The Parable of the Donkey

I was recently listening to the Turning to the Mystics podcast where I heard spiritual director James Finley tell the following parable (as far as I can tell, its origins are disputed). As any good parable is supposed to, I have not been able to shake it from my mind.

As you read and reflect, what does this say to you about our perceptions or labeling of others? What does it say about healing of family wounds and hurts? If the parable resonates with you or even makes you uncomfortable, can you pinpoint why?

A Christian hermit heard a knock at the door of his hermitage. When he opened the door, he saw a mother and father and their young daughter. The parents apologized for intruding on the hermit’s solitude but said, “We’ve come to ask you to pray over our daughter whom, as you can plainly see, an evil wizard has turned into a donkey.”

“Yes, I see,” said the hermit, and he invited them to come in.

The hermit then asked the parents to sit off to one side. He asked the little girl if she was hungry and would like something to eat. When she said that she would like that, the hermit talked with her as he prepared the meal. Then as she ate, he continued talking to her, asking her questions about things that mattered to her.

When the parents saw the love with which the hermit prepared their daughter some food and the sincere affection in which he spoke to her, their eyes were opened. They suddenly realized that the wizard had not cast a spell on their daughter, turning her into a donkey. Rather, the wizard had cast a spell on them, leading them to believe that their daughter was a donkey. And seeing that their daughter was truly the little girl they loved, they were filled with joy and cheerfully embraced her.

As the parents left with their daughter, they expressed their gratitude for what had just happened. And their daughter was grateful as well, for it is hard being a little girl when your parents think you are a donkey. It is especially hard when you fall into the shame-based suffering that comes when you start to believe that you are, indeed, the donkey your parents believe you to be.

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