National Cathedral's Rosa Parks Sculpture Brings Easter Epiphany

Congress was out of town on Easter, which helped to clear the partisan air ahead of the debt ceiling debate.

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On a long-awaited April 24th, the spring sun lit up the sky, cathedral bells pealed across city blocks, and a sense of renewal rose on Easter Sunday in Washington. You don't have to be a believer to sense these things, particularly after a dark, gloomy Good Friday.

Congress was out of town, which helped to clear the air. But it was too bad for congressional lawmakers, at each other's throats in partisan strife lately, to miss a gem of a day like this. For once, a refreshing peace invaded the walls of the city by the Potomac River 150 years after the Civil War broke out. Today, the ranks in the Capitol rarely see their ideological foes outside its marble halls. The divide they face cannot long stand before it bends or breaks over the nation's debt ceiling. The full faith and credit of the United States government is on the line. Don't let that go down without a fight, Democrats, and don't give away the store, either. Now's not the time to be faint of heart, like the Union Gen. George McClellan. [Read the U.S. News debate: Should Congress raise the national debt limit?]

Close to home on Massachusetts Avenue, the Northwest street, I came across a contrast that colored Easter all the more. The British embassy compound has a sturdy statue of Winston Churchill standing by a bed of red tulips that seem to be dancing on point. Across the avenue is a curving memorial fountain honoring Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, published in 1923. A small sea of daffodils surrounds it, beckoning you to come closer. Taken together, Churchill and Gibran, the wise warrior and the poetic philosopher, seem to reflect the human condition well.

Before the Easter Evensong service at the Washington National Cathedral, I saw a striking woman in a green suit and a hat looking upward by the entrance. I looked up and saw the cathedral's new sculpture of Rosa Parks, carved finely to capture her countenance. The woman told me she well knew the late Mrs. Parks, the seamstress and civil rights movement heroine, who famously refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., back in 1955. She was arrested, sparking a protest and bus boycott led by the young Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. I took a few photographs of this lady, the best of which showed her looking up at Mrs. Parks in a salute of sorts. The lifelike face of Mrs. Parks appeared to look down as if to bless and protect her. Mrs. Parks was born almost a century ago in Tuskegee, Ala. [See editorial cartoons about the federal budget and deficit.]

Then the story got better. The woman told me about her work as a Maryland regional director for the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, educating youth about the historical Underground Railroad and the African Middle Passage, which slave ships sailed to the new world. The nonprofit institute is named for Mrs. Parks and her late husband Raymond, a barber, both activists in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

So there I stood, linked by a proud lady back to the beginning of the modern civil rights movement—to leaders who championed civil disobedience, as did Underground Railroad runaways and conductors in an earlier antebellum era. I felt graced by this encounter. Inside a national house of worship full of beautiful blossoms, an epiphany of history awaited me.

Happy Easter Monday, everybody.

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