It was getting late.
We had been scanning, surveying and searching for quite some time.
Soon it would be time to turn back. Nightfall was descending. The African temperatures were dropping. Our guide, John, studied the tracks. He was certain they were near, but exactly where, he could not yet identify.
As we rounded the bend of the rust-brown dirt road, the game vehicle came to a quiet stop. John lifted his arm and pointed to the left. Just under a tree, a brown ear flapped just over the tall, African grass. Lying down, under the cover of the tree was a lioness.
John reversed the game vehicle and then left the roadway. He drove directly towards the tree. To our wonder, there lay another lioness just beyond the first one. We were merely yards away from the two females, when a third lion lifted his majestic head. The lions we had scanned and surveyed the African plains for and searched the African bush for, now lay before us in plain sight.
John stopped the game vehicle and turned off the engine. We watched the lions in silence; completely still. John whispered that the lions had most likely been sleeping underneath the tree during the daylight hours. Soon, under the cover of nightfall, they would rise to begin their hunt.
Minutes passed. We snapped photos amazed that we could be so close to these wild, sinewy and strong and dangerous animals. I couldn’t help but think of the words in the Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicle of Narnia series that described the lion Aslan in this way: “He’ll be coming and going” he had said. “One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down–and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”
These words rung true as I looked over at and down upon the three amazing beasts. We could not control them. Soon, they would rise and leave our sight. And this is what the lionesses did. They bound to their feet and set off across the field. In just moments, they were well beyond our view. The lion, however, remained.
Then, he too, rose to his feet. He appeared to be in no particular hurry.
He lumbered at a methodical pace to the dirt roadway and then lay down upon it. His large body lay across our path. He kept his gaze steady as he surveyed the landscape.
I sat there in awe.
For hours, we had searched the Entabeni plains for the lions and now we had found them…hidden and protected under a tree at first. And now, poised and ready to hunt, unpressed, untied, unencumbered.
I am home now. Three days ago, our family and friends were unplugged from our daily lives and hidden away, just like the lions, in the South African bush. In the shadows of the Waterberg Mountains, under the trees and bushes, we found rest. Over the course of seven days, we sat in the quiet and listened to the gaffawing baboons, the snorting hippos, the humming crickets, dancing wildebeest, grazing giraffes, the croaking frogs, and the graceful movement of elephants. We sat in awe and in revelation as we breathed in the wonder of creation and blessing of the experience.
As I reminisce about this time, I am struck by James words, “Come near to God and He will come near to you….” (NIV, James 4:8). To experience my God, my responsibility is to first come close. Just as we searched for the lions and became aware of their presence, I too, must increase my awareness of the Presence of my God. I must draw near to Him. Just as when the lion stood and advanced towards us and then lay down across our pathway, my God does the same. He approaches us too. We are assured by the words of James, as we draw near to our God, He will draw near to us.
I confess, it was a bit nerve-wracking to be so close to the lions. We may feel the same way about our God. In awe, in reverence, even in fear, to draw near may be overwhelming as we consider His power, His majesty, and His holiness. Yet, we are encouraged to voluntarily draw near just the same. Such a bold step, to move towards God and experience His Presence, is one of love, hunger, interest and need.
The gift of the lion sighting was a unique reminder that when I seek my God, increase my awareness of Him, and draw near, He will do the same with me.