Camp experiences can often help both youngsters and adults get a little glimpse into the divine as the winds of God’s Spirit blow around them.
About a dozen or so years ago, Ellen and I were at family camp at Moon Beach up near Eagle River with our kids. As can happen at family camp, the kids were busy with activities, so Ellen and I took a canoe out onto Moon Lake.
It was after supper, so that early evening calm and cooler temperature made it a delightful time to paddle. We worked our way over to a cove on the west side of the lake and paddled toward the shore.
And then we stopped.
A couple of deer had come out of the woods down to the shore for a drink. We looked to the right and a loon was floating along the surface not too far away from us. And then there was the Wisconsin lake trifecta – a bald eagle began to circle overhead, its wings carrying it along on the gentle breezes.
There was not a sound to be heard. In that moment, in that silence, we could feel not only the beauty of nature but the presence of God.
The good news for us is that unlike the Jewish prophet Elijah in the story we heard today, we were not fleeing from a murderous ruler – only from the chaos of kids at camp. But that did not make the spiritual depth of the moment any less incredible for us.
Incredible moments seem to be a common experience for people at camps, particularly when the camps have a spiritual component like Moon Beach or Pilgrim Center. We hear the stories of the kids and adults from our congregation that often reflect the fun and the friendships that develop at camp.
These camp experiences, though, can often help both youngsters and adults get a little glimpse into the divine as the winds of God’s Spirit blow around them.
I imagine a lot of folks here have at least some kind of experience with a summer camp, whether as one you attended as a child, one you took your children to, one you went to as a grandparent.
When I was growing up, I spent a week for two summers at a church camp, then weeks in other summers at a Boy Scout camp. Ellen worked as a counselor at a Girl Scout camp. Our kids went to camp and then we did that family camp experience a couple of times at Moon Beach. I’ve been to Pilgrim Center with confirmation groups and Ellen has been there with her Craft Retreats.
The theme this year at the UCC camps in Wisconsin – Pilgrim Center and Moon Beach – is “Mark this Place With Wind” as the staff helps campers explore the winds of the Holy Spirit as they seek to understand and comprehend more fully how God moves in us and around us and through us.
That’s what Nicodemus was trying to understand during his late night conversation with Jesus.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a Jewish leader, who seemed to be sincerely interested in learning from Jesus, not just in tripping him up the way some of his colleagues tried to do. He was not questioning Jesus in front of a crowd. Nor was he letting his fellow religious leaders know that he was having the secret meeting with the unconventional rabbi.
They were talking about how one can know that they are experiencing God. Jesus used the image of the wind, blowing where it chooses.
A few weeks ago, in the run-up to one of those big Thursday night storms, I was sitting in a building with large glass walls. Outside, there were tall plants and tall grasses. Across the street were tall trees. In the sky were puffy clouds.
I could not see the wind. But I surely could see its impact.
A plant just outside the window was bending to the right, then to the left as the wind swirled around it. The tall grasses were swaying back and forth. The branches on the trees were bending from the impact of the wind. The clouds were moving across the sky, continually changing shapes as the winds higher up pushed them along.
The wind blows where it chooses.
I did not have to be at camp to take note of the wind. But I did need to be in a space where I could be mindful of what was happening around me.
Francis De Sales was a Catholic priest and then a bishop in France and Switzerland in the early 1600s, a time when religious strife was rampant in Europe. He helped change the script between Catholics and Protestants from hatred to healing and helped change spiritual practices from penance to good works. There is one saying attributed to him that I think fits into this reflection today:
“Just as birds have nests, people need hideouts to refresh and re-create themselves.”
Sitting in that canoe on Moon Lake was just such a hideout for me. Sitting in that room looking at the effects of the wind through the windows was just such a hideout.
So where are your hideouts? Where do you go to re-create yourselves?
Pause for answers
Whether your place is a canoe on a lake, sitting under a tree looking at a starlit sky, climbing a mountain or sitting in a rocking chair…or standing at the entrance to a cave…there can be places where we feel the wind of God’s presence around us.
I love the image of wind as a metaphor for God. We know it’s there, but we can’t see it. It changes things around us – maybe it even changes us. It can cool us down on a hot summer day, it can chill us to the bone during a walk in January.
Stories in the Bible describe creation as God’s breath – wind – sweeping over the face of the deep waters and they describe Jesus’ earliest followers being propelled out of the security of a safe room by a rush of violent wind.
Many years ago, an American poet and songwriting created some lyrics about our quest for truth and meaning in our lives. You know the refrain that Bob Dylan came up with:
“The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.
“The answer is blowing in the wind.”
For the folks who are at Moon Beach or Pilgrim Center, there are many opportunities to feel the blowing wind and to engage in the search for answers.
That search is not limited to camp, of course. It’s a search that we are on throughout our lives. One of the ways we are lucky is that we are part of a community where we can share that search with one another and we can let God’s Spirit blow where it will.
So let’s join together in a song about that Spirit. It’s #283 – “Spirit of the Living God.”