The BBC recently ran a very interesting radio programme on the philosophy of science. It sounds deadly dull but it was not. The presenter interviewed researchers who spend most of their time in a cubicle peering down a microscope or amassing seemingly never to be used data. The researchers were asked whether they lost their sense of self in this situation and could they still see the bigger picture of what they were working towards, in this case, finding cures for various medicines.
I was taken by one interviewee. He spends much of his time in a wood doing research into the biology of trees or somesuch. He said how fortunate he was. When we are amongst people, he said, we are always stressed to a certain degree as they are demanding something of us. When he is in his wood there is nothing demanded of him and he finds himself blissfully peaceful.
Recently I spent a week in semi rural part of Hertfordshire. I had to be part of a team and also minister ( well, sort of ) a small group of people. I did not sleep well at first and found the demands of a new routine, new people and new challenges a bit wearing. However, I had the days mostly free and found walks along a canal bank with birdsong, greenery and the company of a pair of donkeys that I found in a field nearby restored whatever the demands of the week took away. This is not the first time I have found these chaps therapeutic.
Of course all this is something our Lord knew all to well. Retreating to the quiet of the hills was how he coped with the demands of the people he was ministering to as in Mark 6.46. As Christians we have all been given ministries and a responsibility to others. However, we have all, I believe, been given a responsibility to preserve ourselves. Incidentally, this is why donkeys are so ‘stubborn’ sometimes and will not go where they are led. It is because apparently they have an acute awareness of situations that might endanger them eg they see the danger of the mountain ledge they are asked to travel along. We humans, however, go blithely on putting ourselves under more and more stress, taking on punishing schedules until sometimes we crack. In the light of this I am not sure why we use the word donkey as a simile for stupidity!! I rather like the fact that donkey was our Lord’s preferred means of transport apart from Shanky’s pony of course.