Whatever it was. February 3. I arrived home about 8 pm. It was drizzling rain and cold. When I turned into the driveway, I thought there was a small child by my mailbox. I slowed down more than usual and saw it again from the corner of my eye. When I got out of the car, I saw nothing there. I stood at my walkway into the house and looked for a long time. Above the winter trees across the street, there was a moon lying round with a small glow of orange light in a cusp at the bottom. I may have imagined the sight. It might have had something to do with the pear tree cut down. Or it may have to do with the nearby willow oak planted in its stead.
Three Washington, DC, scenes. (1) Going to the Metro on the Mall, I head one child say, “It looks like a pencil.” A few minutes another said, “It’s a rocket!” The Washington Monument, yes. (2) As I was walking to the hotel through the George Washington University area, I heard a carillon at about 3:00 in the afternoon. A hymn? No, “If I Loved You” from Carousel. (3) Cold wind makes walking quicker. Walking into the wind, I felt my face go numb.
Marching. In the courtyard between the National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of American Art, the Federal City Brass Band plays music from Civil War times on instruments made and used in the early 1860’s. Four pre-school children stand at the stage area, move in rhythm, march. One is intense, with high steps and arm motions. Between pieces, one child looks intensely at the cornet player. “While We Were Marching Through Georgia,” “The Indiana Polka,” “Dixie,” “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” “Old Dog Trey,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The march goes on.
From the train. (1) South of DC, between Alexandria and Quantico, the train goes by much water. It is overcast, grey, rainy. The waters reflect the color of the sky. The woods are bare except for a small number of evergreen trees and vines. On some trees are tenacious leaves of oaks and beeches. (2) Crossing from Virginia into North Carolina, I see fallow fields and fields of winter wheat and stands of long-leaf pines. These mark the beautiful flat land of eastern North Carolina.
On the train. Three men in their 40’s sitting near one another meet for the first time. They talk loudly. They curse. They brag. They laugh. It doesn’t take stupid long to show.
Four Paintings I love. One reason for my journey to DC was to visit museums, primarily art museums. I found four paintings I did not know before. I love them. At the Museum of American Art: (1) “Dodges Ridge,” Andrew Wyeth, 1947. There is a cross of brown wood, weather-beaten to off-white in places. There is a fragment of a white shirt on the cross, which was used to frighten away birds from the blueberries on the ridge, the information by the painting said. The field is fallow, brown and grey. White, grey, off-white, and darker clouds mass over the ridge. Foreboding. (2) “Newspaper Boy,” Edward Mitchell Bannister, 1869. The newspaper boy wears a cap and jacket of blue-black mixed with brown. He wears a white shirt with a red cravat that lies flat on the shirt, descending from the knot at the throat. He has brown hair, a full mouth, and large brown eyes. His left hand is hooked in a pocket; he holds newspapers in his right hand. He is neat; his clothes are in good repair. His luminous eyes express weariness, sadness, and wordly knowledge. (3) “June,” John White Alexander, about 1911. A beautiful woman with a mass of brown hair stands before a window draped in white curtains of a light material. She wears white. She holds a glass vase with one light red flower. One hand holds the base; the other hand holds the neck. Her right arm is bare from the elbow down. Her neck and shoulders are bare. At her left is a table with another vase holding red and white flowers. She is dignified, beautiful. All is freshness. Is it an allegory? (4) “The Sharpshooter,” Winslow Homer, 1863 (In a special exhibition, “The Civil War and American Art”) A soldier is aiming a rifle. He sits hidden and balanced in a large pine tree, one leg resting across a branch, the other securely on the branch, knee bent and foot lodged in the place where the limb meets the trunk. He wears a dark shirt, lighter blue pants, a cap with a red patch at the center. One hand holds the trigger, the other a branch on which he balances the barrel of the rifle. His body is bent forward, with the rifle being a projection of his body. The balance of the body, the forward projection of the body and rifle make a dramatic, intense portrait. And the result will be sure death.
At the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. Pissarro and LaTour provide me other paintings to remember. In an exposition, “Small French Paintings”: (1) “The Fence,” Camille Pissarro, 1872. The fence marks a fallow garden plot next to a pond, perhaps a river, by a path that leads to a village. At the fence, a man leans over to talk with a woman in the garden plot. In the foregound is a large bare tree, the trunk leaning toward the left while bare limbs and branches spread across the scene. The colors are muted: a pale blue sky, narrow off-white clouds. The man wears a blue shirt and brown pants and the woman wears a black dress with a blue apron. In the village the roofs are orange and blue. News from a journey? Gossip from the village? The fence becomes a place not of separation but of communication. (2) Meeting M. Henri-Fantin LaTour (1836-1904). There are three still life paintings, one of grapes and carnations, another of three peaches on a white plate on a table of walnut wood, another of roses in different shades. All are realistic, beautiful. There are two portraits of women named Fitz-James. The Duchess is handsome in purple and blue; Mlle Fitz-James is beautiful, innocent in pink and white. There are two self-portraits. In the smaller, the artist is looking down in a serious expressions, with his shock of reddish brown hair emphasized. In the larger, more dramatic portrait he faces the viewer directly from muted light, with half of his face in shadow. Who is this artist who presents himself in such a handsome and dramatic way and who paints other people and objects so beautifully? I don’t know whether I would like to drink an absinthe with him, but I am impelled to know more about M. LaTour and his admirable work.
At Foundry United Methodist Church. My minister knew the church and promised good and varied music, and liberal cutting-edge theology. She was right. The sanctuary is domed, and on either wall are beautiful stained glass windows. The one on the left is the Nativity; the one on the right is the Resurrection (the empty tomb). We are worshiping, under the dome of the space between the two. I am greeted by one of the ministers, who is warm and engaging. Diversity of the congregation is reflected by the ministerial staff: an older white man, two younger African-American women, and a young Asian man. Unity of people is emphasized throughout the worship service. There is no organ prelude. Instead is a greeting time, where for five minutes, we greet fellow worshipers. The drill is to meet someone new and introduce them to another person. I exchanged greetings with a couple who are going to visit Charlotte soon, a woman of British ancestry, and a young gay couple. Before the sermon, we take a minute to pray that the person to our left benefits from the words, another time to pray for the person on our right, and a time to pray for ourselves. The music is varied, hymns from the eighteen and nineteenth centuries. (“O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”) The competent small chor sang a contemporary anthem and the Latin “O magnum mysterium.” The call to prayer was Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “Come, My Way, My Truth, My Light.”
Christians are charged by the Fouder of the faith to spread love. The sermon illustrated the idea. After the introduction to the sermon by the senior minister, an assistant minister introduced and interviewed a psychologist, who works with agencies giving aid to women. She talked about shame, what it is and how to deal with it. Some ideas from the sermon: there is no place in our lives where we are cut off from the love of God; nothing can separate us from the love of God; If someone tries to make you feel shame, ask yourself what is in it for them. Shame is political. You are being shamed because you threaten the person doing the shaming. Shame maintains injustice in our society. There is nothing wrong in being who you are: gay, Lesbian, bisexual, transgender, unemployed, wealthy. We all sin, and when we do, we are not to feel shame (text, John 8: 1-11). Instead we are to figure out what is lacking in our lives to cause the sin–and then do the sin no more. We are sinners, but we are not sinful. We are made in the image of God. There is no reason for shame. It was an interesting in inspirational service.
Thinking about the Church on a drizzling morning just before leaving town, I realize that theologically Christianity gives us but a glimpse into Truth, but it can be–at its best–an agent of love. This church is witness.
Thank you for reading. Feel free to leave a message. I hope your upcoming week is good.