Something was there.
No, look! Two!
A mother bear and her cub. There they were, midday, in the open, on a ridge at nearly 9,000 feet in the Yosemite backcountry.
Before I put my pack down to grab for my camera, I took a few extra seconds to watch. I was the only human around. The rest of the folks on my churchâ€™s July backpack were either behind me or ahead of me on the trail.
Just me, a mother bear, and her cub.
What I want to share with you now all occurs in the next 2-3 seconds. I still havenâ€™t developed my pictures from the trip and I donâ€™t want to talk about the time it took me to take the final two shots on my roll of film. I also donâ€™t want to talk about how, after I reloaded the camera, that the bears were gone. Out of sight. Vamoosed.
Though this encounter occurred years ago, I vividly remember and rejoice in those fleeting seconds of transforming from a weary hiker burdened by a pack to having a raw, wild moment.
On the ridge, to my right, I sensed movement. I stopped.
The cub never looked my way. From first view to last glance, the cub tottered along, 10-20 feet behind mom. The cub, though already developing wicked claws and a strength sufficient to root deeply into the hard earth for grubs (or rip open a carâ€™s locked door for donuts!), could currently be described by the words: cute, cuddly, a bundle of fur.
Where the mom went, the cub pitter-pattered along. How cute!
Unlike the cub, Mama Bear studied me. As she ambled along, she who co-owned the ridge with a thousand other creatures, she who lived day-and-night among the trees and meadows, she who would likely die some day under the Sierra sky, kept her eyes on me.
Had I been between her and her cub, her look might have become a threatening one. But I was at a safe distance.
Had I started moving toward her, her look may have become a primal glint that mixes fear (I am afraid of what is coming at me) with challenge (beware, I will attack). But I made no move.
Hereâ€™s the thing. In a few seconds, I would become a photographer with not enough film left in my camera. In a few minutes, I would hoist my heavy, awkward pack onto my shoulders and become another hiker struggling up the next mountain pass.
And yet, for a few brief whispers of timeâ€”truly no more than 2 or 3 secondsâ€”I stood still, being watched by a wild, beautiful, and dangerous animal.
The God revealed to me through Jesus is many, many things. Parent and Creator. Distant and intimate. A Life Force and a Divine Question. Your understanding of God will be different than mine. My understanding will be different when I am seventy rather than seven years old, or before and after the death of my parents. And always something happens anew and unexpected that confronts me with another facet of Godâ€™s image, of Godâ€™s way of revealing and challenging and blessing.
Mama Bear watched me. God-like, a Holy hint with golden-tinged fur sauntering across a Sierra ridge, she made me feelâ€”deeply feelâ€”that I was alive. I can too easily look at my life and say I am just one of the billions of people on earth. I just am one more anonymous person that blends in; that lives, that dies.
But there on the ridge, she gazed at me. Only at me.
Unlike the bear, though on our worst days we donâ€™t believe this, God never ambles away. God is always looking at us and sharing with us.
The Holy bears us, believes in us, and never leaves us.
(Image from here.)