When I was in Junior High School, my parents gave me a gift: a week at “Rolling Y” camp in southern Ohio. It was a camp that was filled with bunk houses, horses, riding and roping, food served on tin plates, and a lot of other “cowboy” stuff. To a 12-year-old boy, it was Roy Rogers and company at its best. It was very special to me, and I began to look forward to my week at summer camp.
After what seemed like a lifetime had passed, it was time to go off to camp in August. We got there, and it appeared to be everything that I had hoped it would be. And it was! Six solid days of doing what I had dreamed of – and everything with a “cowboy flare”.
The event that I remember the most at camp was an overnight trail ride on horseback, and a covered wagon on which we carried all our provisions. It was just like on TV! When we set up camp for the night, we were informed that two of us (who offered) would stay awake for a two-hour shift and stand guard. It sounded so cool, that I just had to volunteer. At 2:00 A.M., another guy and I were roused out of our sound sleep to go on our shift. But we were ready to go! There we were, two city kids in the middle of nowhere, no lights except the stars, strange sounds that we couldn’t account for – and I remember that it was really scary! But we got over that pretty quickly, and then we got into our guard mode.
I can remember, to this day, three things happening while we stood guard. First, was wonder. I sat there and looked up at the star-filled sky and thought, “How many stars are there? Is there life out there? Will we ever travel up there? Where is God up there?” Quite a bit for a 12-year-old kid to wonder while keeping guard in the middle of the night.
Second, I began to contemplate things: “What does it all mean? What is my purpose? Why are we all here? Where’s God in all of this?” I pondered all of these things, and I still do.
Third, I heard the stillness, the quiet, the peacefulness. It was amazing how quiet and still it was. I continue to like that. Over the years at Trinity Lutheran Church, I have been blessed to have worked with 16 Interns – seminary students who will become pastors. I have given to many of them a going-away present that is a plaque quoting Psalm 46:10. It reads: “Be still and know that I am God.” A reminder of what is truly important.
This is Christmas week. I invite you to do these three things to enhance your Christmas experience: 1) Wonder at the amazing gift of grace that we have received through Jesus Christ; 2) Ponder these things, as Jesus’ mother, Mary, did, and see where and how you fit into the whole Christmas story; 3) Be still, and listen to what God may be saying to you.
Those are three small things, but they are oh-so-powerful. Take it from the experience of a Christian kid who received the gift of a week at camp. A week that produced amazing, lifelong influence.
Merry Christmas from a fellow pilgrim.
Ralph Rohr has been an Ordained Pastor in the Lutheran Church for 42 years. He recently retired, after having served for 25 years as the Pastor of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church. He and his wife have two children, their spouses, and five grandchildren.