Camping is more than just staying in a tent. It has a deep cultural dimension. Human culture, especially western industrial society, is driven by the profound fear of insecurity, temporality and transience. We do our best to insulate ourselves from the elements, from the surprises and hazards of nature and thus we build our homes, our cities and our infrastructures to cocoon ourselves.
|Our little HubbaHubba tent at 12'000 ft above sea level.|
Camping takes almost all our cultural pride (and if you want, arrogance) away. In a tent we are only a thin fabric away from the elements. In a tent we cannot ignore the fact that we are just a part of the universe. This spring I was reminded of it in a very profound way. We were hiking in Hawaii. The night caught us high on the slopes of Mauna Loa, snow patches were all around us. We pitched our little hiking tent right behind a rock shelter. Even in mountaineering sleeping bags we were just about cozy. The tent groaned and rattled all night under the strong wind, providing us with a tenuous protection and only a short and shallow sleep. And yet it was a most memorable vacation night and also a very powerful spiritual experience. We were just a thin fabric away from pinching cold, buffeting wind, bright night, crisp Milky Way and the world biggest active volcano!
Of course you do not need to climb high mountains to experience this spiritual dimension of camping. In any tent, when you lie down to sleep, you can hear every rustle of a leaf on a nearby tree, you can hear a chipmunk scrambling about, and to an untrained ear it often sounds like an elephant. In a tent one can hear even a beetle climbing a stalk of nearby grass, not to mention buzzing, and whistling of those thirsty mosquitoes - thankfully that they are held at bay by the tent! The weather can turn nasty, and we can see from beneath a drumbeat of rain and perhaps hail and feel every gust of the wind. How thankful we are for that hair-thin insulation from the raging elements!
Camping is a marvelous experience; it is a perfect reminder that we are part of nature. It is also a gentle reminder and illustration of the insecurities and transiency of our lives. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience and exercise. No wonder it has been a part of our Judeo-Christian religion. Every autumn our Jewish neighbors celebrate the holidays of Sukkoth. During that holiday they are to stay for a week in tents or temporary booths - something quite difficult to accomplish in an urban place like New York City. Yet even in Manhattan it can be done. Around that time, you can notice some strange structures on balconies, rooftops, courtyards and around some synagogues. The holiday of Sukkoth is a vivid reminder of the original simplicity of life and the humble nomadic origins of our faith. Yes, of our faith! Because as Christians we share those same origins. What is alive in Judaism was unfortunately all but neglected and forgotten by the Church.