!

  3. May the promise of Our Lord's resurrection be heard.

    Peace be with you, Nick.

  4. May peace be with us all Nick. Have a great Easter celebration. Christ has died, Christ has risen, as we will remember this weekend, and Christ will come again.

  5. Ειρηνη - peace

    I just read some of your recent posts. I am not around much of late andjust wanted to visit some of my old haunts:)

  6. Its a bit like my first beer in around the same year...

  7. A inspiring story, Nick. I have been deeply moved by certain art works.If mathematics is the language of the universe, art must be the language of the soul. I have several art blogs of different types. I can no longer travel to the art, so I bring it to me on a blog. In times of stress I retreat to contemplate those beautiful images. It calms and soothes me.

    Thank you foe visiting me today.
    Easter blessings on you.

  8. Re: hacker or whomever posting on Alex's blog. That happened to me on several of my blogs quite some time back. The intruder posted 15 or 20 advertisements for knock off watches and jewelry every day. Blogger was of absolutely no help at all. All I could do was spend time deleting all the aggravating posts. Finally the torment ceased.
    I am interested in how you managed to stop it. I hope it will not recur but if it does, it would be good to know how to stop it.