A little over a year ago, when I was still teaching the World Religions course at my high school, I invited Asha Frost, a childhood friend to come and speak to my class about Native Canadian spirituality. Asha is a homeopath who has also studied Ojibwa spiritual and healing traditions, not only as a part of her practice, but also as a part of her own heritage.
Among many items, Asha bought in her medicine pouch and explained the meaning and significance behind each item, as well as its purpose in Ojibwa spirituality. After answering many questions, Asha led us through a smudging ceremony and a guided meditation, which proved to have some interesting results.
The guided meditation that Asha took us through involved getting in touch with our inner animal spirit. In a similar way to how a Catholic guided meditation will help us calm our souls and lead us to Christ, Asha took us on a calming journey through the forest to meet an animal spirit that was waiting there for each individual. Not everyone in the room met up with their animal spirit, those that did shared that they had met up with deer, wolves and even a black panther. Of course there was the expected snickering when I shared with the class that I had met up with a donkey (the snickering was probably egged on by the fact that I played to my 16 year-old crowd by using the synonym for donkey that also describes my posterior).
I didn’t think much more of my spiritual meeting with the donkey as Asha finished her presentation and answered the kids’ questions, but I have pondered its meaning off and on over the past months. Wanting to dig a bit deeper, I did a little research, and was surprised by what I found out.
The donkey is considered to be among the most gentle and humble of all the animal spirits. An attachment to the donkey spirit signifies a spirit of servitude and wanting to help others. I also learned that of all the animal spirits in Native Canadian spirituality, the donkey is the one that is linked to Christ.
When I thought about it, this made perfect sense. Christ himself taught us that if we want to be great in the ways of God, we need to humble ourselves in servitude to others - that is why after he washed the Apostles’ feet at the Last Supper Christ said, “I have set you an example, that you should also do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are the messengers greater than the one who sent them.” (John 13:15-16)
Something else about the link between Christ and the donkey absolutely floored me. Through my research I learned that all donkeys have a very particular marking on their shoulders. On their grey hair, donkeys have a dark brown line that runs along their neck and spine, while another dark brown line runs across their shoulders, forming a cross on its shoulders. It’s little wonder that the teenager at the local petting-zoo looked at me funny out of the corner of his eye as I excitedly pointed this out to my wife.
The cross on the donkey’s shoulders is just in front of where one would sit if they were riding this humble and docile beast. It would have been this cross that Mary would have looked at during the long ride from Nazareth to Bethlehem, as well as Christ as he rode triumphantly into Jerusalem; reminding both of them both of his merciful mission for humanity.
The more I meditate on my meeting with the donkey, the more I realize I want to be like him. Not only do I need to strive to be more Christ like, humble and servile; but I want to be like the donkey, carrying Christ to the world.