These emblems are stitched along the top of the Saint John’s banner in the cathedral nave near the pulpit. I wonder at the wonderful women who must have labored over their beauty. They run across the top of the banner and each one represents one of the gospel writers. When the Patron Saint of the Cathedral was switched from John the Baptist to John the Evangelist to please the elegant (John the baptist being just too messy for a cathedral, don’t you know) the iconography of the cathedral migrated to images around John the Evangelist (so called because John was the one to whom the book of that name was attributed.)
The eagle is the image of John because his gospel, unlike the others, tends to soar into the heights of mystical wanderings. There are many references to the kinds of prayers and revelations which tends only to come from deep and abiding prayer. I have heard clergy in my last job (clergy!) who would say out loud “I hate the Gospel of John!” but that is simply because they would not take the time to study it and the work to pray it. I always wondered if their statements did not show us more about them than they wanted us to know.
I once lived on the back side of Monticello, the mountain top and beloved home of Thomas Jefferson. It was a small hunting lodge which the house-museum rented to me in exchange for my watching over the back end of the estate. When the tourists were gone at the end of the day, I and my dog “puck” would wander the property. With permission to eat from the massive gardens and 400 fruit trees it was a slice of heaven on earth.
Because the property was so heavily protected, there was a massive amount of wild-life and that included an eagle I came to call “Fred.” (I also called all three of my cats “Fred” because, well, they never came when I called them and they were identical triplets so why bother with three names!) I would sit on a rock by a river with wine and cheese and salami and bread with Irish butter and wait for Fred to soar by.
We can all soar you know. The laity of our churches are not stupid. They are not spiritual infants. In fact many of our congregants have a much deeper and more abiding spiritual life and experience of scripture than do the clergy which is why we tend to use all sorts of titles and symbols to keep them in their place. Happily, it does not work. They soar anyway and snicker as they fly by.
What is it to soar in prayer? What is it to fly like an eagle as a Christian like John the Evangelist? It is simple really. Just love with every fiber of your being every moment you can.