Houston’s Rothko Chapel and the “Broken Obelisk” on MLK Day

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My first time visiting Rothko Chapel was 10 years ago when my artist cousin hoped to share with me her admiration for Mark Rothko. I didn’t see or feel the significance then. Apparently, in addition to healing powers, time also changes people.

When I walk in now, with nearly 3 decades under my belt, I’m overwhelmed by how connected I feel to the structure, to the people inside, to myself.

Before I enter the octangular confines of Rothko, I see literature – Islamic, Jewish, Christianity, Buddhist, and more. I take a deep breath, enter the quiet, sacred room, and take a moment to look around. Traditional benches seen in churches are available for seating as well as meditation pillows and mats. And people are sitting in various directions, welcoming one right away to make the experience their own. The signature trait, of course, is Rothko’s soulful panels, streaked with different hues of black that create an ombre-like effect, allowing me to get lost in the depth and power of life. This is a spiritual place open to all, and belonging to none.

I sit down to meditate, reflect, and breathe. While aiming to shut my mind out from extraneous thoughts, I see flashing images of what I can only describe as happiness. And for a moment, I’m overwhelmed with the gratitude I feel to God and loved ones, until finally, I enter a period of tranquility and silence, at peace with myself. Calm.

I feel more spiritual in this non-denominational chapel than I do at my own mosque. I softly reach for my notebook and pen, not wanting to forget this feeling. I glance around and realize that the community of people around me are not only meditating, but also reading, writing, gazing, and just pondering. What a relief to just be who you want to be.

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When I left Rothko, I walked over to “Broken Obelisk” standing in the middle of the reflection pond. A structure so painfully beautiful, dedicated to the dream by one Martin Luther King. A dream he shared in front of the white needle, Washington Monument. A dream that all people could live together in peace.

I stood mesmerized by the beauty of this structure, but also the sad truth it symbolizes. Our nation stands atop a broken obelisk and it’s our job to bring it to steady ground. We must not fight to spread awareness, as fighting in itself is a broken concept. We must come together, seeking to understand and love.

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“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

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