In 2015, some of the summer staff at Mennonite Church Manitoba’s Camps with Meaning wrote a song called “This Ground.” The song makes the simple observation that nature inspires us to pray. It encourages us to notice the beauty of creation all around us, hinting that there’s much to learn about God in the natural world.
It’s interesting to reflect on where “this ground” ultimately led the songwriters but equally compelling is the question of where it might lead us and the children of this generation.
A few years ago, we started making plans for a meditation trail in the forest at Camp Assiniboia. We were surprised, however, at how difficult it was to come up with content for the meditations. Ultimately, we invited others to help, only to discover that they found it difficult as well. This was puzzling because the river-bottom forest here is a never-ending source of inspiration.
It is nestled along the Assiniboine River and, as you walk along the trails, you get peekaboo views of the water. The forest is home to all manner of trees: cottonwood, aspen, linden and diamond willow. Fern groves provide ground coverage in the summer, as do leaves in the fall and snow in the winter. (You might have noticed that I didn’t mention spring. This is because the ground is covered in mud then. It is a river-bottom forest after all!)
The forest is also home to many animals. Regardless of the season, you are almost certain to see some deer. If you’re lucky, you might spot an owl, or hear the tapping of a woodpecker or the slither of a garter snake. If you scan the banks of the forest, you might also find narrow mudslides made by beavers carrying sticks and branches from the forest to their homes.
This ground is so full of wondrous things that one of the people whom we asked to help with the meditations finally declared: “Maybe we’re having trouble finding the right words because God is wild like the forest is wild, and you simply can’t contain God.”
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Scripture is born out of experiences of flesh and bone, things people touched, felt and saw: Word become flesh.
Maybe one of the reasons why our Mennonite camps have such a profound impact on generations of young people is because Christ is experienced in spaces lovingly created by God, spaces where God meets us, surprises us, disarms us and instils a sense of wonder, be it around a campfire, on a forest trail or at a river bend.
For the songwriters of “This Ground,” the experience in nature led them to the prayer Christ taught us all to pray. The Lord’s Prayer acknowledges the holiness of God in both heaven and earth, and our commitment to God’s will for us: To love God and each other.
As we envision moving out of a pandemic that has confined and constrained us, may we be encouraged to rediscover our camps. These are holy spaces where heaven touches earth, where we meet with God in new and surprising ways.
Dorothy Fontaine is the director of mission for Mennonite Church Manitoba.