Thursday, August 23, 2012

Balaam's ass kicked mine

At FGC Gathering this summer, when I was at the Meeting for Worship hosted by FLGBTQC one afternoon, a Jewish Friend gave vocal ministry about Balaam's ass.

Rather than share her re-telling -- which I honestly can't -- here is the version of the story of Balaam's ass told in the World English Bible: 

1 The children of Israel traveled, and encamped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan at Jericho.

2 Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. 3 Moab was very afraid of the people, because they were many: and Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel. 4 Moab said to the elders of Midian, "Now this multitude will lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field." Balak the son of Zippor was king of Moab at that time. 5 He sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor, to Pethor, which is by the River, to the land of the children of his people, to call him, saying, "Behold, there is a people who came out from Egypt. Behold, they cover the surface of the earth, and they are staying opposite me. 6 Please come now therefore curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me: perhaps I shall prevail, that we may strike them, and that I may drive them out of the land; for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed."

7 The elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the rewards of divination in their hand; and they came to Balaam, and spoke to him the words of Balak. 8 He said to them, "Lodge here this night, and I will bring you word again, as Yahweh shall speak to me." The princes of Moab stayed with Balaam. 9 God came to Balaam, and said, "Who are these men with you?" 10 Balaam said to God, "Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, [saying], 11 'Behold, the people that is come out of Egypt, it covers the surface of the earth: now, come curse me them; perhaps I shall be able to fight against them, and shall drive them out.'" 12 God said to Balaam, "You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people; for they are blessed." 13 Balaam rose up in the morning, and said to the princes of Balak, "Go to your land; for Yahweh refuses to permit me to go with you." 14 The princes of Moab rose up, and they went to Balak, and said, "Balaam refuses to come with us."

15 Balak sent yet again princes, more, and more honorable than they. 16 They came to Balaam, and said to him, "Thus says Balak the son of Zippor, 'Please let nothing hinder you from coming to me: 17 for I will promote you to very great honor, and whatever you say to me I will do. Please come therefore, and curse this people for me.'" 18 Balaam answered the servants of Balak, "If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I can't go beyond the word of Yahweh my God, to do less or more. 19 Now therefore, please wait also here this night, that I may know what Yahweh will speak to me more." 20 God came to Balaam at night, and said to him, "If the men have come to call you, rise up, go with them; but only the word which I speak to you, that you shall do."

21 Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of Moab.

22 God's anger was kindled because he went; and the angel of Yahweh placed himself in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 The donkey saw the angel of Yahweh standing in the way, with his sword drawn in his hand; and the donkey turned aside out of the way, and went into the field: and Balaam struck the donkey, to turn her into the way. 24 Then the angel of Yahweh stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side. 25 The donkey saw the angel of Yahweh, and she thrust herself to the wall, and crushed Balaam's foot against the wall: and he struck her again. 26 The angel of Yahweh went further, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left. 27 The donkey saw the angel of Yahweh, and she lay down under Balaam: and Balaam's anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 28 Yahweh opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, "What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?" 29 Balaam said to the donkey, "Because you have mocked me, I wish there were a sword in my hand, for now I would have killed you." 30 The donkey said to Balaam, "Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Was I ever in the habit of doing so to you?" He said, "No."

31 Then Yahweh opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of Yahweh standing in the way, with his sword drawn in his hand; and he bowed his head, and fell on his face. 32 The angel of Yahweh said to him, "Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come forth as an adversary, because your way is perverse before me: 33 and the donkey saw me, and turned aside before me these three times. Unless she had turned aside from me, surely now I would have killed you, and saved her alive." 34 Balaam said to the angel of Yahweh, "I have sinned; for I didn't know that you stood in the way against me. Now therefore, if it displeases you, I will go back again." 35 The angel of Yahweh said to Balaam, "Go with the men; but only the word that I shall speak to you, that you shall speak." So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.


This is not a new story to me.  I enjoyed hearing her retelling of it.

And then her ministry kicked me in the gut.  

One of the things she asked was:

In what ways am I letting self-interest -- riches, other people's opinions -- separate me from G-d, keep me from seeing the angel?

Balaam's ass kicked mine.  

As I sat in worship, I found myself asking:

  • In what ways is this happening in my own Quaker community?  Am I letting others' opinions about how to be a good Quaker come between me and the Goddess and how the Goddess informs my Quakerism?  Am I letting my desire for their good opinion mean more than my authentic connection with, relationship with, the Goddess?  Am I letting other people's opinions twist my basic Quakerism?  Am I letting other people's notions of Quakerism, and my desire for community, corporate discernment, and Quaker process, mean more than genuine Quakerism?  
  • Community vs. integrity is an artificial, no-win fight. 
  • Am I allowing my desire to be a faithful Friend, in terms of community, keep me from being a faithful Friend, in terms of integrity and the Goddess? 

Hard questions.  Good questions to be asking, though.

If I am letting the desire for other people's good opinions of me separate me from the Goddess, keep me from "seeing the angel," than I know I need to stop.  I need and want most to be a faithful Friend by being faithful to how She leads me.  I know from experience there lies joy. 

But one of the gifts of Quakerism, indeed of spiritual community, is the assistance of others in discerning the movement of the Spirit, of the Gods, in our lives, and of the direction that movement takes.

It can be very hard to recognize that the people with whom we are trying to be in spiritual community are not leading us to be in greater tune with That-Which-Is-Sacred, but asking us to compromise ourselves.

It can be very hard for me to recognize that the people with whom I am trying to be in spiritual community are not leading me to be in greater tune with, faithful to, That-Which-Is-Sacred, but asking me to compromise myself. 

I am reminded of two things:

  • When the Meeting where I became a member didn't ask, "What will the neighbors think?," but rather, "How are we led?," and, "How can we help you be faithful?
I suspect there will be more with Balaam's ass in the future.

p.s.  Doesn't "Balaam's ass" get her own name?  She's designated as female in every version of this story I've read.  She's a creature of the Goddess, That-of-Goddess, herself.  Why should she be known only in reference to some guy?  Besides, if she's coming into my life as some sort of spirit guide, she needs her own name.  Well, I expect She'll share Her name when she's good and ready; but perhaps in the meantime you all can help me come up with a place-holder name for Her of Her own, other than "Balaam's ass."

4 comments:

Alyss said...

What a great story! This is a new story to me, but one that I will sit with for a while. I look forward to trying to discover the Ass' name, too. I bet it's a humble one. :)

staśa said...

*grin* Thanks.

Going back to the story, I feel kind of bad for Balaam -- G-d kind of set him up, after all.

But thinking about that whole idea (not a new one) of what separates me from the Goddess, what promises, especially of other people's esteem, prevent me from seeing the angel... Hmmmm.

Yeah, if said ass and I are going to be spending some time together... :)

MizLoo said...

I believe the common name for a female ass is a Jenny, with absolutely no idea why I think so.

Perhaps I misunderstand, but it doesn't seem to me that the ass was not what was keeping Balaam from seeing the angel. It was simply that Goddess/God/the Divine was not yet ready to let him see the angel.

Which seem s to me different from refusing to see, or being blinded by others.

But to your quandary - I understand the dilemma of trying to fit in and trying to adhere to community standards. And I see where this might get in the way of heeding the Goddess,

Have you considered a clearness committee? The community, as a community, can be said to practice discernment at Meeting for Worship for the conduct of business, but discernment for a personal spiritual dilemma is more reliably found within a smaller circle of trust and care.

I feel obliged to add my personal opinion that both Jesus and Jehovah have suffered greatly at the hands of both oral tradition and sloppy translations.

staśa said...

Hi, MizLoo!

"I believe the common name for a female ass is a Jenny, with absolutely no idea why I think so."

Merriam-Webster On-Line says you're right! http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/jenny

I don't know yet if the jenny who seems to be becoming active in my life is named Jenny... :)

"Perhaps I misunderstand, but it doesn't seem to me that the ass was not what was keeping Balaam from seeing the angel. It was simply that Goddess/God/the Divine was not yet ready to let him see the angel."

Going strictly by the story, G-d set Balaam up, and IMHO, had no business being angry at Balaam for going, when G-d had told Balaam to go. But then, an awful lot of both Jewish and Christian mythotheology defies that kind of logic, and reminds me too much of the anger of an abusive parent...

What spoke to me more was my Friend's query: In what ways am I letting self-interest -- riches, other people's opinions -- separate me from G-d, keep me from seeing the angel? To me, in what ways am I letting my wishes -- and indeed need, within Quakerism -- for other people's esteem, the needs and wish for money, separate myself from the Goddess? It's very hard to do effective ministry without other people's esteem.

I have found myself in situations this last year among both Friends and Pagans where people were insisting that I needed to do things that compromised my integrity -- including changing what I say so it's less true, but more acceptable to people around me.

I wasn't asking for advice or suggestions, but thank you.

I have had some wonderful and challenging experiences with clearness committees in the past -- both when I've asked for clearness committees, and when I've served on them. Usually challenging in the good way. :)

I'm not convinced this is clearness committee material. But if it were, I wouldn't ask the very same people who are asking me to compromise my integrity -- not to see the angel -- for help with a clearness committee to be more faithful -- to see the angel.

Luckily, there are other Friends who are resources in the area.