Some brothers came to find Abba Anthony to tell him about the visions they were having, and to find out from him if they were true or if they came from the demons. They had a donkey which died on the way. When they reached the place where the old man was, he said to them before they could ask him anything, “How was it that the little donkey died on the way here?” They said, “How do you know about that, Father?” And he told them, “The demons showed me what happened.” So they said, “That was what we came to question you about, for fear we were being deceived, for we have visions which often turn out to be true.” Thus the old man convinced them, by the example of the donkey, that their visions came from the demons.
—-Anthony of the Desert
I would be the first to admit that the monks of the desert left us some very fantastic and unbelievable stories if we took them as literal truth. The Desert Fathers, like Jesus, had sayings that fall into the same category as parables, and this is one of them. The parable belongs to Jesus, but the myth belongs to all of us. The Oxford dictionary tells us that a myth is a traditional story, either wholly or partially fictitious, providing explanation or embodying a popular idea concerning some natural or social phenomenon or some religious belief. These stories are mainly a collection of myths that illustrate the life and beliefs of the men who withdrew from society to better serve God and their fellow human beings. With that in mind let me make some observations about the Dead Donkey.
We cannot help but be fascinated when someone proclaims that they have had a vision about you or someone you love. These visions drive us toward this person. We will give money, spend time and fight for the credibility of this person. They have, after all, opened a new vista of life to us. Our world is crowded with these sorts of folks that pander their livelihood from others by using fear and excitement. It seems harmless on face value. Who among us is not fascinated by the Tarot readers, palm readers and other super naturals that we see in the French Quarter of New Orleans or any other tourist destination?
At the heart of the saying was the nature and origin of any vision. The brother who came to the Abbot had two questions. Were these visions true and were the coming from evil sources? Anthony answered their question by telling them they he knew that their donkey died during their journey. The brothers knew that there was no earthly explanation that would explain how Anthony knew this event of their journey. Fascinated, they ask him how he knew about the calamity. He answered them quickly and bluntly – “The demons told me what happened.” What does this tell us about the nature of visions and why people seek them?
God did not create us to have supernatural visions, he created us to love Him, care for the earth and live each day to the fullest. People who seek to have such visions about the affairs of others or the future are really trying to be gods. That is the ultimate evil. As I see it this desire is the real SIN of humankind; it is idolatry to want to know and see things that only God can see and know. There was an exceedingly popular saying a few years ago, “Carpe Diem,” which is Latin for seize the day. That is what God created us to do this day and every day.
Let us put behind the ideas that we can be as God is and validate the idea that we are the fulfillment of God’s plan. We get up everyday to be a part of his creation, and we live our lives knowing who he is and what he desires for us. Anything more than that is trying to take his place.
LORD, In these difficult dark days, we sometimes seek a power that is not ours. In seeking that power, we search in places that we were never meant to go. Help us to keep our eyes fixed on you and your grace and your blessings that you give us every day. It is because of those things that we can live no matter how difficult the day. Lord, guide us through this day and through these times with you at our side.