Time in the wilderness

Photo: Courtesy CYO Photo: Courtesy CYO
Summer camp is a great opportunity to draw closer to our Lord

One of my favorite activities is our annual Super Bowl gathering. The benefits include chili and a variety of foods that my doctor would not approve of, as well as the last football to be enjoyed for a while. Probably the best benefit, though, is the chance to get together with some old friends, some of whom I got to know many years ago in summer camp.

In the summer of sixth grade, Camp Brinkley provided me one of the most challenging experiences of my life. I had, for the first time, to spend a whole week away from my parents with a group of other kids I had never met before. Where I used to have TV for entertainment, now there was only the campfire. All we had to keep us comfortable were the things we brought with us. We had to make friends without parents or teachers to mediate our relationships. The leaders of the camp made sure that we weren’t in really hazardous situations — this was summer camp, not "Lord of the Flies" — but for the most part they left us on our own when we weren’t at activities like horseback riding and archery. They wanted us to build relationships and gain self-confidence.

It took me way past my comfort zone. It was one of the best experiences of my life.

Years later, when I look back on this experience with the lens of faith, I am not surprised. God originally placed Adam and Eve in the garden, not a city. Jesus intentionally took 40 days in the desert to set aside distractions and be close to the Father. Moses encountered the Lord in the wilderness. John the Baptist went out to the wilderness to prepare for the coming of the Lord. Stepping away from the distracting environment of the city and human civilization has always been one of the best ways to draw closer to our Lord.

It’s particularly important today. Never before has our environment been more distracting. In his encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis notes with concern the “rapidification” of our society. Email, texts, television and social media compete aggressively for our attention.

This problem is especially acute for our kids. Jean Twenge’s insightful book "iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood" describes how unrelenting distractions created by smartphones and tablets can interfere with healthy development for children and youth. It isn’t a polemic against new technology, but it does suggest that children can benefit from being away from the distraction of technology.

Summer camp is a great way to make that happen. It places kids in the wilderness, in a good way. It gives them an opportunity to see God at work in nature and in one another. They might not ask to be sent to summer camp — I never did — but our kids can really benefit from the experience. Some of my best prayer has taken place while camping, and I am grateful for the relationships I formed during summer camp.

Now is a great time to sign up for summer camp, and I would like to suggest a few options worthy of consideration:

The Archdiocese of Seattle’s two CYO camps, Camp Don Bosco and Camp Hamilton, offer a variety of faith-filled summer camp experiences for kids from kindergarten through high school, as well as families (register at cyo.camp).

There are also some independently run Catholic summer camps that focus on faith development. They aren’t outdoors, but they do offer opportunities to meet other Catholics and grow deeper in faith. Ignite Your Torch Northwest emphasizes Marian devotion and the pro-life teachings of the church. Another alternative is the annual Steubenville NW conference in Spokane July 27–29.

Northwest Catholic - January/February 2018

Deacon Eric Paige

Deacon Eric Paige is the Archdiocese of Seattle's executive director for evangelization, formation and discipleship. Contact him at eric.paige@seattlearch.org.