There’s a great Spike Lee movie in which a young black man has a choice between defending the white pizza-shop owner who hired him or siding with his rioting neighbors. The movie smolders relentlessly to a tight climax: heat and tension inexorably rising.
The guy in the moral cross hairs of this week’s story is named Balaam, hired by King Balak to curse the Israelites, whom he fears may settle in his land. In our times, uninvited neighbors might get a rock through the window or a burning cross on the lawn.
Balaam sets out, happy to have a gig. On the road, his donkey stops and says No further. No cursing. Do the right thing instead. PS, If you don’t believe me, can you see the angel blocking our way? Even with that, Balaam tries to curse, but blessings flow from his mouth instead.
We can’t pick our lessons. But we can pay attention when they show up. Unless they’re catastrophic we might not even notice them, usually for far too long. We get used to ignoring those nagging whispers or strange feelings every time we think about a certain person, place, or thing.
Because they’re almost always inconvenient, we rarely embrace our lessons with joy. For most of us, karmic reprimands aren’t pretty or fun. They’re annoying distractions from what we’d rather be doing. Gratitude, or even bemused irony, is hard to come by. We’re so involved in the immediacy of our lives that we forget this whole experience is just a small blip in the larger cosmic drama.
The Hindus have a great word, leela. It means cosmic play, which you can interpret as anything from hopscotching quarks to the fates rolling dice with our lives. We can learn our lessons the easy way or the hard way, depending on everything from attitude to karma. A lot depends on how well we heed the messengers who deliver them.
It helps to learn how your particular guides like to talk to you. Many cultures have trickster legends, guides who smile, beguile, and riddle. Judaism sends angels, malachim, often translated as messengers. Ignore them at your own peril. Much better to pay attention to what’s being said and asked of you.
Angels and talking critters are hard to come by. Spirit guides invisible. And their stand-ins, family and friends, so easy to ignore. But like in the old cartoon of a tiny angel and devil whispering into opposite ears, we usually know when we’re facing an important choice.
Wouldn’t it be grand if we knew what the right choice was? If we didn’t need a cosmic 2×4 to get our attention, like ultimatums from doctors, judges, or divorce papers. If we did the right thing willingly and easily.
We get greedy, forgetful, and lazy. But mostly we know what’s good, right, and true. My optimistic self believes we’re hard-wired for goodness. That mostly we want to get it right. It’d be a bleak world to think otherwise.
What if we did the right thing more often? If we created more joy and more caring, more blessings than curses, because we’re more light than dark, more good than afraid, more loving than angry.
Can you image the beautiful world we’d create?