Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Moment

I have previously written about this moment that took place in March of 1970; however, the moment has come back to me every Holy Week since.

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 huge (5 ft 5 5/8 in x 8 ft 9 1/8 in) oil 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.

Shalom (in blue) and Salaam (in green) meaning Peace
 in Hebrew and Arabic respectively.

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  1. I can see why that painting could have moved you so much, especially in light of what you were about to go through. I didn't even realize Dali had painted a version of the Last Supper - amazing painting.

    1. Yes, it is an amazing painting. And huge! It takes up an entire wall. I really believe I was "led" to that painting and moment since, even though I had visited the National Gallery many times, I had never even thought about investigating the lower level. Dali also painted at least one crucifixion painting that I truly love: "Christ of St. John of the Cross."