The Lutheran Outdoor Ministry curriculum for this summer is walking campers through the church year, showing how the liturgical seasons give rhythm to our life together as Christians. Youth culture, mirroring the adult world, has become so fast-paced that young people seldom take the time to slow down and consider what it means to live a life structured according to God’s time. Camp is one of the few places left where young people unplug, slow down, and reflect on who they are in relation to one another and to God. Day 3 of their Bible study this summer will focus on the season of Lent. More than any other season of the church year, Lent is a time to slow down, reflect, and redirect our lives to God. It is probably the most observed season of the church year, with many people giving something up for Lent as a spiritual discipline. I think Lenten themes have an especially important significance in the camp environment.
Lent begins with the powerful and tactile experience of Ash Wednesday, probably the only time that Christians intentionally get dirty in church. We are reminded of our fragility and mortality: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” At camp, we have no problem with getting dirty, of course, and it is also one of the best places for young people to consider who they are as fragile, mortal creatures. Think of the homesick camper who realizes his incredible vulnerability when outside the safety of the home. Think of the camper who looks out from the mountainside and realizes for the first time how fragile she is in the midst of this creation. Think of the campers sleeping under the clear night sky who open their eyes in wonder and realize how small and insignificant they seem in this vast universe. Camp is a place of vulnerability, a place to reflect on who we are in relation to God, one another, and creation. We do not have it all figured out, and we are not the center of the universe. We are broken, fragile people in need of a savior.
More than the other seasons of the church year, Lent is a time of personal spiritual reflection, when the practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are emphasized. Camp is known first and foremost as a place of community. In the context of this caring (and often overly exuberant) community living, we also offer our campers tremendous opportunities for silence and personal prayer. By a babbling brook or windblown meadow, the camper sits and his the chance to simply BE. Where else do young people receive the encouragement, community support, and simply the time for silent prayer, meditation, Bible reading, or contemplation on God’s creation? The best camps offer multiple opportunities each day for these traditionally Lenten spiritual practices so that they are incorporated into the rhythm of daily living.
Lent serves as the center of the liturgical year around which all the other seasons are structured and gain their significance. We proclaim during Christmas that the crucified one is God incarnate and during Easter the victory of the crucified one over death. The passion of Jesus Christ is the central story of Christianity, and Lent serves as a time of preparation for hearing about Jesus’ final hours on earth. The cross is our central symbol for a reason. Too often, church goers skip the Good Friday service and come only for Easter Sunday. We love to celebrate the resurrection and Christ’s victory over death. However, there is no resurrection and no salvation without the cross.
A theology of the cross proclaims that we find life in the crucified one. We are saved because God in Jesus Christ entered into the lowest possible human state of existence. On the cross, Jesus is forsaken by friends, the religious community, and God himself (Mark 15:34). Therefore, God is present and at work in our times of suffering, sin, and Godforsakenness. Whitewashing human suffering or skipping right to the resurrection is to deny the crucified one. Some people might say, “That’s too sad” or “I don’t want to dwell on that!” Others are mired in a state of Godforsakenness. Think of the camper with the addiction. Think of the camper contemplating suicide. Think of the camper who is emotionally, physically, or sexually abused. Think of those struggling to carry on after the death of a loved one. God is there with them in those lowest of circumstances.
Camp is a place to be real. It is a place where suffering is laid bare. Camp is often the place where young people voice their suffering for the first time in their lives. Lent is a time of contemplation of Christ’s passion and eternal solidarity with the Godforsaken, and camps are Lenten communities when they hold people in their suffering and remain with them there. Don’t tell a camper that everything will be okay. Don’t say that God is bringing good out of the situation. Remain with them there and know that as they bare their soul and share with you the depths of their terrible suffering, you are on holy ground. You are in the presence of God, the crucified one.
In the context of Living in God’s Time, camps are Lenten communities. In the fulness of time (kairos), we see ourselves simultaneously living in Lent, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, and Pentecost. For more on the conversation, check out the webinar on Lent at camp: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTDlb3odoFE and the post on Theology of the Cross and Camp.