Quick note: Starting in middle school I attended summer church camp. I was raised in the church which sometimes tricks me into thinking I know exactly how God works or how I work within my faith. Attending church camp gave me more opportunities to talk with all kinds of people who loved Jesus or wanted to or weren’t sure how to. For a while I wavered and wandered and wasn’t sure how to find a way back to a relationship that once felt full. I am so imperfect but I am loved by God who is good. I want to write about this faith, the experiences that build, assure, surprise us – I want to write about the Spirit in a way that doesn’t simplify or frighten. This piece is based on nights at summer camp. I think about the boys and girls who are now men and women and I wonder which of us still seek.
One evening we have chapel on the lake. Benches are built into the slope of a hill so we all look down at a cross in front of a few pines, the lake behind. At this time of day the water is like glass. We can see the swimming area roped off, the dock that ends at the deep end, the buoys we swim to. At this time of day, our bodies are tired from sun and activity and some of us have already cried at our small group, some of us have decided we almost believe, some of us are not sure. There is a boy named Clay who calls himself a Jesus Freak. There is a girl named Melissa who says Mother Mary comforts her. This evening we all sit and listen to the Word. Some of us take notes in bubbled cursive. Some of us trace an arc in the dirt with the toe of our sandal. At the end, we pray and there is a pause after Amen. The pause is met by one of us who stands.
When Ben stands it is like we all knew he would stand. There is a push forward in our chests. He walks to where the youth leader is standing and the youth leader does not look surprised or concerned by this bear of a boy. The youth leader steps aside. Ben puts his hands in his pockets, takes his hands out of his pockets. He looks up at us and squints like the sun is in his eyes, but the sun is behind him, low.
This is not enough, Ben says. We understand. All of us understand. He says it again and again. Each time, his voice is louder but he does not shout. We are all sitting, alert. Ben opens his arms wide and says, This is not enough. This is not enough. This is not enough.
Now we want to move but we aren’t certain how this goes. Ben goes quiet. He drops his arms to his side and we all wait in the hum. Angela stands. This is not enough, she says, I want more. And then a wash and whoosh of Spirit and we breathe like our lungs are deep. Angela calls out, More! And we stand or stay in our seat or go weak but more, more. Ben is standing like a tree. His body does not sway. He keeps his head bowed. Angela is swaying and tears fall from her eyes. She looks at heaven. We are all for a moment not at chapel on the lake. We are all together and alone with God.
No one sees the girl with red hair leave chapel. A few of us catch a movement at the swimming beach and see Kat walking loose limbed across the sand toward the dock. She begins to jog down the dock and those of us who watch hear her feet on the planks as she bursts faster at the end and leaps over the water, her arms outstretched. Those of us who watch see a baptism. Kat plays in the water for a minute or two. She floats on her back. She swims to the shallow water and hauls herself onto the dock where she sits with her feet in the water. She is too far away to know her expression but those of us who watch know it.
This evening ends. A couple of guitars are out. We sing praise. We sing slow. Kat wraps herself in a beach towel left draped over a canoe and rejoins us. She is glowing. We pray like we mean it, in our head or heart, with our lips. This evening ends. Ben finds his feet can move again. Angela dries. We hug one another. We see one another. The youth leader and his wife are tired and pleased. The counselors invite us to make a fire, toast marshmallows. Some of us are tired by the evening and drift down dark paths toward cabins. We brush our teeth and swat mosquitoes and climb into sleeping bags on top and bottom bunks. At this moment we are alive to the work of God in us and we are afraid and not afraid. We cannot see after this evening. One evening we will be older and closer or further. But this evening we rest, full.