The cardinal from hell is back. This time, he’s assaulting my studio windows.
Many years ago, I had a disturbing experience with a cardinal. He became obsessed with the rear-view mirrors of my car. Every day he would fly at them, pecking furiously at the mirror while leaving his droppings down the side of my car. What was he doing? Was he attacking what he saw in the mirror as if it were his adversary or had he fallen in love with his own Image and, like Narcissus, lavished it with pecks and kisses? After a while he finally gave up and that ended the matter. In the meantime, he’d left a dreadful mess on my car. I was furious.
In my studio recently, I heard a noise at the window. Would you believe it was a cardinal attacking or ravishing the window exactly as I’d seen happen years ago with my car mirrors? What does one do? He would not stop. The light struck the window such that the window was able to reflect his image, like a mirror. I thought the only thing I could do was to somehow put something over the window so that there would be no reflection.
Taking several sheets of paper on which I had old research material written, I taped the papers on the window, effectively blocking the reflection. That way I hoped he would lose interest in the window. I inadvertently left a small section of the window uncovered and sure enough he went for it and began his combative assaults, or was he abandoning himself to his passions. I never knew which
I was determined to put an end to this outrageous behavior. I went outside again with more paper, and taped additional pages on all of the places at the window where I thought he would be able to see his image. After taping them up, I went back into the house. I stayed there, undisturbed for several hours. I knew that I’d successfully driven him off. I had put an end to this unnatural behavior. I went outside just to check to see how secure the pages were.
I noticed for the first time the nature of the research material I had written on the several sheets of paper. The material contained data I’d collected on the history of cathedrals.
I am a member of Trinity Cathedral here in Easton. There had been increasing interest in the diocese in reviewing the place and function of a cathedral in the religious and social life of the twenty first century. What new functions might cathedrals have in today’s changing society. I did some research on how cathedrals evolved and what role they played in English, French, Spanish and more recently in American societies.
Cathedrals have occupied a significant place in medieval social and religious life. As the Church of England spread its influence here on the shore, Trinity Cathedral here in Easton was the Shore’s first and only Cathedral. I am a communicant, there.
Cathedrals today are visual remnants of the power and wealth that Christianly once enjoyed. The majestic aura of cathedrals that once awed Christians and others as well, had mystical significance, to be sure, but were also monuments to power and prestige. They remain an awesome sight today and people the world over, religious or not, travel to see them, simply because they are magnificent structures. I myself was ordained a priest in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Sadly, many cathedrals have become increasingly museum pieces, valued for their architectural magnificence, but not venerated for the divine vision that inspired them.
I had since lost interest in my research and doubted whether I’d ever apply what I’d learned to anything useful. I tucked the papers away planning to use the blank sides for scrap paper.
Only much later did it occur to me that cardinals (clerics) are regular visitors to cathedrals. They go in and out of them all the time. Cardinals belong there. They perform many of the ritual and liturgical rites of Christianity. What had not occurred to me until I recognized the subject of the papers I’d placed on the windows, was how, in a sense, I was using my investigation into one kind of cardinal’s habitation, to drive another kind away from my own. Like a homeopathic physician, I was administrating to myself a modified dose of the toxin attacking me, in order to mitigate its debilitating effects.
Of course, cardinals, the ones with wings, are not literate. The cardinal attacking my windows would have no way of knowing anything about the subject of the documents that were frustrating his access to my studio windows. While the irony of this may well have been lost on this cardinal, it was not lost on me. Where the papers ended up may have been an ignominious end to my noble research endeavors. They were covered with bird droppings. I took some comfort in the thought that at least my efforts were not totally in vain. They found a use.
I normally associate a cardinal (cleric) with heavenly preoccupations. This cardinal hammering at my studio windows, was surely from hell. It’s worth noting how traditional satanic images appearing in masks and paintings, will portray the devil as bright red . . . like a cardinal.
There are cardinals and there are cardinals.
Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.