I spent this past week as the camp chaplain up at Spring Heights, the camp of the West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church. It was far and away the best week of the year for me. There is just something very special about being at Spring Heights. For those who have never been a part of camp, it is hard to understand the beauty and the magic of it, but camp is one of the places where I know I have felt the most alive and have been the most able to hear the still, small voice of God.
I went to Spring Heights as the chaplain, expecting to be the one helping others discern how God is calling them, and that was a part of what I did. But what I didn’t expect was to hear God speaking to me in new ways, reminding me of the absolute joy of loving and serving Christ. I honestly didn’t even realize that I had forgotten that joy until I experienced it anew.
I was back from camp and back at Dunbar UMC for worship yesterday morning. The gospel reading from the lectionary was Luke 10:38-42, which is the little interlude where Jesus goes to stay with Martha and Mary. Martha is super busy working to ready the house and the meal while Mary simply uses the time to sit with Jesus. The word that jumped out at me was “distracted.” The passage repeats this word a couple of times when referencing Martha. She was just so distracted with this and that, and all with good intentions for Jesus, but nonetheless, she was so busy working for Jesus that she was failing to actually give the time to Jesus to cultivate their relationship. I picture Martha running all over the place, looking like a chicken with her head cut off. She was crazy busy. I know I feel like that a lot.
And then there is Mary. She just plops herself down at Jesus’ feet. No distractions, no worries. She just sits and listens.
As I took in the words of this gospel text, I began to reflect on my time at Spring Heights in light of that story. I began to think about all of the distractions and worries that so often plague each of us in our daily lives. I began to think about how much like Martha so many of us are. And then I began to think about Mary, and how all of her potential distractions and worries were somehow pushed aside and she just sits down with Jesus. And then I thought to myself, “This past week, I got to be like Mary.”
See, camp creates that space. Camp creates that possibility. Camp allows us to leave our distractions and worries behind for a time and simply open ourselves up more to hearing the voice of Jesus. Camp at Spring Heights isn’t just about the fun, the friendships, or the new experiences. It is about a sense of belonging. It is about a sense of belonging to one another as the Body of Christ, but also of belonging to Christ himself. It is about being able to sit down at the feet of Jesus, our distractions pushed aside.
I probably had more conversations that I can count this past week with both staff and campers about how they feel like they are hearing God speaking to them in a way that they haven’t heard in a long time, or maybe even ever before.
One particularly powerful moment happened at the closing campfire on Thursday night. I had just given a brief message focusing on God meeting us in a special way at the communion table, and the joy that we experience when we get to sit down and share a meal with people we care about. I shared a little bit of my own personal experience of coming to the communion table in a time of great need, knowing that Christ would be there with me. I asked them to listen for Christ knocking on their doors, asking to come in. After communion, one camper who was maybe 10 or 11 asked if he could speak to the group. He stood up in front of everyone and said that when he dipped the bread into the cup that he just felt like God was there and that all of the difficult things in his life just vanished for that moment. He continued on to say that he just really felt like the Spirit of God was with him and that God loved him and that he had let Christ into his heart in a real way.
God was clearly speaking to us. And we were actually listening. I was actually listening. I was asking others to listen for the voice of God. I didn’t realize that I would hear a knocking on my door too!
In the gospel story, when Martha complains to Jesus that Mary isn’t helping her with all of her work, Jesus replies, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won’t be taken away from her.”
Many of us, campers and staff alike, experience this “better part” of sitting with Jesus at Spring Heights.
Spring Heights may be one of the most significant spaces and opportunities for ministry and spiritual formation for children, teenagers, and young adults that we have as the United Methodist Church in West Virginia. While spiritual formation cannot be relegated to one week of camp in the summer, nonetheless, Spring Heights creates the space to hear God’s voice in a new and intimate way. And that is, indeed, the “better part.”