My chaplain friend, Tamara Chin, likes to say, “Mark the places where you find God and go there often.”
I found that especially good advice this week as I budgeted for a 40 percent income drop in my crossover to full-time writing.
With great expectation that God still would be there, I returned to the site of the boyhood camp I’d attended for three consecutive summers in the late ’60s. The place was Mount Hermon Christian Conference Grounds, and I’d come to this place nestled in the beautiful shade of the Santa Cruz Mountains in California for a writer’s conference.
I’m happy to report God still is there. This is a place where the ornamental redwoods stretch so high that God easily can shimmy down from heaven anytime he wants.
Despite the beauty, it was my camp counselors who made it the God place I remembered. These counselors were spiritual guideswho led me through some of the crevices of adolescence.
This week, their names returned to me atop the pine-scented air. Mr. Biddle and Dave Edmonds.
Mr. Biddle was the counselor who gathered us together one evening to share his secret for finding the most gorgeous woman in the world. Pulling his Bible from under his bunk, he quoted from the book of Matthew: “Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
We stared at him blankly, until one of us expelled an unbelieving grunt. His response was to slam his Bible shut and turn off the light.
But it was Dave Edmonds, a hippielike son of an Oxnard, Calif., pastor, who cast an influence almost as tall as the redwoods. Dave was a patient example of love being totally present.
He wasn’t the kind of guy who thumped us on the head with Bible verses. Instead, he read the Bible from his heart, and it emerged with a synchronicity that matched the rhythm of life.
He seemed to be someone very much like Jesus — no, not just because of his long hair — but because his loving presence made us want be as close to this barefoot, guitar-carrying, Bible-reading guy as we possibly could.
I’ve always thought the real miracle about Jesus had nothing to do with the fact that he sought the “sinners,” but that the sinners sought him. We constantly sought Dave.
Dave’s example suggested that life had purposes much deeper than simply fulfilling personal gratifications. Life was about finding the serenity one only finds when you come outside yourself and help others.
One night, during our camp church meeting, Dave left us in the pew and went to the altar to pray for us boys.
During something evangelicals label the “altar call,” I left my pew to join Dave at the chapel altar. Dave asked me why I had come. In a simple but memorable way, I told him I felt God wanted me to become a minister and to help others like he had helped us.
Dave reacted warmly, without whooping forced congratulations or scolding the rash decision of youth. He assured me God heard my prayer and — in so many words — Dave assured me God would take my generous offer under consideration.
My return to this God place had not been coincidental. It had once marked the beginning of my pastoral ministry. Now, like the growing marks I’d measured for my children on my bedroom doorway, this day would mark a new place I’d been with God, the beginning of my writing ministry.
Burkes is a former civilian hospital chaplain and an Air National Guard chaplain. E-mail [email protected] chaplain.net.