Beauty and Meaning
“By its very nature life is full of meaning, for the God who said “let there be light” also proclaimed it good. And the God who said “let us make humankind” also blessed us and proclaimed us to be very good indeed.” Br. James Koester, Society of Saint John the Evangelist, ssje.org, Brother, Give Us a Word, November 10, 2018.
We are gathered this weekend with a group of friends who meet once a year on the top of Petit Jean Mountain to give thanks for Camp Mitchell, the camp and conference center for the Episcopal Church in Arkansas. Our bishop celebrates Eucharist with us, we learn about what has been happening at the camp over the past year and new volunteer opportunities, and we give money for a project for the new year. We have paved roads and paths for those who are handicapped, remodeled buildings, and contributed to a farm program, but mostly we hope to educate people about the camp so they can go back home to remind others of this natural jewel.
Our camp has changed lives, especially those of our children and youth. This is where so many have met God.
The camp is strategically built on the brow of a small mountain overlooking the Arkansas River Valley and the Arkansas River. In the early morning, clouds fill the valley and we cannot help but feel we are indeed in heaven. Each evening, the sunset paints a new pink and orange and red panoramic skyscape that no other artist has been able to duplicate. Indian caves with their faint markings live below while three hundred-million-year-old fossil rocks live beside us at every turn as reminders that life was here long before we were.
Every inch of nature on the mountain is spectacular, but living on the brow is not an easy life for human dwellings. The wind and rain and electrical storms take their toll. The upkeep is high. So that is why we come together.
We are actually paying it forward to care for a place that has changed our lives to preserve it for those who are coming after us, most we will never know. The beauty of Petit Jean Mountain has not only brought us closer to the God of our understanding but has been one of our best teachers about stewardship, caring for a precious pearl of great price that we have been privileged to view for a nanosecond of its existence.
I will keep permanently in my mind this image from our opening Eucharist just after the sun set last night. We light candles around the altar to remind us to give thanks for all those who were here before us who cared for this land. We also light candles to give thanks for our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren who will come to this holy ground long after us.