Jesus on the Lean Donkey

There will be no cream for coffee in the morning. This afternoon, I did not complete the trek to the back corner of the grocery store as sadness overtook me, threatening to unleash a salty deluge, right there in front of red and white rows of soups, their golden eyes staring in judgment. I escaped from their glare into the privacy of tinted-enough windows and the detached acceptance of a leather seat.

I am not a woman who shares her emotions. As a girl growing up with two brothers, the only girl in a “May I borrow a cup of sugar?” neighborhood of all boys, I still find expressing feelings to be foreign and frightening. But, I want to try something different with this blog, to be courageous as I tiptoe toward drawing back the curtain.

I am going through something.

I am not ready to go into specifics, though I will confess that, for the past fortnight, all my smiles have been counterfeit. I have lost a friend.

I tried the familiar pushing down of the feelings, but like a misfit Jack-in-the-box with a broken latch, they spring up straight away. My intellectual rationalizations and reality checks have fared no better. These painful feelings have bedded down.

Dear Reader, if you have read my previous posts, you know that reliance upon my beloved authors is my primary method for making sense of life. I have been second-guessing my veneration of authors in posts, wondering if it will become tiring to readers. Writers are my village elders, holding my hand as I walk across hot coals, poking pinholes in my mind to let in new thought. I am sharing my experience, upholding this blog’s purpose. I have decided to write about writers without apology.

To part the clouds, I turned to Jalaluddin Rumi, the mystic and poet adored the world over, East to West, here, there, and everywhere. Rumi’s love for God, his beautiful play with words, his understanding of and compassion for humans, have provided comfort and relief and hope and joy across centuries and tongues.

After reading Jesus on the Lean Donkey, I am still sad, but a bearable sad. I have a green hope that maybe, just maybe, this experience is happening for me rather than to me.

Jesus On A Lean Donkey
~Rumi, interpreted by Coleman Barks

Jesus on the lean donkey,
this is an emblem of how the rational intellect
should control the animal-soul.

Let your spirit
be strong like Jesus.
If that part becomes weak,
then the worn-our donkey grows to a dragon

Be grateful when what seems unkind
comes from a wise person.

Once, a holy man,
riding his donkey, saw a snake crawling into
a sleeping man’s mouth! He hurried, but he couldn’t
prevent it. He hit the man several blows with his club.

The man woke terrified and ran beneath an apple tree
With many rotten apples on the ground.

“Eat!
You miserable wretch! Eat.”

“Why are you doing this to me?”
“Eat more, you fool.”
“I’ve never seen you before!
Who are you? Do you have some inner quarrel with my soul?”

The wise man kept forcing him to eat, and then he ran him.
For hours he whipped the poor man and made him run.
Finally, at nightfall, full of rotten apples,
fatigued, bleeding, he fell
and vomited everything,
the good and the bad, the apples and the snake.

When he saw that ugly snake
Come out of himself, he fell on his knees
before his assailant.
“Are you Gabriel? Are you God?
I bless the moment you first noticed me. I was dead
and didn’t know it. You’ve given me a new life.
Everything I’ve said to you was stupid!
I didn’t know.”

“If I had explained what I was doing,
you might have panicked and died of fear.
Muhammad said,
‘If I described the enemy that lives
Inside men, even the most courageous would be paralyzed. No one
would go out, or do any work. No one would pray or fast,
and all power to change would fade
from human beings’
so I kept quiet
while I was beating you, that like David
I might shape iron, so that, impossibly,
I might put feathers back into a bird’s wing.

God’s silence is necessary, because of humankind’s
faintheartedness. If I had told you about the snake,
you wouldn’t have been able to eat, and if
you hadn’t eaten, you wouldn’t have vomited.

I saw your condition and drove my donkey hard
into the middle of it, saying always under my breath,
‘Lord, make it easy on him.’ I wasn’t permitted
to tell you, and I wasn’t permitted to stop beating you!”

The healed man, still kneeling,
“I have no way to thank you for the quickness
of your wisdom and the strength of your guidance.
God will thank you.”

Artwork:
Flandrin, H. (1842).  Christ’s entry into Jerusalem [Painting].  Retrieved from Georgia Christian Student Center.

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