An Accidental Safari
By Kevin Killian
The rustling in the woods continued as the source of the sound ambled closer, apparently heading for the river bank to share the stream with me. I was hoping for a moose, but nursed the thought that it could be a grizzly, which although unlikely, was possible in this raw corner of Canada.
The mystery was solved as I made another cast with my fly-rod and anxiously watched as the trajectory of my line floated downstream, intersecting with that of my visitor on the edge of the river just 100 feet below me.
My fly and the enormous head of a large grizzly bear reached the shore at nearly the same instant. The encounter lasted for only that moment, as the bear, who was more startled than I was, quickly bounded back into the trees. I stood dumbfounded for several minutes, slowly convincing myself of the reality of what had just transpired.
I climbed out of the river, with a trembling giddiness equally inspired by joy and terror, then crossed over the bridge to the other side, as if this one tidbit of civilization would somehow keep me safe from the horrific possibilities.
Safety wasn’t what I was looking for anyway. In the terrifying beauty of this immense and regal landscape, I had come looking for my escape … from work, from obligations, and from every aspect of the civilized world that so easily dulls us to the noble, but harsh realities, of wild places. My encounter with the bear had fulfilled my wildest expectations of this quest. Its presence not only anointed the place with the seal of authentic wilderness, it had also distracted my brain to the point that I had forgotten anything else--even my frustration at not yet meeting up with the wild steelhead that I had traveled here to find. Perfect. A simulated partial lobotomy was just the effect I was looking for. No worries, no responsibilities, no excuses.
In a world where life is stripped to the raw, basic elements of towering mountains, moving water, and large carnivores, it would be ludicrous to ignore the omnipotent creator of it all. For two glorious weeks last summer, I did precisely the opposite. As I fished, explored, camped, ate, and breathed, I engaged in an uninterrupted conversation with God. I thanked him for the wonders of his creation, and for the fact that one of those wonders hadn’t devoured me. I asked for guidance, strength and grace. And I listened ... the part that so often gets sacrificed to the pace of modern life.
I returned home from my escape with an empty mind, a full heart, and a renewed appreciation for the essential role that these trips fulfill in my spiritual life.
As our culture of achievement, constant multi-tasking activity, and insanity infiltrates to all corners of society--even the church--we can easily fall prey to the idolatry of busyness. But this is far from the example given to us by our Lord, who, "… often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." (Luke 5:16 NIV)
The above verse is but one of many instances where our Lord escaped to be with his father. If the son of God himself needed to routinely escape to be with the father, this example must be followed in our lives, if we are to mimic his character.
I am not suggesting that everyone’s escape needs to take the form of a steelhead fishing, accidental bear viewing, 2500 mile northern safari. I believe there are just as many different ways to relate to God as there are people in the world. I have a pastor who swears by the spiritual benefits of snowboarding. Your escape may be in a coffee shop, your bedroom, or a closet. The location and method aren’t nearly as important as the focus.
Twice in the New Testament, Jesus commended Mary of Bethany for her ability to escape the busyness and simply be with him (see Luke 10:38-41 and John 12:1-8). Her act of pouring expensive perfume on his feet is the quintessential example of a simple escape despite the demands of every day life to worship our savior.
While those around her criticized her method of worship, Jesus commended her heart. As we learn to create our own unique methods of escaping to worship Jesus, I believe he will be pleased with us as well; and our gesture will carry with it the aroma of Mary’s perfume, poured out on his feet.
Kevin Killian lives in Bellingham, Washington in the United States where he works as a forester for state government. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, camping, and fly-fishing. In both his personal and professional lives, he finds that God speaks to him through nature. He enjoys sharing the lessons that he learns through his writing. You can write to Kevin through the Letters page of this magazine.