by Brian Walsh
I have been spending this week at Camp Fowler in the Adriondacks. While my daughter Lydia is a camper, the camp director Kent Busman has graciously let me stay at the camp, doing a little work here and there, but mostly writing. Kent is a huge Bruce Cockburn fan and thought that having me around writing a book on Cockburn sounded like a good idea to him.
The theme of the camp this summer is “Hunting for Hope.” Seems like an important theme to me. “Hunting” for hope because hope is not easily found. Not in the times in which we live. We’re talking about hope here, not cheap optimism. Optimism always has its head in clouds, and never really faces the brokenness that is all around and deep within us. You only start hunting for hope when you realize that you desperately need it, when you start to feel that despair lurking in your heart. Heavy stuff for a bunch of kids, but if anyone can sensitively pull this off it will the staff at Camp Fowler.
Now here is what happened this morning. I told you that I’m writing a book of theological reflections in dialogue with the music of Bruce Cockburn. So I’m listening to Cockburn pretty much non-stop this week. I know, I know, some of you are saying, “so what’s new about that?” Well believe me I don’t spend hours every day listening to Cockburn. But this summer, and especially this week, I have been.
And this morning, I flipped open the computer while still laying in bed and pressed ‘play’ on my iTunes. Dark and weighty chords rang from the computer. I could tell immediately that this was Cockburn’s song “Beautiful Creatures” and before the artist sang the first words I could feel something constrict deep within myself. Then Cockburn sang, “there’s a knot in my gut/as I gaze out today.” And I felt that knot.
As the song progressed with its lament that “the beautiful creatures are going away,” sung with the vulnerability of a cracking and straining voice reaching to falsetto heights far beyond the artist’s normal register, I felt myself wanting to hunt for hope. And as Cockburn sang of “the callous and vicious things/humans display” and of our propensity to “create what destroys/bind ourselves to betray” I had this deep, weighty sense that hope would not be easily found. I could feel that “ache in the spirit/we label despair.”
I then walked from my room out to the open chapel area for “Morning Watch” with the kids. The wind was blowing through the trees and the wind chimes around the site made this sacred space feel even more sacred on this morning. The short morning service seemed to be almost over when out came a procession, led by the cross, then a camper carrying some fresh picked flowers, then “Uncle Jeff” one of the male volunteers, and finally camp director Kent Busman in liturgical gown and stole.
The flowers were handed to “Uncle Jeff’s” wife, “Aunt Jan” as she sat in the front row. This was obviously all a surprise to Jan. Then Kent asked Jan to join Jeff in front of the congregation of campers and informed her and the rest of us that Jeff and Jan were going to reaffirm their wedding vows, now fifteen years and two weeks after they had first joined themselves in marriage. Jeff must be pretty confident in his marriage to spring this on his wife unawares!
And then Kent led Jeff and Jan in those wedding vows again. I don’t cry at weddings too often. Actually I confess that I’m often pretty worried at most weddings. Do these two young people really know what they are getting into? Do they really know what it means to make these kinds of promises?
But this morning I cried. I wept as Jeff and Jan, before their own children and before a whole camp full of children, volunteers and staff who are “hunting for hope” exchanged their vows. After fifteen years of marriage, you know what it means to make a commitment to your lover to be faithful in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, in riches and in poverty. You know what it means to say, “I will, God helping me.”
We’re here at Camp Fowler hunting for hope. I was here this morning with “a knot in my gut,” lamenting that the “beautiful creatures are going away.” This morning our hunting could pause for a moment. None of us needed to hunt any further. Hope was made flesh before our very eyes. Maybe the beautiful creatures will start coming home again.