There are a lot of "wow" moments that can be found at a Shrine Mont Camp. Whether those be associated with food served at meals, evening worship songs, or typical camp moments, Shrine Mont is a place where some form of “wow” is found by many a young person during their time at camp. About halfway through my serving as a chaplain for the second session of Music and Drama (MAD) Camp, the campers, counselors and I experienced a shared “Wow” moment that I will never forget.
Probably every Shrine Mont Camp takes a foray up to the fine labyrinth found on a hillside a short hike adjacent to the Shrine. One this particular camp day, MAD's Program Director, Cullen Dolsen, asked me if I would assist him in presenting the gathered campers and counselors with some quiet reflection time at the labyrinth.
We began by gathering around the stone circle that makes up the twisting pathway leading to a central point. Cullen opened up by inviting the campers to prepare to walk the labyrinth by first quietly reflecting on all that they had learned and accomplished so far at camp. These included the lessons that we are individually and beautifully created by God, and that together we can do great things. Campers also could reflect upon the wonderful typical camp experiences such as hiking and swimming and more that they have experienced, not to mention the friendships made. Still they were encouraged to reflect on how they had been thus far able to also mount a staged musical, including costumes, props and scenery from scratch.
Before they began walking through the path, I provided the gathered with some understanding on what a labyrinth is; pointing out to them that there is only one entrance/exit, and one does not have to earn their way to the centre place as getting next to that happens early when one begins the meditative walk. I showed them how this was a safe place because you did not have to worry about when to turn or where to go; it is not a maze but a guided path which allows one to safely walk and reflect.
During this time rain began to lightly fall upon us, but we proceeded with the activity. We encouraged those about to make their walk to use the crunch of the rocks under their feet, or the sound of the rain tapping down, to be part of the experience that God was providing us through nature. As the campers and counselors each individually entered into the walkway, I, as their chaplain, provided a blessing to each one at a time as a way of marking this exercise as an intentionally holy one.
It was Holy. Something happened. When a group of over thirty people who have been together for a number of days trust each other to enter into a meditative experience, inviting God into our presence, the result is powerful. As everyone walked the labyrinth at their own pace, many eventually gathered in the centre and remained for a long time before venturing out again. As they walked, and afterwards, there were some people who had tears in their eyes, others hugged a friend, others basked in the Holy “something” that was present in the caress of the wet rain upon us.
As each person exited I felt called to whisper to every individual some short phrase indicating how God loved THEM. When a number of people exited the labyrinth, while others remained inside on their walk, the outer group joined hands, and a counselor began singing a quiet song, and we all joined in reverently. It was a Holy time indeed.
When everyone exited the circle and it felt like we were finished, Cullen invited us to gather outside of the main entrance way to the labyrinth area of Shrine Mont, where he would wait until all were out there with him before escorting us to the next event on our schedule. As the last person proceeded me out of the area, the rain stopped and the cloud cover slightly adjusted. Suddenly as we turned to look at where we just were, we saw a huge shaft of sunlight come down and perfectly surround the labyrinth just to the very outer edges of the stone circumference. That was the closest I have ever felt to the presence of God in my whole life. None of us could even remark verbally on what we were witnessing, because there just are no words. It was Holy.
All we knew for sure is that the experiences we have at Shrine Mont include the presence of God, which we were reminded we can see if we slow down and make room to experience the Holy. I do not know about the rest of them, but I could barely speak at the conclusion of all of this. All I could do is offer up two words that seemed to collectively summarize the experience that I share with you now. “Amen,” and “Wow.”
By the Rev. Peter K. Ackerman, Chaplain
Spreading the good news of Shrine Mont Camps into the Valley of the World.
The View from the Mountain is written by a rotating cast of staff writers and contributors.