Voices from Camp: Spiritual Reflection
Updated: Oct 29, 2021
Donovan Kay, Assistant Camp Director
Disclaimer: The quotes below may stir memories of death and/or grief.
Faith calls on all of us to turn inwards and answer challenging questions. As a meeting place for people of all faiths, grounded in our Episcopal traditions, Paradise Point Camp invites our youth
campers to explore their own faith every summer. "Morning celebrations" and "evening reflections" bookend days filled with camp programming, fellowship over community mealtimes, and lots and lots of singing. These spiritual connection times make space for our campers to learn, to reflect, and most importantly, to ask questions.
During our Teen Camp this summer (2021), one exercise asked campers to contemplate and record answers to spiritual questions. Campers were asked to write on a piece of paper, and when finished, tape them up in a common space for others to see. No names attached.
Those questions were:
What do I believe? What can I believe?
What do I want to believe?
What am I scared to believe?
Please take a moment on your own to sit with these questions. You are invited to follow our Teen Campers and respond in writing on a piece of paper.
Questions like those above are more familiar to campers that have grown up in a religious context. The answers for those campers were things like:
“I believe in one God, and the Holy Trinity... I believe that God will save us over and over. “
“I believe in God and that he loves us.”
"...I think God will give us eternal life and lead us in the right direction.”
“I believe that God has a life for everyone and you can’t change it.”
The central beliefs highlighted by the above quotes might have led these campers to our community, where they could find a place that already centers itself on Christian teachings. We welcome them with open arms, always. These campers, of course, also come with their own, deeper, questions. The last quote above was followed by the question:
“Why do people pass away at the worst times?”
2021 gave camp the opportunity to carefully open during what may be one of the hardest times in these young people’s lives, when the chances of experiencing hardship are so greatly increased.
Challenging questions do not wait for adulthood, and when we open the door for hard questions to be asked at camp, we hear them. We work tirelessly to give campers the opportunities to leave Paradise Point Camp with new friends, with new ways of connecting with others, and, hopefully, with happy memories to shelter in during challenging times. We do that best by giving space for hard conversations and emotional
vulnerability; we rely on our mantra of "Challenge by Choice." That is, campers are invited to step to the edge of their comfort zone; to expand it far enough to try something new for the first time, or to make a friend in a new context. Time moves differently during a week of summer camp, and the uninterrupted time spent with a small cohort of peers fosters all kinds of new relationships. A community can be built quickly.
When living in community, chances to understand ourselves appear through other people; we can see them as windows and mirrors. To see into another’s life, or to see our own life reflected back to us. As young people develop their own sense of God, their own beliefs, and build their faith, they need to have both windows and mirrors. To know they are not alone, and that it’s okay to wonder. How often were you given a space as a teenager to ask questions and have it brought out for discussion, or left in a public space for others to see and reflect on?
“Why do we die? I am scared to believe that global warming will wreck the world”
“Why am I alone in my problems?”
“I want to believe that I belong. And that I’m worth being here. I’m so scared to believe that one day I’m going to be forgotten.”
When we see the questions or thoughts written out, it becomes transparent: our campers this summer were living through crises, personal or global, and turning to others for hope or affirmation. They had thoughts moving to the future, some filled with fear. There is often a catharsis involved in naming our fears and letting the world see them; in asking unanswerable questions. Those of us who’ve worked with youth long enough can sometimes see these questions in their eyes before they know how to ask them.
What do we do in response?
We build and continue camp traditions of morning celebrations and evening reflections. We end each day with cabin devotions, where campers can process their day out loud together. We’ give campers opportunities to laugh and try new things for the first time. We give them space to cry and feel homesick and ask tough questions. We show them how to make friends, how to love, how to be silly and serious and okay with the space that's in between.
We build loving community that fosters spiritual growth and leadership development through faith, fellowship, and fun.
And we do this, always, by giving campers their voice.
Camp is too quiet without it.