Hunting for Hope at Camp Fowler

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.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian and the CRC Campus Minister at the University of Toronto. He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

4 Responses to “Hunting for Hope at Camp Fowler”

  1. Leah

    My cousin got married at camp fowler. 3 miles from camp of the woods where ang, mike, lauren and i worked. just a little tidbit.

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  2. Karen

    Dear Brian,
    My Son Mitchell was at AAA this week Hunting for hope. What a beautiful article you wrote. Mitch came home very happy and hopeful as he usually does when returning from Camp Fowler. He has been going to Camp Fowler since he was quite young. He has informed his father and I that he wants to become a SWIM next summer as he will then be 17. This has given us great hopes that he will continue his relationship with God in service. My son has spent many of his birthdays at the camp and although this is hard for us, because I want to be with him, he seems to find great pleasure celebrating his special day, or week, at the camp. I am so happy I found your article and I will encourage Mitch to read it as well. I am so happy that he got to witness this exchanging of vows. While Mitch was at Camp, his father and I spent 3 nights in Newport to celebrate our 21 wedding anniversary. Mitchell made sure I saw the cross that he said he helped tie and place in the outdoor chapel. He was so proud he was a part of it. Thank you for all of your help with the young campers and again, your article was enlightening.
    Karen

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  3. Jordan

    Beautiful up there, isn’t it? I worked for years at another camp just up the road called Deerfoot Lodge. Camps like Fowler can do amazing things. I think that in one way or another, camps themselves teach us to search for hope because we get to see a glimpse of the bright future of the Body of Christ the kids represent.

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  4. Brian Walsh

    Thanks for your comments Jordan and Karen. Camp Fowler is an amazing place and Steve Bouma-Prediger and I talk about the camp and its director, Kent Busman, as examples of shalom enfleshed in our book, “Beyond Homelessness.” For the record, I didn’t really work with the campers at all. I was there on a sort of writing retreat while my daughter was a camper.

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