Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” — Mark 11:2-3
Can you remember a time when you were feeling great, having just been honored, praised, or having received an award for your hard work and accomplishments? If you can, is it possible for you to remember how afterwards, perhaps shortly, you were harshly ridiculed and criticized by the very people who gave you praise?
Every politician knows this experience! They go from glory to goat in just weeks or days! Presidents are elected with approval ratings in the 60 or 70 percent range. Within months or a year or so, they drop. I think when President Bush finished in 2008, his approval rating was in the 30 percent range, only beaten by congress which was in the low 20’s or the teens.
Every sport figure and team knows the experience. Each year the Bills are praised for their great training camp with new members and coaches. This will be the year. The first few games are usually sell outs but by mid season, criticisms, blame and anger begin rolling in, sales go down, and team ownership talks about selling them or having more games elsewhere! A player becomes a beloved star, then despised, and sent to another team to be despised yet again.
Every marriage knows the experience as do academic recognition from high schools, colleges and graduate schools. Approvals and honor flushes are often later marked by disappointment, trials, separations, divorces and new chosen careers.
Every clergy person probably knows the experience. When new pastors arrive they must be careful not to take too seriously the praise of being “the mighty deliverer” who has come. In Presbyterian circles, many churches are so disheartened by the transition they can only hope such is the case. The first few weeks and months are called the “honeymoon!” Then the people and pastor realize it isn’t the perfect match they expected. Conflict arises, outside negotiators are called in, and if sufficiently intense, separation occurs with often a new career chosen for the aspiring but confused pastor while parishioners decide to just quit.
In one seminary I attended, a professor said we young, eager pastors reminded him of a dog waiting along the highway to chase a car. I once had such a dog. The professor asked, “What would happen to the dog if it accidently bit into the wire wheel spokes of the car wheel? He would wake up in the ditch asking, ‘What in the world happened to me?’” Many pastors have asked this after “catching a church!”
Every new spiritually enlightened, euphoric seeker knows a similar experience in experiencing “spiritual enlightenment.” At first it’s euphoric and heavenly but soon it can turn to pain, anger, depression, even hatred and meanness.
Palm Sunday and the ensuing week are illustrative of this rhythm. The story begins with Jesus approaching the Mount Olives, travelling through the hill villages of Bethphage and Bethany. Here he had raised Lazarus. The town names meant, “House of un-ripened figs” and “House of Sun.” Here he sent his disciples ahead to choose a colt, or young donkey, for him to ride into Jerusalem. It was at the height of his ministry. Throngs of people turned out to greet him, laying down their clothes in the road path and waving palm branches, branches representing his God like divinity. They shouted, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” In a few days, many would be calling for his death while others would just walk away.
The donkey and/or colt are interesting symbols. Neither had been ridden before. In my experience, I had enough trouble staying on a horse which had been ridden to say nothing of one never ridden. In similar stories of this episode, going back to ancient Egypt with the Avatar Osiris, there were triumphal rides near the end of the God-man’s life into the city of his execution. The donkey, a young never-ridden-before one, represented the lower self or the ego/body self. It was the symbol of untrained, undisciplined, greedy and lustful mind along with the calculating, grasping, thinking mind. It is the ego mind which keeps us from knowing God or Spirit through being quiet, stillness, meditation, and non-thinking understanding.
In ancient Egypt, after a ritual of cleansing, we read where the priests often threw a donkey off a cliff as a sign of one’s casting aside the ego, one’s lower self in favor of the Higher, Christ Self. It was a sign of one’s rebirth.
In our daily journeys, we ride these young, restless, untrained ego minds. Always grasping, searching, seeking fulfillment, we wear ourselves out until we finally come to realize this is not Who we are. We awaken to the Christ Self, our True Self. When we awaken we continue to ride the young, untrained donkey of ego in a world of bipolar, lunacy rhythms but with a holy, conscious detachment. A test of our realization is our evolving ability to face opposition, ridicule, even death and yet remain at peace and with a sense of indestructibility.
Jesus, our ideal is thus portrayed as riding the untrained, young stubborn donkey into the city of betrayal and eventually death. During the ride, the donkey remained obedient and under control. It lead soon to his greatest test, ending his mortal life with crucifixion on a cross uttering the words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” For the very ones wavy palms of adoration and praise soon walked away, or worse, shouted for his death.
Ah, the fight to overcome boredom, endless seeking for peace and release until we finally come to rest. “Our hearts our restless, O Lord, until they come to rest in You!” “Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer, that calls us from a world of care. And bids us to our Father’s throne, make all our wants and wishes known.” Oh the bucking, jumping, ornery, stubborn donkeys of our ego self!
Even atheists become tired of the endless search for satisfaction and fulfillment. Until we come to recognize the best things of this world are not things, the wild ride continues. Meanwhile we press on, thinking, searching, trying, fighting back, moving forward, moving backward, changing, but all but seems to elude our grasp. We give ourselves to “social justice,” fighting, screaming, advocating, and marching yet the poor end up increasing and staying with us.
Knowing peace is beyond thinking and perception. Perception is endless judgment, comparing, searching, sorting out. Peace is knowing, acceptance, letting go; peace just is. Right mindedness and the proper used of perception leads us to Place. The Psalmist wrote, “Be still and know I am God.” We could read every book in every library of the world and still not know. God is a no-thing. God just is. Stop, sit, breathe, and know.
Most of us remain as the “unripened figs” of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Although the oil of peace surrounds us, we can’t see it, can’t believe it, and refusing to try it. Yet the “House of Sun,” of Bethany, can finally shines on us and we are healed.
Today we begin what is called “Holy Week” or “Passion Week.” It is a week of becoming aware of suffering, our suffering. It is a week of trying to move beyond endless demands and attachments to mortality. It is a week of new dying to ego, dying and quieting the normal passions that we might awaken to endless joy, love, and song! Our Christ Selves.
Observe your stubborn “donkey self” ego. Are you ready for something more? Do you want it? Would you rather experience joy and peace rather than being “right”? It is your and my decision. We have the rule of the kingdom within. Spirit of love and endless peace abides within but It never forces or demands. God gives freedom and when we are ready, God is ready.
This week, seek to be more aware of the stubborn, un-rideable donkey of your mind. With the courage and faith of Jesus, our metaphorical Model, get back up and ride on with trust, self-forgiveness, and courage. Ride it down the road through anger, opposition, name-calling, hatred, and even death to your Resurrection, your awakening to eternal peace within, forever. You’ll find Paradise amid the bucking, stubborn, untrained ego.
Talk prepared for Sunday, April 1, 2012, given at the 1st Presbyterian Church of West Seneca, NY, 2085 Union Road, 10:00 a.m.