In "Coming to our senses," the ENS Weekly bulletin insert for April 18, Bill Slocumb, associate director of Episcopal Camps and Conference Centers (ECCC), explores the ways in which summer camp experiences touch the senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste, bringing the reality of God's creation closer.
Coming to our senses
Episcopal camps' summer sessions bring God's creation close
By Bill Slocumb
Psalm 34 calls us to "Taste and see that the Lord is good." When summer church camps open their doors and gates, they are telling their campers to do the same thing: come and experience the beauty of God's creation; see the rushing water; touch the craggy bark; hear the falcon's cry; taste a fresh strawberry; smell a real campfire.
Sleepover or resident summer programs at Episcopal camps are anywhere from three nights to eight weeks long, with most in the one- to two-week range. Here are some thoughts on the health benefits of attending these camps from the perspectives of our five senses.
Sight. Most camps are located in natural areas, surrounded by plains, waterways or forests -- a place apart from our metropolitan city areas, where most of the population resides. Being outside allows youth to open their eyes, to break away from the tunnel vision caused by televisions, video games, computers and small cell phone screens. They also regain their night vision which is often lost in urban or suburban areas. Their eyes adjust to walking around camps at night. Counting stars becomes possible. Campers discover new parts of God's creation.
Touch. In the past decades, camps have been advocates for nature, and reuniting people with the environment. They are now places where youth can feel the environment. Youth learn about trees and waterways. Some camps have started to have organic gardens on their property, where kids are getting there hands dirty either planting or harvesting food. They learn through hard work that food does not just come from grocery stores, but from hard-tilled soil!
Hearing. Youth open their ears to hear birds and deer, wind in the trees, plains, rivers or oceans, or even to hear the sound of silence. They also get to listen to each other â real voices â of fellow campers and counselors. Camps take youth away from technological sounds and traffic noise. They are living in a community in nature now. They hear each other differently. Favorite hymns sound different, too, when sung in the woods or by a campfire.
Taste. A great percentage of camps are on well water systems, which are filtered. The drinking water that the campers and staff are consuming is from the ground, and not from a plastic bottle! Campers will drink more water, and thus youth are getting away from the ubiquitous soda and energy drinks. It might also be a chance to eat food that they might have picked or helped to grow.
Smell. Campers also get to open their noses while away at camp. There are the smells of nature, of flowers and trees â and then, equally important, the fresh air that is hard to find in our polluted, bigger cities. They can take a walk in the woods, and experience the smells of a growing and decomposing forest. They can stop, close their eyes, and fully take in the life of our forests.
Camps are excellent places to not only get back to nature and God's creation, but to re-align our senses. It is a chance to balance oneself, and to be in an intentional Christian community. Such a time enhances our spiritual life. I hope this encourages you to visit your local church camp soon. Come to "taste and see" how broadening and restorative God's creation can be.
Bill Slocumb is associate director of Episcopal Camps and Conference Centers (ECCC), an association of 106 camps and centers of the Episcopal Church. John Schorb of hopeandhealing.org contributed to this article. Further information about ECCC is available at www.episcopalccc.org, or contact Slocumb at email@example.com or ECCC executive director Peter Bergstrom at firstname.lastname@example.org