A solitary cardinal alighted on the plank fence in my back yard, then zoomed down upon the winter-ravaged grass; its redness quickened my heart, plunged me into stillness. I continued watching. Like a wise professor attired in scarlet robes, it discerned the next step and took it boldly. Then it was gone. I had been visited and I knew it. Rather than resume my work in the kitchen, I savored this intrusion.

The cardinal’s fiery presence recalled images of Christ Pantocrator (the Lawgiver), rendered in mosaics or frescoes, which still adorn domes and apses of medieval Eastern Orthodox churches. The dark outlines of Christ’s iconic eyes, his red tunic, his left hand holding the jeweled book of the New Testament, his right hand raised in blessing—Such was the demonstrable power that had inflamed the imaginations of worshipers, huddled below in the nave, whispering their prayers. Such moments sustained their lives of hardship until the next Mass.

Such still has the holding power to thwart evil, with its allure of dark power. Willingness to follow its sway freshens us with loving care and protection.

 

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