Jewish World Review July 9, 2004 / 20 Tamuz, 5764
D.C.: City of Soul
When you enter someone's home, you notice things like sofa pillows, kitchen
chairs and magnets on the fridge. Basic furnishings, eclectic doodads and
pictures on the wall are a reflection of the people who live there. In a
pencil-sketch sort of way, they give you a glimpse of what's important to
them, how they live and whether they run the vacuum once a week or once a
We have taken our family on several summer tours of our nation's capitol
in hopes they might form a picture of who we are as Americans. By strolling
the mall, maneuvering along Constitution Ave. and standing at the feet of
Lincoln, you can see a pencil-sketch of who we are as a country.
Among the marble slabs, looming columns and echoing hallways are the faint
heartbeats and soft whispers of those who framed our foundation. There is a
deep sense of soul in our nation's home (shame on you cynics for sneering).
Take your time, study the details, and you will see it is there.
Reflections of our nation's soul abound in the Capitol. Inside the House
Chamber, years ago, some rascal chiseled the words, "In G-d we trust." Pity
the scribe who tries that today.
Also in the House Chamber are 23 marble relief portraits over the gallery
doors. They are the strong chins and prominent noses of men who contributed
to the foundations of law. Each of the profiles face toward the only relief
that is full-face - Moses, the Hebrew who carried the Ten Commandments
down Mt. Sinai and transformed a wandering, rambunctious people into a
In the Senate Chamber, there is yet another "In G-d we trust," over the
south entrance. The inscription over the east doorway is Latin, "Annuit
coeptis," meaning G-d has favored our undertakings.
"Annuit coeptis" is also in the Prayer Room. A Prayer Room in the Capitol
may come as a shock, but prayer is still legal or at least was at the
time of this writing. The Prayer Room also contains an inscription from
Psalm 16: "Preserve me, O G-d; for in thee do I put my trust."
Hanging in the rotunda are four enormous paintings that dwarf visitors and
depict early exploration. In one, Columbus is shown standing as a man
kneels in prayer. Another shows explorer Hernando DeSoto viewing the mighty
Mississippi. DeSoto watches as a monk prays and a crucifix is set in the
ground. A third painting is of pilgrims on the deck of the Speedwell
gathered around an open Bible and a fourth is of Pocahontas being baptized
As one wit has said, "There you have it, two prayer services, a Bible study
and a baptism right here in the rotunda and not a thing the ACLU can do
At the Jefferson Memorial are panels inscribed with excerpts from his
writings. "I have sworn upon the alter of G-d eternal hostility against
every form of tyranny over the mind of man." Interesting oath coming from
the man that modern men armed with briefcases, law degrees and sharp suits,
claim would strip all references to faith from the public square.
On the south wall of the Lincoln Memorial is the Gettysburg Address. Linger
a bit and you will notice a mural above it depicting the beautiful angel of
truth freeing a slave.
One of the most personal touches can be seen in the state dining room of
the White House. Carved into the fireplace mantel below a portrait of
President Lincoln is an inscription from a letter John Adams wrote to his
wife Abigail, upon spending his second night in the White House: "I pray
Heaven to Bestow the Best of Blessings on THIS HOUSE and on All that shall
hereafter Inhabit it. May none but honest and Wise Men ever rule under this
At the very top of the Washington Monument, on the east face, is the
inscription, "Laus Deo" meaning Praise to G-d. Nobody but birds can see
that inscription, yet some builder, some designer, some President, someone
who thought of the Capitol as home, thought that was an important detail.
As our home's furnishings tell a thing or two about us as a family, so the
nation's furnishings tell a thing or two about us as a nation. In both
cases, it's always nice to make a visit home.
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
© 2004, Lori Borgman
JWR contributor Lori Borgman is the author of , most recently, "Pass the Faith, Please" (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) and I Was a Better Mother Before I Had Kids To comment, please click here. To visit her website click here.