An unexpected voice

There was a little donkey, somewhere in Mali, who laid his ears back as he stood against an old wall in the sun. I do not know what R. Todd Hoffman thought when he saw the little donkey and made this photograph, but something as old as time was recorded with a poignancy that transforms time.

It speaks for animals, this photograph. It speaks for that congerie of creation that is waiting for its day. What is more mysterious than a little donkey with its beautiful almond-shaped eyes and the suave shape of its muzzle from brow to mouth and the supremely functional order of its body pillared by those slender legs? . . . though these are merely the outer assumptions and leave us to search for the reality.

Why is this little beast here? (Since he owns something far greater than logic, namely intuition, he is not troubled by such a question.) So why is he here? To eat, to sleep, to carry heavy burdens? That seems an unacceptable waste. The creator who made the stars and planets, the intricate confluence of the seas and the remarkable compound, man, is the intelligence which does not waste either donkey or man.

Consider Balaam's ass. She changed the course of history, from Moab to Egypt. That little donkey alone saw the angel of the Lord who stood in the way of a lamentable disobedience to God and a grave diplomatic blunder. She accepted the beatings of her master in silence until the Lord opened her mouth. Even then her reproach was as gentle and wise as one expects of animals. It was the angel who said very plainly that the ass and not Balaam had been heedful of God.

Todd Hoffman has almost made one believe that this little beast may at any moment confront the conventional wisdoms of the Balaams, open his patient mouth, and surprise us with the dawn of a new day. But then, a gifted photographer has a rare way of foretelling events.

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