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For some, these events are family traditions or simply holidays that cater for all ages, a chance to catch up with friends or a highlight of a caravanning trip around the country. Of course, the meetings, times of worship and spiritual encouragement are important. After all, it's something church members have been doing in these regions on a regular basis since the 1890s. But perhaps we could benefit from seeing the camp-meeting itself as a spiritual practice, discipline or even pilgrimage,
For thousands of years, people of God have observed this kind of spiritual practice. As the Israelites set up their new nation, God gave them instructions that "three times each year all the men of Israel must appear before the Sovereign Lord, the God of Israel" (Exodus 34:23 NLT). For most of the population, this involved travel to a gathering place. "Unless you lived wherever the tabernacle was, that meant taking to the road for Passover, Shau'ot and Sukkot. It meant dust, expense, disease and bedbugs" (Charles Foster, The Sacred Journey).
Perhaps most similar to our camp-meetings was Sukkot--the Feast of Tabernacles, described in Leviticus 23:34-43 NLT; Deuteronomy 16:13-15 NLT. Living in temporary shelters reminding the people of their time wandering in the desert, this feast was a time of remembering, a time of rejoicing and a time for renewing the covenant between God and His people (see Deuteronomy 31:10 NLT).
In many times and places throughout Christian history, pilgrimages have also been recognized as valuable spiritual disciplines. Most of us have some of these kinds of experiences in our lives--visiting places of family history, holidaying in tourist "meccas," embarking on a new hobby, interest or project, or simply turning up at camp-meeting year after year--but here are some ideas about how we can experience camp-meeting more as a positive spiritual pilgrimage.
Those green tents are an invitation to live a simpler life for a week. While we might miss some of our comforts and conveniences, we prove that we can live without them--and maybe we could live with fewer of them the rest of the year. Perhaps we could take this step further by turning off our phones and other gadgets for most of every day while at camp.
Living in community
In our individualistic culture, we too easily forget that Christianity is primarily communal. Most of the New Testament is written to "you" in the plural sense, a group of believers who believe together, work together to build God's kingdom and share their lives. Camp can be a place to practice this. The sounds of snoring or singing from the neighboring tent, as well as the line waiting for showers, can be invitations to community--and opportunities to show grace.
Living with spiritual focus
Don't lose the spiritual focus of camp amid all the other activities, people and events. Be encouraged or inspired, learn something new, pray with an old friend or invite someone new to pray with you. Shake some of your tired spiritual habits or begin new ones.
Living as pilgrims
When we leave our homes to spend time worshipping, learning, sharing and praying, it should not be just for our benefit and not just a holiday or mere time away. We need to be changed by our pilgrimage experience, then return to our homes, our families, our workplaces and our communities to serve and to share.
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