One of my true joys was to spend a summer week at the church youth camp and conference inLeClede County,Missouri. The camp, in the Ozarks and in a forested area of almost pristine condition, with a frontage on theCasganadeRiver, had been my summer escape for many years. It was and I presume still is a beautiful place.
My last evening at the camp in the summer of 1999 was spent at Inspiration Point, a jut of lime stone rising from the floor of the Casganade River Valley, overlooking, probably, the most beautiful and bucolic vista in Missouri. The campers and I sat in silence as the twilight darkened. It was warm, and all the nocturnal animals began their night’s work. We could hear birds flying about giving signals to one another, insects buzzing, and cattle lowing while grazing in the pasture below.
It all reminded me of a motion picture I had seen earlier in the summer. It was a beautiful version of Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream. In this film, the fairy queen and her court, portrayed as flickering lightening bugs, glowed in an out of the scene. The camp that July evening grew darker and over the cliff of limestone, we could see the flickering light of the luminescent insects. We could imagine the fantasy as night fell. We were in a new world, a new place. A place we rarely see.
The young campers, sitting on the cliff made of limestone, sat silently, and in awe of the evening. Likely, they had never spent much time experiencing the created universe of God with all its diversity. We talked about faithfulness, and the faithfulness of the Creator of the entire world around us. We talked of the need to be in awe of the Creator and the creation. As we quietly talked, we began to see the stars as they shone more brightly in a clearer Ozark sky than we ordinarily see in our city lives. A small wisp of cloud moved across the disk of the full moon. It was truly a joyous night.
We rarely see this world of beauty in the darkness. The main reason for not seeing this world, for me at least, is that we take so little time to look and to savor creation. We live in a marvelously made world usually unaware.
In this darkness, as we saw the light of God. Several verses of Scripture came to mind. I thought of the First Letter of John in whichJohnwrote, “This is the message we have heard from [Jesus] and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” Then I thought of the words of the prophet Amos who wrote, “The one who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the LORD is his name…” As we observed the darkening valley below, the words of the psalmist also came to my mind, and when I returned to the lodge of the camp, I opened my Bible to Psalm 104 and read the words that caught my mood:
[God] You are clothed with honor and majesty,
wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.
You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken.
You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills,
giving drink to every wild animal…
By the streams the birds of the air have their
they sing among the branches.
From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit
of your work.
You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine, and bread to
strengthen the human heart.
The trees of the LORD are watered abundantly…
In them the birds build their nests…
You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
You make darkness, and it is night, when all the
animals of the forest come creeping out.
The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
When the sun rises, they withdraw and lie down in
O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
May the glory of the LORD endure forever…
I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice
in the LORD.
Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!
We walked away from the vista, moving silently into the dark forest. To return to the youthful joys of summer camp, but filled with a new view of the world and ourselves.
My experience at places like that summer camp in Ozarks has been consistently pleasant. Not only did I see in nature the beauty of our planet, but also the human beauty young people who came to the camps to have fun, to see old friends, and to make new friends. The young campers did not expect God to move them into a new understanding; a new understanding of their friends and themselves; they came only to have fun. Nonetheless, in a place like that, the young people come to understand themselves as being part of creation. They do not expect this emotion, to have this profound experience, but that is what happened on that midsummer night. We had come in touch with the spirit of the earth; it was a midsummer night of visions and dreams of a better place, a good place; a place where we can encounter God and the touch of God’s love.