Going to Camp: A Profound Experience
I first went to overnight camp with my Girl Scout troop and several others when I was 6. During that week we practiced building campfires, wandered in the woods, hiked down stream-beds, and learned songs that still resonate, like “Make new friends, but keep the old – one is silver and the other gold.” I have lasting memories of peanut butter and honey sandwiches that had been made so far ahead that the honey-soaked bread was crunchy. I also recall crying when it was time to go home – this was wonderful, and I wanted to stay!
Going to camp is a profound opportunity to make new friends and try new things, challenge yourself and experience vulnerability, and learn to appreciate the wonder of the world around us. Kids learn that not all families function the same way and that there’s more than one way to deal with conflict and difference, and they learn about sharing chores and living space. Imagine what the world would be like if every adult had that kind of experience!
The quintessential reality of camp is about going apart for a time, to enter into a new and surprising reality, filled with revelatory and unexpected truths. Like a retreat, summer camp offers a liminal experience, what the Celts call a “thin place,” where the usual boundaries of normal life fade away and a deeper sense of the holy and sacred enters our awareness. We can go on retreat, or take long hikes alone to experience the wonder of creation or confront our own smallness in the midst of vastness, yet something even more surprising happens when we’re surrounded by others who are negotiating the unfamiliar and engaging what might seem overwhelming
Camp means setting aside the familiar, whether it’s turning off the electronics or eating new foods. Everybody gets opportunities to move outside comfort zones, try new things, confront fears, and discover abilities that expand a sense of what is possible. Educators call that “building resilience,” but it’s really about forming more truly human and creative people. It’s about building character and spiritual depth, learning to love yourself AND your neighbor, and discovering that it’s all intrinsic to a good life.
Camp Stevens offers kids and adults a peaceful place apart, a kind of creative sabbath where growth can happen. When was the last time you went apart, turned off all the beeps and chirps demanding your attention, and simply listened to the wind in the trees, the burbling of a brook, or the symphony of frogs and bees and crickets? It doesn’t just lower your blood pressure, it expands your heart and excites whispers of thanks and awe and yearning. Some among us can find that peace-filled re-creation with dirt-stained hands in a garden; some of us take off down the trail with a loaded backpack; and some sit on the beach or surf its pounding waves.
The time and space apart comes in many guises, yet the sabbath task is only to choose one and enter in as fully as we are able: to rest, to get offline, to remember that we are not slaves or automatons controlled by another. God’s people camped in the desert for 40 years to learn that they were free, that they were made in the divine image, and that the response is always to be thankful and creative. There’s an ancient rabbinical story about a man who asks what happens at the last judgment. The rabbi says that Moses will ask a person, “Did you enjoy everything God gave you to enjoy?” May you find Camp this year and experience and enjoy what you discover!