On the outskirts of Jerusalem the donkey waited. Not especially brave, or filled with understanding, he stood and waited.
How horses, turned out into the meadow, leap with delight! How doves, released from their cages, clatter away, splashed with sunlight.
But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited. Then he let himself be led away. Then he let the stranger mount.
Never had he seen such crowds! And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen. Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.
I hope, finally, he felt brave. I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him, as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward. ~Mary Oliver “The Poet thinks about the donkey” from her book Thirst.
With monstrous head and sickening cry And ears like errant wings…
The tattered outlaw of the earth, Of ancient crooked will; Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb, I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour; One far fierce hour and sweet: There was a shout about my ears, And palms before my feet. G. K. Chesterton from “The Donkey”
Palm Sunday is a day of dissonance and dichotomy in the church year, very much like the donkey who figured as a central character that day. Sadly, a donkey gets no respect, then or now – for his plain and awkward looks, for his loud and inharmonious voice, for his apparent lack of strength — yet he was the chosen mode of transportation for a King riding to His death.
There was a motley parade to Jerusalem: cloaks and palms laid at the feet of the donkey bearing the Son of God, disorderly shouts of adoration and blessings, the rebuke of the Pharisees to quiet the people, His response that “even the stones will cry out” knowing what is to come.
But the welcoming crowd waving palm branches, shouting sweet hosannas and laying down their cloaks did not understand the fierce transformation to come, did not know within days they would be a mob shouting words of derision and rejection and condemnation.
The donkey knew because he had been derided, rejected and condemned himself, yet still kept serving. Just as he was given voice and understanding centuries before to protect Balaam from going the wrong way, he could have opened his mouth to tell them, suffering beatings for his effort. Instead, just as he bore the unborn Jesus to Bethlehem and stood over Him sleeping in the manger, just as he bore a mother and child all the way to Egypt to hide from Herod, the donkey would keep his secret well.
Who, after all, would ever listen to a mere donkey?
We would do well to pay attention to this braying wisdom.
The donkey knows.
He bears the burden we have shirked. He treads with heavy heart over the palms and cloaks we lay down as meaningless symbols of honor. He is the ultimate servant to the Servant.
A day of dichotomy — of honor and glory laid underfoot only to be stepped on of blessings and praise turning to curses of the beginning of the end becoming a new beginning for us all.
And so He wept, knowing all this. I suspect the donkey bearing Him wept as well, in his own simple, plain and honest way, and I’m quite sure he kept it as his special secret.
Take heart, my Friend, we’ll go together This uncertain road that lies ahead Our faithful God has always gone before us And He will lead the Way once again. Take heart, my Friend, we can walk together And if our burdens become too great We can hold up and help one another In God’s LOVE, in God’s Grace. Take heart my Friend, the Lord is with us As He has been all the days of our lives Our assurance every morning Our Defender in the Night. If we should falter when trouble surrounds us When the wind and the waves are wild and high We will look away to HIM who rules the waters; Who speaks His Peace into the angry tide. He is our Comfort, our Sustainer He is our Help in time of need When we wander, He is our Shepherd He who watches over us NEVER sleeps. Take heart my friend, the Lord is with us As He has been all the days of our lives Our Assurance every morning Our Defender every night. Amen. 🙂
Humble King You chose the road that led to suffering Nothing was spared to prove Your love for me Oh, the mystery That Your final breath became eternity What we had lost forever You redeemed, mmm
Hosanna, Hosanna In the highest forever Hosanna, Hosanna Hallelujah forever
Triumphant King The Lamb who was slain who rose in majesty There’s never a heart beyond Your victory You are the one that we are welcoming You are the one that we are welcoming, oh
Hosanna, Hosanna In the highest forever Hosanna, Hosanna Hallelujah forever Hosanna, Hosanna In the highest forever Hosanna, Hosanna Hallelujah forever
Ooh, forever We worship You forever, forever It’s all about You Blessed is He, blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord Oh, join now and sing, Jesus is King He reigns
This is the season for graduations, when children move into the adult world and don’t look back.
As a parent, as an educator, as a mentor within church and community, and after nearly thirty years as a college health physician witnessing this transition many times over, I can’t help but be wistful about what I may have left undone and unsaid with the generation about to launch.
In their moments of vulnerability, did I pack enough love into those exuberant hearts so he or she can pull it out when it is most needed?
When our three children traveled the world after their graduations, moving way beyond the fenced perimeter of our little farm, I trust they left well prepared.
As a school board member, I watched students, parents and teachers work diligently together in their preparation for that graduation day, knowing the encompassing love behind each congratulatory hand shake.
When another batch of our church family children say goodbye, I remember holding them in the nursery, listening to their joyful voices as I played piano accompaniment in Sunday School, feeding them in innumerable potlucks over the years. I pray we have fed them well in every way with enough spiritual food to stick to their ribs in the “thin” and hungry times.
When hundreds of my student/patients move on each year beyond our university and college health clinic, I pray for their continued emotional growth buoyed by plenty of resilience when the road inevitably gets bumpy.
I believe I know what is stored in the hearts of graduates because I, among many others, helped them pack it full of love. Only they will know the time to unpack what is within when their need arises.
I’m reminded daily about how little I know and understand. I work with people who are suffering, whose symptoms may fit prescribed diagnostic criteria but yet defy explanation or reason. They care about what relief I might offer rather than a label that names the illness.
Like so much in medicine, what I witness daily is unexplained and unexplainable. What I do know I carry with me, small and honorable and shareable. I offer it up to each patient, one after another: here is what I think might help. here is your next step to take. here is the hope that goes with taking each breath, the next and the next.
Even when standing in the dark, as we all do at times in our life, we just keep breathing. In and out. In and out. We are filled even when empty.
…to love life, to love it even when you have no stomach for it and everything you’ve held dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands, your throat filled with the silt of it. When grief sits with you, its tropical heat thickening the air, heavy as water more fit for gills than lungs; when grief weights you like your own flesh only more of it, an obesity of grief, you think, How can a body withstand this? Then you hold life like a face between your palms, a plain face, no charming smile, no violet eyes, and you say, yes, I will take you I will love you, again. — Ellen Bass “The Thing Is…” from Mules of Love
It begins again, even though I’m unprepared. No matter which way I turn, autumn’s kaleidoscope displays new patterns, new colors, new empty spaces as I watch the world die into itself once again. Some dying is flashy, brilliant, blazing – a calling out for attention. Then there is the hidden dying that happens without anyone taking notice: just a plain, tired, rusting away letting go.
I will spend the morning adjusting to the change in season by occupying myself with the familiar task of moving manure. Cleaning barn is a comforting chore, allowing me to transform tangible benefit from something objectionable and just plain stinky to the nurturing fertilizer of the future. It feels like I’ve actually accomplished something.
As I scoop and push the wheelbarrow, I recall another barn cleaning fifteen years ago, when I was one of three or four friends left cleaning over ninety stalls after a Haflinger horse event that I had organized at our local fairgrounds. Some people had brought their horses from over 1000 miles away to participate for several days. There had been personality clashes and harsh words among some participants along with criticism directed at me as the organizer that I had taken very personally. As I struggled with the umpteenth wheelbarrow load of manure, tears stung my eyes and my heart. I was miserable with regret. After going without sleep and making personal sacrifices over many months planning and preparing for the benefit of our group, my work felt futile and unappreciated.
One friend had stayed behind with her young family to help clean up the large facility and she could see I was struggling to keep my composure. Jenny put herself right in front of my wheelbarrow and looked me in the eye, insisting I stop for a moment and listen:
“You know, none of these troubles and conflicts will amount to a hill of beans years from now. People will remember a fun event in a beautiful part of the country, a wonderful time with their Haflingers, their friends and family, and they’ll be all nostalgic about it, not giving a thought to the infighting or the sour attitudes or who said what to whom. So don’t make this about you and whether you did or didn’t make everyone happy. You loved us all enough to make it possible to meet here and the rest was up to us. So quit being upset about what you can’t change. There’s too much you can still do for us.”
During tough times since (and there have been plenty), Jenny’s advice replays, reminding me to cease seeking appreciation from others or feeling hurt when harsh words come my way. She was right about the balm found in the tincture of time. She was right about giving up the upset in order to die to self and self absorption, and instead to focus outward.
I have remembered.
Jenny herself did not know that day fifteen years ago she would subsequently spend six years dying while still loving her life every day, fighting a relentless cancer that was only slowed in the face of her faith and intense drive to live. She became a rusting leaf gone holy, fading imperceptibly over time, crumbling at the edges until five years ago this past week, she finally had to let go. Her dying did not flash brilliance, nor draw attention at the end. Her intense focus during the years of her illness had always been outward to others, to her family and friends, to the healers she spent so much time with in medical offices, to her firm belief in the plan God had written for her and those who loved her.
So Jenny let go her hold on life here. And we reluctantly let her go. Brilliance cloaks her as her focus is now on things eternal.
You were so right, Jenny. Nothing from fifteen years ago amounts to a hill of beans now. Except the words you spoke to me that day, teaching me to love life even when I have no stomach for it.
And I won’t be upset that I can’t change what is past and the fact that you have left us.
Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the writer isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts? Why are we reading, if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage and the hope of meaningfulness, and press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power? What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and which reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered? Why does death so catch us by surprise, and why love? We still and always want waking. ~Annie Dillard from “Write Till You Drop’