St. Francis Day at the Cathedral

October 4, 2010 § 3 Comments


We sat behind a goat named Doni and next to a brown-haired dog, listening to the Dean of The Cathedral of St. John the Divine talk about the need to respect animals and the earth.

Oh, I do. I wonder what I’m doing here in the city when I could be tending goats on a lonely hillside, munching my bread and cheese and dreaming of faraway places. 20 years ago, I saw a goat-sired mountain sheep in Ireland that I remember vividly and often—and believe is still standing in the same fog, behind the beehive tomb.

I would have taken my cats to be blessed—just for the experience, they aren’t believers—but cats don’t care for cathedrals, unless they’re empty. And even empty would be too much for my apartment felines, whose brains have been shaped by small spaces and lots of clutter. They like to lick plastic bags, sleep on dirty clothes and chase fruit flies.

The camel was majestic, stately and a little bored, like an old actor doing his signature role for an adoring audience. The yak needed a clean up crew. The sheep baa-ed, the donkeys trudged, the tortoise was wheeled in on a cart, and the snake was draped like a priestly vestment around the neck of one of the vergers.

The Cathedral choir, school choirs, and the Paul Winter consort provided music accompanied by the song of the humpbacked whale, and the howl of a wolf; The Omega Dance Company and the Forces of Nature Dance Theater danced down the aisle and to the altar, past row upon row of people with their dogs on their laps or at their feet, and in cages hamsters, rabbits, geese, a few ferrets…

The Dean said, “How we treat animals reflects how we will treat each other,” but that isn’t it at all. I just think that you don’t believe a camel belongs in a cathedral, how can you appreciate poetry? The goat enjoyed himself the most of all the animals, and more than the young children. He chewed on the program and found it good. The dark-haired llama, on the other hand, sneered at the Dean who’d grown confident in his animal-whispering skills after soothing a frightened ostrich. The young girls clutched their bunnies and geese. And the spotted pigs frisked about the altar with gay abandon.

Outside, at one of the animal non-profit tables, a woman intoned, “People are animals too. People are animals, too.”

St. Francis, as you know, preached to the birds; he also tried to convert Muslims to Christianity, which was just as effective. The Catholic Encyclopedia describes him in his youth, “No one loved pleasure more than Francis; he had a ready wit, sang merrily, delighted in fine clothes and showy display. Handsome, gay, gallant, and courteous, he soon became the prime favourite among the young nobles of Assissi, the foremost in every feat of arms, the leader of the civil revels, the very king of frolic.”

Then he gave his father’s money to the church (without consent), was disowned and became a saint.

The Adventures of a Turtle

The turtle carries his house on his back. He is both the house and the person of that house.

But actually, under the shell is a little room where the true turtle, wearing long underwear, sits at a little table. At one end of the room a series of levers sticks out of slots in the floor, like the controls of a steam shovel. It is with these that the turtle controls the legs of his house.

Most of the time the turtle sits under the sloping ceiling of his turtle room reading catalogues at the little table where a candle burns. He leans on one elbow, and then the other. He crosses one leg, and then the other. Finally he yawns and buries his head in his arms and sleeps.

If he feels a child picking up his house he quickly douses the candle and runs to the control levers and activates the legs of his house and tries to escape.

If he cannot escape he retracts the legs and withdraws the so-called head and waits. He knows that children are careless, and that there will come a time when he will be free to move his house to some secluded place, where he will relight his candle, take out his catalogues and read until at last he yawns. Then he’ll bury his head in his arms and sleep….That is, until another child picks up his house….

Russell Edson

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