For me it’s not really summertime until I go away to camp.
Camp. A week, several weeks or even a whole summer “away”, excused from home and family and school and work and regular life. I’ve been a camp devotee for many of the past 39 summers and know I’d be excused if I decided to retire my ritual. When I tell folks I’m spending a week in the woods with 300 or so kids and adults in the middle of a hidden corner of northwest Connecticut at a church camp, the typical response is, “Well, better you than me!”
Camp is kind of retro, old school. Cell phone service is spotty at best. Fine dining is hot dogs by the lake followed by a glass of infamous “bug” juice. Our first night together is always marked by at least one camper who is very homesick and needs reassurance. The weather is completely unpredictable and riding out a thunderstorm in a stand of swaying trees is not for the faint of heart. And the pay? Let’s just say it’s priceless.
Yet still camp calls out to me like an old friend. Camp is a sacred place and space I return to year after year, that I trust, I get to know again, all over again, every summer. I’m not alone in being a lifelong committed camper. This summer more than 10 million children and adults will go away to 12,000 day and overnight camps across the United States and why? To meet that most basic of human needs….
To just get away. To just be away. To strip away the distractions of daily life and be in an intentional community. To pack up a bag and maybe some books and some sunscreen and stamps for letters home, and leave behind the everyday. Let go of the typical, the comfortable, the routine and predictable and plunge into the singular experience of being “away”. Of not being here but instead being there.
To sleep out in a wooden cabin with creaky doors and one pesky buzzing mosquito that somehow always find the tiny hole in the screen. To spend seven days and nights with a rambunctious group of middle school kids in a prayerful hope that somehow in a week we’ll build and find community. To wake up at 6 am before everyone else arises so I can find a morning slice of sanity and then to stay up past 11 until the last waves of giggles from the cabins finally cease. To be fully screen free for the only time all year: no cell phones or Facebook, TVs or texts, video games or Netflix. To feel the wetness of dew on my back as I stare up into a jet black night sky and watch for falling stars. To sit around a crackling and flickering orange and yellow campfire and eat sticky s’mores and sing silly songs until my voice is hoarse.
We all should cherish our “away” place. An island tucked amidst rocks and surf off a windswept coastline. A snug cabin nestled on a hillside with a waterfall’s symphony playing in the distance. A tent in a meadow, the peepers lulling you to sleep. A sailboat skimming over blue seas, as an orange and red sun sets in the distance. Maybe for you “away” is the open road, wind whistling through the windows, the car pointed to parts unknown and miles of possibilities which lay ahead.
To just be “away”, no matter where, allows us to retreat, encounter the gift of God’s amazing Creation and reconnect to the earth. We remember our souls and that these too need tending. We jettison distracting technology which so rules modern life. We return, and in returning by going away, we rest. We are renewed for summer’s end which, by the way, will be here before we know it. I hate to say that but I have to say that.
So in the weeks ahead, here’s a spiritual prescription: just go away. GO AWAY! To camp, to the coast, to a cabin, to a cove, to anywhere but where you are most of the time. Change your scenery. Change your outlook. Change your life if only for a week or so.
I’ll soon be on my way “away” to camp. See you when I get back!