Call this collection of potpourri "items from D.C": We just returned from a short visit there, on personal business, one imbued with a bit more intensity than usual, a mood more serious than any since 9/11. Maybe it was also the time of year or the point in our lives or what the nation is currently going through, but the nation's capital held a few lessons on how certain things and places evoke moods that sometimes seem like more than memories or moods, reaching into the realm of spirit.
There is, about certain places and items, a particular ambience.
For us it was most evident at the "Newseum" on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and White House -- a news museum with exhibits of various relics from events, trends, and people in our nation's recent history.
It's one of the most engaging museums (some rank it as one of the twenty-five best in the entire nation) but at many turns it evokes spooky feelings, most immediately at the exhibit of a large section of the actual Berlin Wall and a cement block watchtower from which snipers shot those who tried to escape the tyrannical Communists in East Germany. This is the wall that a Catholic president named John F. Kennedy once famously railed against, followed by Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, whose actions, seen and unseen, caused it to finally be dismantled in 1989, freeing the captives in the East and creating a united Germany.
You don't feel like staying very long in that watchtower, as the mind journeys to thoughts of how many may have been killed from it. There is the feeling of darkness, virtually palpable.
It is a real spiritual perception attendant also near the reassembled cabin that was once used in Montana by the "Unabomber" -- that poor deranged fellow who had attended Harvard and briefly taught at Berkeley before turning into a domestic terrorist. Demons roost where death is spawned.
His biographies recount his participating, during his Harvard years (the Unabomber), in psychological experiments that some believe were part of the CIA's "MKUltra" personality-molding, mind-control program. (The existence of this program is a well-known and documented fact and some say it was used to fashion assassins.) Anyway, it is the picture -- the interior of this cabin -- of darkness, actual and ethereal. Spirits attach to people and things.
The same is true near the actual SUV, propane tanks and all, confiscated by police when Muslim terrorists attempted to bomb Times Square and as one stands before actual letters and notes written by the Muslim terrorists who were behind both bombings (1993 and 2001) at the World Trade Center or upon peering at the encased matches used when the "shoe bomber" (also a Muslim terrorist) attempted to blow a plane out of the sky over the Atlantic (can you imagine being a passenger on that flight? Talk about eerie.). There are artifacts and displays pertaining to the radical Islamists who struck during the Boston Marathon or planned to attack Fort Dix. There is a display on the radical who became famous, after terrorizing Washington, as the "Beltway sniper." Most unsettling of all are the items from 9/11: twisted metal, the actual landing gear of one of the planes, firemen's equipment (including a uniform), and the distorted antenna that once sat atop the South Tower.
There's much more to it than that, but being just a week after the shootings in San Bernardino, terrorism was on the mind, and we were interested in the "coincidence" of riding the next morning -- after Mass at the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (which we have visited and spoken at before) -- in a taxi driven by an amiable fellow from Virginia who explained that he was a convert to Christianity from the Nation of Islam; he described the cult as "full of hatred." It was interesting to hear this former Muslim say that based on what he had experienced, during his own time in radical mosques, Muslims should for a period be stopped from migrating to the U.S. until more can be learned about the situation. He claims the Koran teaches killing. (The Catholic Church is taking a more open approach to the situation, and urges us to find harmony and brotherhood with Muslims, whenever possible). But anyway: an interesting, perspective. Are we importing those who seek to kill Christians? How many seek this? What percentage?
So far no clear answers.
The basilica itself: good vibes there, of course; a beautiful Mass. One is led to wonder in this church that has altars to various versions of the Madonna (according to apparitions around the world) if an exhibit is planned on the sole approved one in the United States (Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin, sanctioned in 2010)? There are Madonnas based on apparitions in Pontmain, France; Vailankannl, India; Antipolo, Philippines, Mariazell, Austria; Bistrica in Croatia; and Brezje, Slovenia -- but none dedicated to any revelation of Mary in the vast expanse of the United States, which has been around now as a nation for more than 225 years and is the country to which the basilica is oriented. We'll seek to find out if Our Lady of Good Help (or of America) might one day find residence there.
The cab driver (one of the most jocular you could find, once the topic turned from Islam) took us to the White House, where, despite our conservative views, we were escorted by a staffer on a private tour (just three of us) of the West Wing (the usual tour is of the East Wing). These tours are only on Saturdays and Sundays, and the security is as tight as you would expect -- clearance before we even got there and then identification and badges checked or issued at various checkpoints by Secret Service agents who are obviously very serious about what they do and not only check credentials (including of those who work there every day) but also ask for Social Security numbers, which they punch into a computer to bring up a photograph of you and make sure it matches.
Secret Service agents at every turn. Everywhere. And snipers on the roof. As one enters the West Wing, there are numerous photographs of the Pope's momentous visit there. It was a bit like following his footsteps.
This is everyone's house and no one's. It endures no matter what. It belongs to America. We were taken to the Roosevelt Room, the cabinet room, the White House "mess" (a small, beautiful, and exquisitely exclusive dining room), the press room (where the press secretary addressed reporters from the major news organizations, who sit in this small theatre-like setting in well-used leather seats), and the Oval Office itself; we stood just the three of us alone there peering in, wondering and taking in the historic trappings: smaller than one expects, and "cozier," the entire West Wing, despite whatever politics are going on: a surprisingly unassuming atmosphere and one that did not present the oppressive feeling one might expect (despite the spiritual blindness that obviously infects the atmosphere). The first Secret Service agent at the initial checkpoint had a Saint Michael patch on his uniform (which surprised us), and after he let us through, I gave him a verbal "high five," which he subtly acknowledged. Despite everything, we were told that Christian staffers feel no pressure against them, though you won't find an angel atop the Christmas Tree (or "holiday tree," or whatever they now call it) in the waiting room near the Oval Office. Did we consider bringing blessed salt? Of course. But anyone who has been near this place knows that every single move is watched and that sprinkling a white substance is not going to go over well. (We have had blessed salt sprinkled at the Capitol.)
It was a mission of prayer, and that's what was done: prayer throughout the tour, Hail Marys, invocations of the archangels, praise to Jesus, the pleading of His Blood, praying in the Spirit: without ceasing. And the prayer of Saint Michael. Headway is made when we pray instead of hate; when we pray instead of insulting -- but pray as warriors. One of us made a "Cross" with our feet on the carpet at the entrance, for example, of the Oval Office, as well as on doorways; one should do this whoever the President may be. Mission accomplished. Take it -- prayer -- behind the walls. Pray for the nation, at such a critical time. (Two great dangers may soon reside here.)
You know: was graciously given a private tour of West Wing Sunday (12/13/15); and prayed all the way; and, you know, when you pray no matter where sometimes a light comes.