Friday, May 11, 2012

Listening for the Elephant in the Trees

Cheetah in the Masai Mara Region of Kenya/Tanzania

I am in the preparation stages of a trip to Kenya on behalf of the church I attend.  We will have the privilege of working with nearly two dozen churches in the Mombasa area, on the Indian Ocean. 

Several years ago, my wife Teresa, and I, on a similar trip, were able to go on a safari in the Masai Mara region of Kenya.

She is an amazing photographer who, led by a great safari guide, was able to get close-up, unforgettable pictures of life in the wild.  It is rather intimidating to get this close to lions fighting over a recent kill (sorry, life in that area is pretty graphic) - the sounds of the flesh tearing, the smells of a day old kill in the heat (this was definitely NOT a Disney experience) and the realization that we were only feet from "real" wildlife.  The only protection we had was the experience and wisdom of our guide.  He took some risks to get us very close and as real an experience as possible.

Four female lions working on a wildebeast.
Our guide's name was Cyrus.  He owned (and still does today) his own safari company, with vehicles, that take tourists into as realistic an encounter with Kenyan wildlife as possible.  There seemed to be such incredible joy for him as he led us on a discovery of the life of Kenya.  In fact, the photo below, of the family of elephants, pleased him immensely. 

He slowed the safari vehicle to a crawl and pointed into the trees about 25 yards away.  His whispered question was:  do you hear them?  We thought he was joking.  We didn't hear anything except the incredible presence of silence. 

"No," he said.  "Really listen and watch." 

Within a minute or so, nearly 20 elephants came from out of the trees.  Neither my wife nor I saw trees moving, felt shaking, heard sounds - until they appeared en mass.  We saw adult, teen and baby elephants walking along, doing elephant things.  When they saw us, the teens moved to protect the babies and the adults surrounded them all and they kept moving.  It was an awe inspiring experience to balance the silence of their movements and the size of their bodies.

And yet, they were not silent.

An elephant family emerged from a cover of trees only feet from our vehicle.

Cyrus knew they were there.  Cyrus heard the noise they made.  Noticed the motion of the trees caused by 20 or more massive bodies moving toward our position.  He put us in the exact right place to get photos that would capture that moment in time - bringing us years of joy as we recollect that day and, hopefully, giving you a peek into the wildlife of Kenya by seeing the handiwork of Teresa and Cyrus.

Giraffe seemed to race the safari vehicle to cross the road first.
That day got me thinking.

How much do we miss in our lives just because we are too busy, too loud, too harried to notice the elephants walking near us?

There is so much that goes on around us.  Too much in fact.  Much of our day is focused on shutting out unwanted sights, sounds, smells.  And people.  That is a shame because in our fight to preserve "our space" we miss getting to experience some of the blessings that can come our way from other things that inhabit the same place.

Had Teresa and I been alone on the safari, we would have sped past the stand of trees holding the elephants.  We would have been in a hurry to "see" the next big thing we needed to see.  To race to finish that part of the safari like the giraffes in the picture above.

And we would have missed the biggest family of animals we had ever been around.  Missed it entirely.

In the old days (otherwise known as the 1980s), there actually was time for silence.  Cell phones didn't exist.  Radio stations only carried so far.  It was not unusual to travel for miles and miles in silence.  Thinking, listening to the quiet.  Or, in that quiet you could hear the small, still voice of God.  Prodding, encouraging, prompting us to action. 

With all of the noise that surrounds our every waking hour, we shut out the opportunity to hear God's voice in any part of our life.  We often pray that God will guide us, direct us.  What if He is whispering His word in our ears?  But they are plugged by earbuds for our music.  Clogged by the cell phone extending from our head.  Overloaded by satellite radio and tv.

But on the plains of the Masai Mara - we heard - silence.  Big silence.  So quiet that it almost hurt your ears.  I found that, after a couple of days, I could hear the sound of hippos thumping the water from miles away.  I could hear the hyenas circling the wildebeast kill to scavenge after the lions finished.  I could hear the wings of the vultures beating above us, looking for "leftovers."

The time of silence caused my ears to become sensitive to all sounds around me.  I was amazed at how quickly Scripture or spiritual songs came to my mind as an explanation for what I was seeing and hearing.  The words, stories and songs came so naturally to me in that setting of wildlife that I felt like it had been bottled up for a long, long time.  Just waiting for a chance to come out - when the silence could be filled by the words of God.  The words were always there but it was too loud to be heard.  Until the silence filled my ears.

The contrast between the big silence and the big wildlife was astounding.  Inspiring.  Necessary. 

Now, I try to take that kind of time.  Shut out some of the noise.  Listen for the elephant in the trees.
Do you?

1 comment:

  1. Great post. No, nothing like Disney! I hope to be able to do that one of these days!