What the Donkey Saw

        

            Author’ Note: In the heavenly song of the angels that Avi hears, astute readers will recognise my own Latin translation of “Listening to You,” from the Who’s rock opera, Tommy, without which work I would not be an orthodox Roman Catholic. God bless you, Pete Townshend, for this marvellous Christian allegory and so much more!

***

  “Azim! Go quickly!”

            Japheth clapped his hands impatiently—the signal for Azim that he’d better hurry up and do as he was told. He stood mute before his master and looked at him with expectant eyes.

            “Mary, Joseph the carpenter’s wife—she is with child, and she needs a donkey. They must go to Bethlehem to be taxed,” Japheth said, mumbling under his breath, “Bloody Romans! Tax us all to death, they will.”

            He clapped again twice.

            “Hurry, boy! Now! Now!”

            Azim ran off to the stables at once. Japheth was commonly held to have the best stables in Nazareth—some said in all of Galilee.

            They should say that, the boy thought sulkily, as hard as I work for my master.

            In the stables, Azim found Avraham the donkey, so named because a tuft of white hair beneath his muzzle rather resembled a white beard. It reminded Japheth’s children of Avraham, the great founder of Israel, and so they named him that not long after his birth, calling him “Avi” for short. Not so long ago, Avi had been a foal. But now he was nearly a year old, and being so young and strong, Azim knew he would be the perfect choice for this woman named Mary.

            “Come, you are needed,” said Azim, saddling and harnessing Avi.

            Oh, boy! thought Avi. Where are we going? What am I to do?

            As he led the donkey back to the dusty courtyard where Japheth leaned on his staff, tapping his sandalled feet impatiently, Azim looked some distance away, just beyond his master to where the new customers stood. The boy beheld an older man, tall and rugged, his weathered hands protectively placed upon the shoulders of a tiny girl. She was not five feet tall and looked to be only 13 summers old.

            Not much younger than I, Azim thought. Goodness. She is very pretty.

            Indeed, the boy thought he’d never seen such a beautiful young woman. Her eyes were dark and full of kindness, he could tell. A lock of her lovely, dark hair slipped out from beneath her white kaffiyeh, and she brushed it back with a delicate hand. Both her belted robe and her outer cloak were blue, and Azim saw that beneath her belt, the small girl was indeed great with child.

            “Here is Avi the donkey, my master,” said Azim, bowing slightly. “He will be the best choice for our customers.”

            “Well chosen, Azim,” Japheth replied, turning to the carpenter and adding, “Indeed, Joseph, this beast is the best in my stable. Your young bride will be most comfortable. Are you sure I cannot interest you in a similar mount?”

            “No,” the carpenter replied. “I shall walk. My primary concern is for my wife and the Child she carries.”

            “Suit yourself,” said Japheth.

            Azim looked on as the carpenter placed several coins into his master’s hand. The boy watched as Japheth’s eyes became as wide as a loaf of challah.

            “Joseph, you are very kind. But this—this is too much!”

            “Nonsense, Japheth, my friend,” the carpenter replied. “Those who are blessed by God should bless others. And we have been blessed indeed—beyond all comprehension.”

            Japheth tugged at his long beard.

            “But—” he began.

            “Husband,” the girl said quietly, her voice as gentle as waves on the nearby Sea of Galilee, as Azim thought, “we must be going. It grows late, and our journey is long.”

            “Fairest Lady, thou art right,” said the carpenter, bowing slightly to the girl before turning back to Japheth. “My dear wife is quite correct, my friend. We must be off.”

            “Indeed,” Japheth replied. “God bless you, Joseph. Thank you very much.”

            The carpenter gently helped his young bride atop Avi. The slender girl, though with child, seemed to weigh very little, and she was no burden to the beast. Avi let out a broad bray, not in complaint but in greeting.

            “Bear me well, gentle beast,” the girl said softly, leaning into one of Avi’s prodigious ears. “We shall become fast friends.”

            “Take care of that new wife of yours, Joseph,” Japheth called. “She is truly a Queen!”

            Joseph looked back knowingly, raising a brow.

            “You say well, Japheth, son of Joab, for so she is.”

            “Young lovers in love. Marvellous. Ah! To be young again,” Japheth said softly to himself, before adding, “Safe journey! Shalom aleichem!”

            “Peace be under your roof,” Joseph called back, “and grain in your houses!”

            Japheth and Azim stood watching as, in a moment, the couple and the donkey were gone.

            Avi could not have been more pleased.

            What an honour this is! he thought. I am carrying a Queen!

            The girl whispered a few more words of comfort into his long ears, and then she fell silent for the remainder of the late afternoon. Presently night fell, and they found a place to camp in a grove of olive trees. A small cliff of steep rock abutted the grove, providing some shelter from the wind on one side. A stream, a tributary of the River Yarmouk, itself in turn a tributary of the River Jordan (though Avi could not know this) ran near the grove. The carpenter went down to the stream to fill two sheep’s-bladder waterskins. When he returned, he and the girl had a simple supper of cheese and challah.

            Avi was glad to be unsaddled and unharnessed now, and he made a delightful meal of the long grass beneath one of the olive trees. The carpenter later led him to the stream, and Avi thought its water delicious.

            As the stars came out, and their fire died down, the carpenter found some more dead limbs beneath the olive trees. These he applied to the fire, and Avi watched as the flames leapt upward again. At last the carpenter spoke.

            “I like not this place. We are too close to Samaria. There may be bandits about. We should have gone with the caravan. I worry about you, Mary.”

            But the girl only smiled. And it was the most beatific smile Avi thought he’d ever seen.

            “Be not afraid, Joseph,” she said softly. “If God be with us, who and what shall we fear? Be at peace.”

            Something there was in the girl’s voice that Avi found deeply soothing. He began to feel drowsy. His mind wandered, and he thought of their destination: Bethlehem. Something about taxes. Yes, that was it. The carpenter was being taxed.

            How silly, thought Avi. Men are for ever following after money. Why do they do it? They could be made happy by a cool stream and long grass—if only they would give it a try!      

            Avi felt sorry for this poor couple that wicked men, much mightier than they, could wield such power over them, compelling them to make a week’s march just to pay taxes to a foreign empire. The donkey didn’t know much about the Romans, of course, only that Japheth didn’t like them, nor indeed did most ordinary folk with whom he came in contact as they passed through Japheth’s farmlands.

            Avi did hear things from the birds, from time to time. They had in fact told him of Bethlehem.

            “It means ‘house of bread,’” they said knowingly, as if that were somehow significant.

            And of course, that was truly significant. But Avi could not know that. He merely thought the birds were being supercilious at worst or else at best engaging in some strange double-entendre. They were always the most well-travelled members of the animal kingdom and considered themselves broad both of mind and experience. Many was the time that the donkey wished he, too, could be a bird.

            How wonderful it would be, he thought, if I could flap my ears and fly like one of the sparrows!

            He gazed at the sleeping couple as they lay in the firelight, propped on feedbags and covered beneath blankets. Avi noted that the carpenter slept some little distance away from the girl, treating her more like a sister than a wife.

            Curious, the donkey thought.

            But soon, he was asleep as well.

            Their passage to Bethlehem was uneventful. In another week, they were there: the City of David, a place now packed with countless couples, just like the carpenter and his young wife, and their myriad family members. Bethlehem was bursting with people, all come to be taxed.

            Avi was grateful nothing had happened along the way. The gossipy swallows, on their way to Egypt, had at one point circled high over his head and warned him of Samaritan robbers on the road. He had brayed in thanks, speaking the language of animals that men do not know. But fortunately, the travelling trio was completely alone. They met no one before they made it to Bethlehem.

            There was one curious thing, though. All along the way, both by day and by night, an enormous star, brighter than any Avi had ever beheld, shone high in the sky above them. Indeed, the carpenter said something about following that star, as it appeared to be directly over Bethlehem. The star, as the donkey thought, was very bright and beautiful, almost as beautiful as the young girl riding quietly upon his back, and it was shaped liked a cross or like the letter “X,” which the Greeks call chi.

            Now that they were in Bethlehem, where would they stay? From one inn to another they went, and at each, the carpenter received the same discourteous reply:

            “We’re all full! Go away!”

            “But my wife is with child,” the carpenter would say. “It’s nearly her time.”

            “What is that to me?” one surly, burly landlord after another would retort. “Get out!”

            The carpenter would say nothing but meekly depart, leading Avi quietly as the tiny girl sighed. The Burden she carried would soon be delivered of her, but for now, she was clearly in increasing pain. Avi felt her shifting on his back, and it suddenly seemed to him somehow that he was not only carrying this Lady and her Baby but also the weight of the whole world. The thought was inchoate and not fully comprehensible by his equine mind. Yet he felt it nevertheless.

            Finally, at yet another inn, an old midwife, seeing the girl’s condition, took pity upon them. No, she said, there was no room inside her foolish husband’s inn. But there was a nearby cave, used by shepherds as a stable. It was warm, she said, and really quite habitable. And there was lots of fresh straw, too.

            Oh, I like the sound of that, thought Avi.

            “Go now,” the old woman said, “and I will join you as soon as I can. I will help you.”

            The carpenter thanked the old woman gladly, and the girl smiled at her, saying something soft. Avi watched as the old woman smiled in return, and his sensitive ears picked up an observation she made as the three of them went off toward the cave.

            “What a remarkable girl! Such a lovely smile. I don’t know why, but bless my soul! I feel better.”

            When they arrived at the cave, the carpenter carefully helped the girl to dismount. He spread out blankets and cloaks upon the floor of the cave, which was covered in straw. Torches were already lit, and it seemed evident that the shepherds would surely soon return. But at the moment, Avi and the carpenter and the soon-to-be Mother were joined only by an ox, an ass; a magnificent pharaoh eagle owl, both wise and regal, perched upon one stony ledge; and several sheep that had wandered in from outside. The fields before them were teeming with sheep, as Avi noticed.

            After tending to his wife, the carpenter removed Avi’s saddle and harness. The donkey then tucked in to the straw, enjoying it immensely. After a few moments, he decided to say “hallo” to his fellow small equine, and he brayed in greeting to the ass.

            How are you? Avi asked rhetorically in the telepathic speech common to all animals.

            What brings you here? the ass replied.

            This poor girl is about to have a baby, Avi explained, addressing only the ass, as the ox was asleep. Something very strange about all this. Strange and wonderful. I think somehow—don’t ask me how—that something incredible is about to happen.

            Mmmm, said the ass thoughtfully. Yes, I can sense something, too. The swallows told us you were coming. And they also said you were followed.

            Avi shuddered with the memory of the Samaritan bandits he’d heard about.

            No, said the ass, not what you think. The swallows told us of a great caravan, led by Three Kings. One is from Persia, another from Cathay and another from Nubia. They are following that star we’ve all seen. The swallows say the Kings are coming here, to this very stable.

            Avi marvelled at this. But there was no time for wonder. Soon the midwife arrived, and it was time for the girl to deliver her Child. The carpenter discreetly slipped outside.

            Gradually, almost imperceptibly at first, a strange glowing light began to shine round about the girl. Avi had witnessed sheep and cattle giving birth, of course, but he knew nothing of the sufferings of human mothers. Upon her makeshift bed of blankets and cloaks, the girl pushed and pushed and pushed some more, all the while the midwife offering quiet words of encouragement.

            And soon, the girl gave birth. Her Child was a Son, and it seemed to Avi that the same glowing light surrounded the Baby’s head. He didn’t understand why, but he and his fellow creatures somehow, of one accord, suddenly bowed in unison, gazing at the Child in adoration.

            Avi and his fellow animals watched the proceedings in quiet amazement (except for the ox, who slept through everything and really was rather regrettably slow). The midwife cleaned the girl and her Baby. She wrapped the Child in swaddling clothes. Presently the girl opened her robe and suckled her Son, all the while maintaining her modesty, thanks to her immense blue cloak. The midwife put some straw in a nearby manger and soon tenderly placed the Babe in it, wrapping Him in a blanket.

            It seemed to Avi that suddenly they were now joined by even more visitors. Outside the cave and all round the stony room inside, he beheld strange people, men and women of every land, all clad in flowing robes and possessed of gigantic eagles’ wings. They sang a loud song of praise, and they were accompanied by more musical instruments than Avi could count. To his keen donkey ears, it seemed that they sang:

 

“Gloria in excelsis Deo,

Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis!

Laudamus Te!

Benedicimus Te!

Adormaus Te!

Glorificamus Te!

Gratias agimus Tibi propter magnam gloriam Tuam!

Domine Deus, Rex caelestis,

Deus Pater omnipotens!

Domine Fili unigenite, Jesu Christe,

Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris,

Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis!”

 

            The Lamb of God, said Avi to the sheep. What do you suppose it means?

            We-ee-ee don’t know, one of the sheep bleated in response. We-ee-eee only understand that his Name is Jesus.

            A common enough name, the owl observed. Yet in this case, I fancy there is a greater significance. This name means ‘the Saviour.’

            Soon the carpenter returned to comfort his wife. Oddly, as Avi thought, he knelt, just as the animals had done, with a curious display of devotion to the Child, almost as if this were no mere baby but a King.

            The owl, rather than kneeling (a very difficult thing for a bird to do), had tucked his head under his wing. He now looked out and beheld the Child, Who was all aglow with a beatific radiance, smiling at His Mother, whom He clearly loved very much.

            What manner of thing is this? the owl asked. My friends, something tells me we are witnesses to a miracle—the miracle—the beginning of the redemption of the whole world.

            Some time later, there was a commotion at the cave entrance. Avi looked and beheld three rustic shepherds standing there. The midwife gestured to the girl and her Child, and she was cross with the shepherds, demanding that they leave at once.

            “But,” said one, “He is the Reason we’ve come.”

            “What?” said the midwife.

            “Yes,” said another shepherd. “We have come to see the Child.”

            “We were out there,” said the third, “keeping watch over our flocks. And then suddenly, this man came to us. Right out of nowhere, he did! He—he had wings, and he seemed to be standing—up in the sky.”

            “An angel,” said the first, “a messenger of God. ‘Israel is like unto one of your scattered flocks,’ he said. ‘But to-night, a Shepherd is born, Who will unite all of Israel and, one day, all the world into a great single flock. It is for you, the poor, that He is come into this world.’”

            “‘And of His Kingdom, there shall be no end,’ he told us,” said the second. “And then we heard all of these people singing with him. ‘Glory to God in the highest,’ they sang, ‘and peace on earth to men of goodwill.’”

            The midwife regarded them quizzically.

            “All right,” she relented at last. “You can come in.”

            And the shepherds did so, prostrating themselves before the Child. And it seemed to Avi that the Child gazed back at the shepherds, a strangely knowing look coming from His beaming face.

            All of this the donkey saw. He took in these things and pondered them in his fuzzy head and noble heart.

            In the morning came the arrival of the Three Kings the ass had mentioned. They said their names were Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar and that they had come a long way to worship the girl’s Child. They bowed, as if the Babe, not they, were the true King. They bestowed upon Him gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Avi had to ask the owl just what these things were, and the owl was only too happy to explain.

            The Kings also told the carpenter and the girl that they must flee as soon as possible. The wicked King Herod sought the Child in order to destroy Him, as they informed. They suggested going into Egypt, and the carpenter agreed that this was an excellent idea.

            Soon the Kings took their leave of the Family. And knowing Herod sought them as well, they departed for their own lands by another route, cleverly avoiding the king’s soldiers.

***

            At nearly 34 years of age, Avi was very old for a donkey.

            The years had passed like leaves falling from a tree. Azim had purchased his freedom and now had many servants of his own. He had done very well for himself and had a prosperous farm near the Mount of Olives, just outside Jerusalem. Avi was very lucky to have a master as gentle and kind as Azim, and well he knew it. His working days were long over, and he was able to simply enjoy himself, eating much straw in Azim’s farmyard.

            One day two men came into the farmyard. They found Azim and introduced themselves as brothers, John and James, the sons of Zebedee.

            “We need a donkey,” said James.

            “Well,” said Azim, “I have many excellent donkeys from which you could choose.”

            “That one,” said John, and he pointed at Avi.

            “Hmmm?” said Azim. “Oh, no, good masters. He is much too old. He has been put out to pasture. He is—”

            “The Lord hath need of him,” said John, and he looked curiously into Azim’s dark eyes.

            And at once, it was as if Azim understood. He smiled and nodded.

            “Avi it is, then.”

            He called to one of his many sons and bade him bring the donkey to the two men. James gave Azim some coins.

            “But gentlemen,” he said, unwittingly echoing his late master, Japheth, all those years ago, “this is too much. I cannot—”

            “Those who are blessed by God should bless others,” said John. “And we have been blessed indeed—beyond all comprehension.”

            Azim smiled.

            “Thank you,” he said simply. “Thank you. I shall take this money and give it to the poor.”

            “You are not far from the Kingdom of God, Azim, son of Amos,” said James, “for faith without works is dead.”

            Soon Avi was harnessed, and a blanket was thrown over his back.

            Oh, joy! he thought. The Lord has need of me! Who is this great Prince, that He should have need of the likes of me?

            He soon found out. The sons of Zebedee brought him to a handsome Man, clad in the simple light-brown robes of a Galilean peasant. Indeed, it seemed to Avi that He was the handsomest Man he’d ever beheld, and a positive light shone forth from his Face. His hair and beard were dark—the one long, the other short, and His eyes were dark and full of love. It seemed to Avi that he had seen this Man before. Where?

            Of course. It hit him like a thunderclap. Here was the Babe of Bethlehem, the Child he had first seen 33 years earlier. He looked just like His Mother, only a foot taller. And whereas her skin had been as fair as the purest milk, a common trait among the Jews of the North, this Man had the weathered look of one accustomed to travelling the length and breadth of Israel on foot.

            What was His Name? Ah, yes: Jesus. From Nazareth. It was all coming back to Avi now, and he also remembered the words of his friends, the swallows, who always seemed to know everything. At Azim’s farm, they’d told him of this Man from Galilee—yes, the son of the carpenter—himself a Carpenter now, they said. He cast out devils, they told him. He healed the sick and cleansed the lepers. He fed the poor and forgave sinners.

            A very remarkable Man, the swallows all said.

            This was He of Whom they spoke. Jesus. Yes.

            And it appeared He had another name as well. Avi’s ears had not dulled with the years, and he could hear the crowds in the city, shouting:

            Messiah! Messiah!

            The Carpenter looked at Avi and smiled. He put his arms round the donkey’s neck and kissed him. And he spoke into Avi’s mind, after the manner of animals.

            Avraham, son of earth, wilt thou carry me into My city, as once thou didst another, long ago?

            Avi brayed with excitement.

            Aye, Master, that I gladly will, as once I did for Thy Mother.

            The Carpenter smiled. In a trice, He was upon the donkey’s back, and soon they were headed off into the great city of Jerusalem, which they entered by the eastern gate. A great throng of people crushed about the Carpenter. Shouts filled Avi’s ears. The people hailed this Nazarene as the King of the Jews—the Messiah long promised to them.

            “Master! Master!”

            “Messiah! Hosanna to the Son of David!”

            “Thou art our Saviour!”

            The people bore palm branches, and they placed these at Avi’s feet. He’d never felt so honoured.

            I always knew I would do something great again, he thought. I carried that sweet girl, all those years ago, and to-day I am carrying her Son! What an honour!

            Eventually, Avi bore the Carpenter up to the Temple. There He dismounted and smiled at the donkey once more, speaking again in the secret language of the mind that all animals know.

            I thank thee, best of beasts.

            Nay, Master, ’tis I who should thank Thee.

            But the Carpenter only smiled again.

            Thou wilt see Me again, my friend, in another week. I shall come for thee.

            And He kissed Avi’s forehead, turned on His sandal and was gone.

            The donkey suddenly felt strange. He couldn’t quite explain why, yet in spite of the Carpenter’s words, he somehow felt he would never see Him again.

***

            Five days passed, and a world of difference came with them.

            The frenzied crowds that had on Sunday welcomed the Carpenter and hailed Him as the Messiah were now gone. Many, if not most, had strangely turned on Him, abandoning Him and condemning Him as a blasphemer. And rumour now had it that the wicked men of the Sanhedrin were conspiring with the Roman authorities to put this innocent Man to death.

            Why? thought Avi. If everything the swallows have said is true and what I have sensed myself about this Man, who rode upon me so gently, is true, then He must be the Messiah. Only God could do and say all the wonderful things this Carpenter has done.

            Now it was Friday, and it was a grey and miserable day indeed. Avi found himself in another curious position. The young man called John had found him again and arranged for Avi to carry the girl from Nazareth once more. Mary, the Carpenter’s Mother, was now 46 and had scarcely aged a day. She was as light as ever upon Avi’s back. Yet in carrying her, he sensed that the great Lady was laden with a sadness of incalculable weight.

            He bore her to a crowded hilltop, where they were joined by John. Also there was a woman whose name, Avi gathered, was Mary Magdalene, along with another woman, Martha, the sister of someone called Lazarus. The Carpenter’s Mother dismounted, and she was embraced by John and the two women.

            Roman soldiers, their spears prominent, stood round this evil place, keeping a jeering crowd of Jerusalem townsfolk at bay. Some of them argued, and Avi heard their words:

            “I tell you, that Man is the Son of God!”

            “Pah! That man is a blasphemer and a devil from Hell!”

            All about the hilltop were crosses, driven into the ground. This, as Avi now realised, was a place of death.

            And presently he beheld a terrible sight. Looking down the hill, he saw the Carpenter Himself, approaching slowly. But this was no triumphal procession. The Carpenter was carrying an enormous Cross. His breathing was laboured, and sweat poured from every pore. He was nearly naked, stripped to only a loincloth, and His Body was bloody, bruised and torn. Upon His head was a crown made of thorns, and His dark eyes were filled with an unfathomable sadness.

            His Mother and the two women cried out in agonised unison, and John placed his arms round them all, trying at once to comfort and restrain them. There was nothing that could be done.

            Soon the soldiers came and laid the Carpenter supine upon the ground. They drove enormous nails into His hands and feet and hoisted the Carpenter upon His Cross, high into the air. Another soldier came and had a sign placed above the Carpenter’s head. It read:

 

IESVS NAZARENVS, REX IVDAEORVM.

 

            Avi looked up and wept. It began to dawn on him just what was happening. This Man—God-made-Man—was taking unto Himself the sins of the world. Mere mortal men could not do this. The sins of men were so great that they could never atone for them. Only God—only God Himself could take up such a burden. Only God incarnate could sustain the punishment merited by man for his sins.

            And only God, self-stripped of His own divinity and suffering like a man, could forgive His killers from the Cross. Avi’s ears went up when he heard the Carpenter:

            “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”

            After some hours, the Carpenter’s agony was at an end. In a loud voice, He cried out:

            “It is finished!”

            And with that, He gave up the ghost. His noble head, so bruised and battered, slumped upon His breast.

            Then the heavens themselves, as if all the angels were mourning, opened up and poured forth a torrent of rain. The sky turned to black, and the earth quaked, rolling mightily and scattering the crowd. And in the great Temple, the curtain over the Holy of Holies was rent, top to bottom.

            On the hilltop, two men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, arranged for the Carpenter’s Body to be taken down. They stood at the foot of the Cross, instructing a pair of soldiers on what to do. John and the women went away sorrowing.

            Avi could take no more. His heart was breaking. He slowly found his own way home and back into his stable at Azim’s farm. He could neither eat nor sleep. The Sabbath began at sundown, and the next day was Saturday. On that day, old and worn out, his heart broken by his love for the dead Carpenter, Avi died.

***

            The following day was Sunday, of course. And henceforth, it would be the new Sabbath of a new world, one for ever changed.

            Whereas Friday had been a sad mess, Sunday dawned bright and clear. And far to the east, just outside the city, as the sun’s first rays caressed the horizon, there came a thunderous report—craaa-ack!—the sound of an immense boulder being rolled away from a tomb.

            The sound was in fact so loud, that it awakened Avi. His head raised up with a start, and he looked round in momentary confusion, puzzled that he wasn’t dead. He was lying in his pasture, just beyond Azim’s stables, and the sky was soon bright blue with the rising sun.

            Avi rose to his feet, and a curious feeling came over him. He no longer felt old and tired. His joints did not ache. He felt almost like a foal again.

            Then he looked up. And he saw Him.

            Master!

            “Avi!”

            The Carpenter, now clean and unhurt, was striding swiftly toward him. His face shone like the sun, and His dark hair flowed behind Him. His raiment was like the snow of the Greek mountains, far to the north, and His smile was like unto the moon.

            Avi galloped toward the Carpenter, Who knelt and embraced him. The donkey nuzzled Him with warm affection. And he saw now the marks of the Carpenter’s suffering: wounds in His hands and feet where the cruel nails had pierced them.

            But methought Thou hadst upon that Cross died, O Master.

            “Verily,” the Carpenter replied, “as thou didst as well, my friend. But manifestly, we are both alive again, are we not?”

            Aye, Master. That we are!

            “I told thee I would come, and here I am. And I have need of thee again for a much longer journey. Yet it shall pass in the blink of an eye.”

            Forgive me, Master. I do not understand. I am but a foolish donkey.

            “Not so. No longer. Behold! I make all things new!”

            And a queer feeling suddenly came into Avi’s shoulders. It felt as if something were sprouting from him. And he looked, and lo! from the donkey’s shoulders there now spanned wings, greater than those of any eagle.

            And suddenly Avi understood. The Carpenter mounted Avi’s back, and the beast let loose a great bray of joy. He spread his new wings as if he’d been doing so for ever, and, carrying the Carpenter easily, he launched into the sky.

            Up and up they went, up and up into the azure skies. White clouds parted for them, and at last, they reached a golden city, its walls impossibly high and its gates more ornate and finely wrought than any Avi had ever seen. The gates parted, and a loud chorus of what the donkey now knew to be cherubim sang out a heavenly welcome.

            Inside the gates, wingéd cherubim and seraphim bowed before the Carpenter. Presently, Avi came to an enormous meadow—a kind of yard that seemed to go on for ever. And there he beheld every donkey he’d ever known, including his parents and siblings, all happy to see him again. Indeed, beyond them, upon an endless expanse of grass, in an endless sky or in a boundless sea there stood or flew or swam every single living thing that had ever graced God’s earth. And farther beyond them still stood all the countless Righteous—men and women of every land—whose names were found in the Book of Life.

            And striding out of their midst was Joseph, the other carpenter, whom Avi now realised was the Carpenter’s foster-father, as He was actually the Son of God the Father Almighty. And They were one and the same and one with the Holy Spirit—consubstantial, the Three of Them.

            The Carpenter dismounted and greeted his foster-father fondly, embracing him and kissing both his cheeks. They exchanged warm words. Then the Carpenter turned to Avi and said:

            “I leave thee, Avraham, son of earth, in the care of Joseph, thine old friend. He will show thee to the greenest of pastures, whilst I return to earth to see My brethren. But thou and I shall each other again very soon. Until then, have My thanks, best of beasts.”

            And the Carpenter embraced Avi once more, and the donkey nuzzled Him in turn. Joseph led Avi to a green and pleasant meadow, and they turned to watch the Carpenter depart.

            The Carpenter stood upon a great hill, His back to the gigantic rising sun. His hair and robes shone like the very sun itself, and he smiled at the numberless hosts before Him, his arms outstretched to them all.

            Then He was gone. And the cherubim and seraphim, with one celestial voice, raised their tongues in song:           

            “Audire Te, i musicam audire;

            Intueor Tibi, sentio calorem!

            Post Te, i conscendunt et hunc montem;

            Sentio motu pedum tuorum!

 

            Iustus Tergum, video turbae;

            Super Te, videbunt gloriam!

            Abs Te, officium cognoverunt Veritatem;

            Abs Te, ego adepto historia!”       

           Avi bowed his head. He thought:

            Praise be to Thee, Lord Jesus Christ. All honour, praise and glory be Thine, now and for evermore. Amen.

            And that is what the donkey saw.

By Thomas Lark

(Copyright (c) Thomas Henkel Albion Lark, December, 2013. All rights reserved. No portion of this story may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, scanning or otherwise—save in short quotations in critical reviews or articles, without the express permission of the author.)

 

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