I loved church camp, especially at Ponderosa—a hidden spot in the woods off of Baptist Road on I-25. There was no magnificent scenery but to me, it was the best place on earth. Every summer, I’d make the drive to camp in the back of a church van. Church vans were a step away from kidnapper vans—the only difference was the blue cursive church name written on the side—and our vans had windows. We’d all pile in, trying to sit by the people who wouldn’t pull your hair or stick paper in your mouth when you fell asleep. The youth director would always yell, “Hand check!” to make sure girls and guys were leaving room for the Holy Spirit. Whenever we’d stop for a meal, an adult sponsor would remind us that we’re representing Jesus Christ as we eat, so don’t yell or kick or dump milkshakes on the floor. The van ride was always the same, part of the liturgy preparing me for my favorite week of the year.
This camp was a friend of mine—one that met me with open arms and unending potential. I could smell the pines and open air through the tiny slits in the van windows. The gift of this week had never before been given and I couldn’t wait to open it.
I had to weed through the camp boyfriends and catty youth group drama, but underneath it all was a life-giving space that served as a touchstone for me year after year.
Between group sessions on cheesy topics, I’d sneak off to Big Rock. You couldn’t see it from the main path, but if you veered slightly into the woods, you couldn’t miss it. I don’t know Big Rock’s official name, but in my less creative days, it seemed to fit. Campers would use the rock for climbing, sitting, and jumping. I used it as my sacred space.
I’d climb up the rock to sit or lay and think. Or talk out loud. Or pray or read or process in dozens of different ways. I felt so full from some personal experience with God or some new truth I’d discovered that I needed a place to spread it all out. I’d run to Big Rock like a thief after a raid and dump out my findings on the table, looking at each thought, feeling and conversation I’d collected. Some had to be discarded. Others were treasures, but each moment I’d gathered was explored in that sacred place.
People say Ponderosa was just a camp high, and no doubt, there were the snot-filled nights of crying, often motivated by sleep deprivation. But, I think we call these God-encounters “camp highs” because we’re scared to think that sacred space can exist in our normal living. It’s because we rarely make time to sort through the things on our heart, the various thoughts and experiences we’ve collected throughout our normal routine. We don’t allow ourselves to climb up on a rock to sit or lay or think and pray.
And when treasures are not explored, they disappear. The insight we gain, the words we hear, the people we encounter cannot truly benefit us if we don’t take the time to slow down. Who cares how many books you read or sermons you hear? If you don’t digest what goes in, the treasures aren’t life giving water—they’re like a mouth wash you immediately spit out.
We think quiet spaces are reserved for one weekend a year because we foolishly put the urgent before the important. If we do not visit our Big Rocks, we will struggle to grow up into who we already are.
There’s something in the quiet that reminds us that maturity isn’t in the learning, it’s in the ingesting. It isn’t about how much we gather, but what we do with it.
When I’m at Big Rock, I feel the breeze in my core. I kick the leaves and dirt by my feet. But the breeze isn’t at Big Rock, neither are leaves and dirt—it’s just that I don’t take time to feel the breeze or leaves 360 days out of the year.
This New Year, I want to answer the call of the sacred space—the plea to recognize the lie that camp is camp and life is life. We’ve created a false dichotomy. Instead, I need to practice this stillness that rips me wide open. I have a daily need to seek the liturgy of meditation and prayer, of actually consuming God instead of grazing.
We shouldn’t expect our Big Rocks to answer all of life’s questions. In fact, many times sacred spaces pose questions and spotlight uncertainties. But the ingestion of the world around us and the words bursting through our hearts and minds is the only path to the revolution of our souls. Veer off the camp road just a little—it might save your life.