by Rev. Bryan S. Breault
The first campers of the season are getting ready for bed on the first night of camp. Children 8-11 years old arrived by 3:30, tentative with stuffed animals firmly against cheeks. The experience these campers, (and we adults) had tonight is truly ineffable, and yet, I must try to give you a glimpse of the magic and majesty that just occurred.
I arrived about an hour before them. Driving up the camp road in the pouring rain I was disappointed, but determined not to let the weather have a negative impact on the day. Sure enough the rain stopped and the deans, counselors, staff, and campers ran outside for games on the field. Still, the bugs were thick and the humidity high. By dinner things were going just fine. I sat and listened to Andy, one of the deans, fully enter into the world of third, fourth and fifth graders and entice them with tales of s’mores and campfires. It was a satisfying moment. Things were going well.
I stepped out of the dining hall after dinner, and wonder of wonders, the sky was blue, the evening sun shining, the bugs (mostly) gone and the air crisp. Looked like we might have vespers on Chapel Rock after all! And so I walked across the campground with a spring in my step, and stopped short at the building known as the Met (short for Greek word Metanoia, which means ‘to turn around’). I thought I saw smoke and had moment of panic. An alarmed voice yelled “what’s that smoke?!” But it wasn’t smoke, it was fog. No, too rich and thick for fog, it was a cloud; a cloud blowing against the side of the mountain, hitting the building and flowing over the roof and down the sides. It was a remarkable site, like nothing I’ve seen before, although reminiscent of the fog pouring over the hills of the Golden Gate in San Francisco.
On the way up to chapel, I mentioned to Mollie how fun it would be to watch the faces of the children as they emerged on top at Chapel Rock, so my disappointment was genuine as we arrived to find the world enrobed in white. It seemed like the end of the world as the cliffs jutted off into nothingness. A uniform light gray obscured everything, even the nearby sister peak of Pine Mountain. And though it had an eerie existential majesty of its own, I wanted these kids to experience the awe-inspiring vista this cloud cover had so deeply hidden.
Dan began worship by addressing the white-out with optimism and enthusiasm. He created a sense of anticipation and mystery about what was out there that made everyone want to journey back to see what all the fuss was about. He preached about Isaiah and how God was doing a new thing in our midst with upbeat energy. One young girl, afraid of sitting on the high perch surrounded by white, slipped next to me and asked me to keep her safe. As we looked around I noticed the faintest bit of blue above us. And suddenly, with a gasp from the crowd, there it was. Revealed through the streaking mist, one mountain, far away but enormous in scale appeared before us. The sun striking its side with angelic glory. “What IS it?” asked the young camper tucked up next to me. “It’s a mountain,” I whispered to her with hushed reverence.
That was when I heard the boy behind me say, “I’m definitely coming back next year!” I smiled. We were four hours in.
Dan managed to work the revelation before us into his sermon seamlessly, as though it were planned like a theatre trick with the mountains sudden appearance executed by a tech crew. Something about the magnificence appearing from the starkness gave it a commanding presence. Everyone was unified in the moment. It lasted about thirty seconds before the mountain was swallowed back into nothingness and kids were left wondering what else could be out there. Everyone knew that we had just witnessed something holy. Something profound. We had been given the gift of having the veil between the everyday and the divine lifted ever so briefly. A thin place.
I stood in wonder at this spot a dozen years ago, and many time in the past two years, but here, with these young campers, I got it. We descended the mountain full of awe, gratitude and the Holy Spirit. And then, as I approached the trail head at the bottom, which opens out into camp, I found the entire group stopped and being shushed by the adults. There, in the center of camp, only 40 feet away, strolled an enormous moose, followed by not one, but two babies. This moose is a known entity here, her name is Gloria. We were safe. And there as we stood in a group, each child knew once again, that we were in the presence of the sacred. We stayed quiet and watched the 3 moose stroll leisurely through the thick mist and up the nearby hill and slowly out of site. Then came the uncontainable excitement and another unsolicited comment, as a young boy looked me straight in the eye and said “When I get home, I’m going to tell EVERYBODY!”
Two things a camp director likes to hear are: “I’m coming back next year” and “I’m going to tell everybody.”
This was a tremendously auspicious first day of camp. I’ve seen a lot of beauty in this world and yet tonight, I am as wide eyed and full of awe as the campers, now safely tucked-in and slumbering peacefully. The veil is lifted. Horton Center on Pine Mountain is back.