I was sitting in my lounge room when I noticed the lions in my front yard. They were padding around on the grass, the sun illuminating velvet ridges of muscle as they half-played, half-prowled before my eyes. With the careless hook of a claw they caught small animals – mice, rabbits and birds – before lazily mincing them through their teeth, sliding the still-warm meat down their gullet. Through my floor-to-ceiling windows I could see that these beasts were males, at their prime, with great woolly manes and energy quivering through their flanks.
Still, I felt calm behind the glass, lulled by the awe of their presence.
Suddenly one of the lions turned his majestic head and walked up to the house with the gait of one assured of his strength and mission.
He slinked through a door I hadn’t noticed was standing ajar and walked straight up to me.
He leapt onto the couch beside me, his weight slanting me towards him, and laid his head in my lap.
This is the scene that has visited me several times in my dreams.
It’s one of those recurring dreams that lingers long enough to catch its tail before the pictures dissipate and you’re left only with the knowledge that it was good or strange or evil or brooding.
Perhaps it was just a random dream, a random unraveling of subconscious thought. But maybe, just maybe, it was God forming images in the deep ravines of sleep to reveal something of his character.
Humility, for example. Jesus. Jesus, who “…did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).
Jesus was a lion who laid his head in the lap of mankind.
He left a legacy of humility – he started a humility revolution.
And let’s be clear, humility isn’t belittling ourselves or downplaying our ability. As John Dickson writes in his book Humilitas, “humility is willing, it’s a choice. Otherwise it is humiliation.”
In fact, Dickson gives the best definition of humility I’ve come across: “Humility is about redirecting of your powers, whether physical, intellectual, financial or structural, for the sake of others” or in shorter terms, a “willingness to hold power in service of others.”
The lion in the Bible is used as a symbol for both good and evil.
“The righteous are bold as a lion,” Proverbs 28:1 reads, while in Psalm 22:13, King David describes his enemies as “roaring lions that tear their prey and open their mouths wide against” him.
Power can be used for good and bad. We each have power of some description and import. The question is how we wield it.
It’s a strange phenomenon that those who humble themselves the most often rise to positions of the greatest influence. I’m thinking of Jesus, of Mother Teresa, of the businessman who gives a percentage of all his profits to charity, of the public personality who mentors young people at a low socio-economic school.
Are they successful because they’re humble, or humble because they’re successful?
Jesus said, “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).
The lion in my dream is Jesus – Jesus as a vulnerable baby in a cow shed, as a carpenter, a young teacher, a wanderer and a man who died in a cruel, torturous way. Jesus who is also the son of God.
He shows me that there is a time to roar, but the action of humility, of laying that grisly head in the lap of vulnerability, is a much louder message.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday October 26, 2015.