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lion

“And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together…” Isaiah 12.6

Bruce Cockburn asked me to sing “Wondering Where the Lions Are” along with him Monday night (OK maybe he didn’t ask only me, but still…)

My Baby and I were at the Cedar, about 15 rows behind the Barnhills, because our tickets told us we couldn’t sit in the privilege-laden white chairs. We were ok with this though, because–if seating assignments should correspond to the level of a fan’s adoration–Jimmy and Carla were absolutely in their rightful place, sitting smack dab in the middle of the front row.

But back to the song.

Many years ago, this song granted me one of my very first experiences of pure joy. And for this girl who felt like she was in the shadows a lot of time, that was a memorable feeling.

When I first heard these lyrics–in spite of the overwhelming sense of responsibility that I tended to carry around as a child–I nonetheless understood instinctively the phrase “some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me.” I–for just a moment or two–also found myself wondering where the lions were.

With all of the talk this weekend of rapture and the world coming to an end, I was reminded of a time when I was literally terrified of being “left behind” while others–obviously more deserving than me–were carried off to the peace of a guaranteed place in heaven.

Now, as then, the world survived to another day. And all of the chatter and speculation and negativity and condemnation didn’t even enter my atmosphere.

It’s not that I don’t believe that the world could cease to exist one day–after all, anything’s possible. Plus, we are not doing a great job of taking care of this earth that sustains us.

And it’s not that I am unaware of the myriad scary things we face every day in this life–war, cancer, loss, hostility, tornadoes, murder and madness. All could be described as lions, creeping stealthily in the alleyways and lurking in the brush along the lakeshore.

But when I stop to consider God’s relentless love for us, when I notice that I am surrounded by glimpses of ecstasy and eternity, the lions are as if tranquilized. Big cats might still be hanging out in the neighborhood, but they are peace-seeking, even going so far as to lie down with much gentler creatures.

There is beauty to be seen, peace to be had, eternity to be experienced, even now. At this stage in my life, I gratefully acknowledge that the lions simply aren’t as frightening as they were before. You could even say that some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me.

While living in Victoria, British Columbia in 1992, I remember being awakened one morning by a news story about a cougar that had made its way down from the mountains through the city in the dark of the night. The big cat had gotten lost and eventually ended up in the parking garage below the Empress Hotel. Imagine the shock of the parking attendant who came across it early in the morning! Actually, this was a fairly young male cougar and he was pretty frightened by the whole experience himself. He was tranquilized and safely returned to the mountains.

Just thinking about this powerful creature making its way through the city streets unseen by human eyes–perhaps crouched in the very bushes we had driven past on our way home from a movie–filled me with a sense of intense mystery and awe. But not of fear. This is the stuff of dreams and visions, just as my Canadian compatriot describes below in his quote about the song’s origins. There were lions at the door…

The verdict? The song is every bit as powerful and inspired as it was in 1976.  In fact, if Bruce would have been willing to hang out, I could have sung about lions and their hiding places for hours.

You can listen while watching the “two lion” mountain formations of British Columbia on video below. It was very moving listening to Bruce sing it in person of course.  Still: Close your eyes, ponder eternity for a moment, and think about how you see evidence of forever, everyday, all around you.

See if you can let that feeling of ecstasy get ahold of you too.

Wondering where the lions are

Sun’s up, uh huh, looks okay
The world survives into another day
And I’m thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

I had another dream about lions at the door
They weren’t half as frightening as they were before
But I’m thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

Walls windows trees, waves coming through
You be in me and I’ll be in you
Together in eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

Up among the firs where it smells so sweet
Or down in the valley where the river used to be
I got my mind on eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

And I’m wondering where the lions are…
I’m wondering where the lions are…

Huge orange flying boat rises off a lake
Thousand-year-old petroglyphs doing a double take
Pointing a finger at eternity
I’m sitting in the middle of this ecstasy

Young men marching, helmets shining in the sun,
Polished as precise like the brain behind the gun
(Should be!) they got me thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

And I’m wondering where the lions are…
I’m wondering where the lions are…

Freighters on the nod on the surface of the bay
One of these days we’re going to sail away,
going to sail into eternity
some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

And I’m wondering where the lions are…
I’m wondering where the lions are…

Bruce Cockburn


“I have a relative who is involved in one of those kinds of government jobs where they can’t say what they do. The part you can say involves monitoring other people’s radio transmissions and breaking codes. At that time China and the Soviet Union were almost at war on their mutual border. And both of them had nuclear capabilities. I had dinner with this relative of mine and he said, “We could wake up tomorrow to a nuclear war.” Coming from him, it was a serious statement. So I woke up the next morning and it wasn’t a nuclear war. [Laughs] It was a real nice day and there was all this good stuff going on and I had a dream that night which is the dream that is referred to in the first verse of the song, where there were lions at the door, but they weren’t threatening, it was kind of a peaceful thing. And it reflected a previous dream that was a real nightmare where the lions were threatening.”– from “Closer to the Light with Bruce Cockburn” by Paul Zollo, SongTalk, vol. 4, issue 2, 1994. Submitted by Rob Caldwell.