The Angel in Front of You


Did you like to read when you were a child?

One of the stories that remains vivid to me is the story of Balaam and his Donkey, which I read in my Children’s Picture Bible. In the story, Balaam has been summoned by a powerful official, but when he tries to ride his donkey to the meeting place, the donkey turns aside into a field because she can see the Angel of the Lord standing in the path.

Balaam beats his donkey – he can’t see what she sees.

This happens three times, until the Lord opens the Donkey’s mouth and she speaks to Balaam. Then his eyes are opened and he too can see the angel standing in his way.

This story actually comes from the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, and is part of a wisdom tradition steeped with knowledge about how to live with awareness, humility, reverence, and a sense of wonder at the more-than-human field of experience we inhabit.
As a child, I loved the story because of the talking donkey. (Actually, I still love that part.) And while it is possible to interpret this story as literally true, it is also possible to understand what is happening as a metaphor.

We live in a universe where human beings are not the ultimate power (thank goodness!) even though much human behavior seems to relate to the earth and its creatures as if we were, much to the planet’s detriment. We receive guidance on which way to move forward, when to turn back, whether to go here or there, from many sources – our intuition and gut feelings, the environment – and from the unseen forces we could call our guides and angels, the divine.

The donkey in the story is like the wise but wordless part of ourselves that knows the right thing to do. (In EFL, I work with clients using the Body Scan to access this source of non-verbal understanding, and bring it to consciousness.)

And I’ve been thinking about the story of Balaam and his Donkey a lot lately because I’ve run into an obstacle I can’t explain.

Does that ever happen to you?

It happens to me every once in a while, and I wish I could tell you that I was not as stubborn as Balaam in insisting that I need to keep going the way I think I should go.

But here’s the thing: whenever I sit down to work on my Utah retreat, I hit a wall. I don’t usually procrastinate (much). I’ve tried to sort through my feelings; I love going to Chas’s ranch, I have been looking forward to seeing friends I miss – that’s true from both heart and mind. But the fact remains that each time I’ve tried to work on this trip, I reach an impasse. Something is blocking me.

Is it an angel?

Well… maybe. Angel literally means “messenger,” and I definitely feel that there is a message for me in all of this that I will continue to explore. I don’t understand why this retreat isn’t for me right now. There’s a lot I don’t know, in all of this.

But I do know that life flows more easily when we follow the energy, and that when something feels harder than it should, there’s usually a reason. In such cases, I’ve found, it is wiser to bow than to bang your head against the wall.

In all of this, I’m reminded of one of my favorite poems by Mary Oliver:

“Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.”

And in the meantime, dear Utah friends, I am not coming this month! I am sorry. And I hope to see you again one of these days.

And to my dear Arizona friends, I will be here. Come see me for Yoga, EFL. or Jin Shin Jyutsu, if you’re around.


Erin Menut, MA, E-RYT
Yoga, Jin Shin Jyutsu, Equine Facilitated Learning