Holy Encounter

black_bear_frOn the ridge, to my right, I sensed movement. It wasn’t my eyes playing tricks.

Something was there.

I stopped.


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 church’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 haven’t developed my pictures from the trip and I don’t want to talk about the time it took me to take the final two shots on my roll of film. I also don’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 car’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.

Here’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 time—truly no more than 2 or 3 seconds—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 God’s image, of God’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 feel—deeply feel—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 don’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.)

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