The other night I was going through a Harlem guidebook and discovered that there was to be a blessing of the animals at the cathedral at St. John of the Divine. This, I recalled, was where Philippe Petit did one of his tight rope walks and was later made tightrope walker in residence. I told Eleanor and Judy about this and both (much to my delight) said that they were up for checking this out.
We set out early this morning, so as to get a place in line. But the line was very long, even an hour and half before the blessing and service. What to do? El and I knew this wait would be hard on Judy who because her spine is crooked, needs to sit down every hour or so.
"When you put a snake and a rat and a falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal in a zoo without walls, things start to get nasty and bloody. That's what happens." -- Reince Priebus, Trump's first chief of staff, as quoted in Fear, by Bob Woodward.
A most serendipitous thing then happened. We all struck up a conversation with a woman who was assisting in handing out tickets for entrance into the cathedral. El mentioned to her that Judy was handicapped and she immediately said that we could circumvent the line and wait right outside the cathedral entrance. We then followed her to the gate, and on the way, were introduced to the episcopal bishop, a man who immediately impressed me as being a very kind and gentle soul.
There were, in the alleyway, several raptors, one being a barn owl, and another being a snowy owl. They were being tended to by a falconer who was showing four individuals how to handle them. He was going to take one bird to be blessed and the others the remaining birds.
In time, we were ushered into the cathedral, which was awe inspiring. It was reputed to be the largest in the world. It had high ceilings, stained glass windows, and on the sides of naves, alcoves that contained among other things, the tomb of the 10th bishop of the cathedral.
A mass preceded the blessing. It was interspersed with performances by gospel singers and the Paul Winter Dance group. And the bishop (the one we met) gave a most remarkable sermon, one in which he began by talking about what he thought St. Francis would think today, which is in seeing both a statue of himself surrounded by animals and a homeless person. The bishop said that St. Francis would be most concerned about the homeless and would urge us to take better care of them. He went on to talk about other things that St. Francis would want addressed, this included the treatment of women and climate change.
After, the animals, as they were in Noah’s ark, were led into the cathedral, down the aisle, and up onto the altar. Their numbers included a camel, a burro, a steer, a mini horse, a large white horse, a snake, a bandicoot, cockroaches, and many, many others.
I started crying when I saw the animals. I then, as if in a trance, moved as close as I could get to the altar, where I saw the bishop give the blessing. What was most amazing to me was that all the animals were quite content. There was no snapping or snarling. I was most taken by the camel, which was very curious about what was going on. The whole time, he was licking and chewing, and also very bright eyed.
I later learned that some of the animals were owned by private citizens. The rest reside in Westport, NY at an animal sanctuary.
My visit to the cathedral was life affirming. I never before (as I had this time) had a mass mean anything to me. This one, which was focused on animal well-being and care, was to me, most moving. I said later to El that I want to move to Harlem and become an Episcopalian. I was actually half-serious. I like how those who espouse this particular religion strongly believe in social activism. And Harlem itself has a rich historical tradition in relation to the arts and the civil rights movement.
Yes, I so badly want to come back and spend more time here. This was the high point of my NYC visit.
Next: 281. 10/8/18: Escape from New York