Saturday, July 14, 2012

We make our own sky.

All photos courtesy skabat169. Check out his photostream!

Ben was talking about the sky, so I thought I would talk about a sunrise I saw this week. But first, some cultural context.

When I was in high school I attended a camp called Night Camp for one week every summer. The premise of Night Camp is simple: you stay up all night and sleep during the day while camping out in the woods. The consequences of that premise are many and profound, but those are for another post. Suffice it to say that Night Camp was the defining experience of my high school years, and I worked at Camp Innabah where the camp is held for three of my college summers and volunteered there again last year. This week however I merely went to visit, on bonfire night.

It's not just bonfire night. This night also involved looking at Saturn through a telescope and 2 a.m. Ultimate Frisbee with glow necklaces. But after all that and a Bible study, we had a bonfire.

By now it was after 4 a.m. and getting on toward sunrise. I had already succumbed to a nap on a picnic table bench (I worked a full day; what do you want from me?) and I saw the first lightening of the horizon, though others denied it. We began with a prelude of bamboo, large masses of tender green-leaved shoots dropped unceremoniously on the fire ring and ceremoniously ringing out with pops resembling fireworks and high flames that threatened the tree branches fifteen feet above. Then a pallet was dropped on, not quite so spectacular but with more staying power.


Then, worship. A few Bible verses, a few songs, and a few words generally constitute worship at Night Camp, but the glow of the burning pallet mandated more mirth. We sang what was planned, then we sang what could be called the classics of the camp canon. Another pallet on the fire. Now singing and dancing, now the Funky Chicken, now dosey does for the refrain of "Lord of the Dance," now swaying shoulder-to-shoulder for "Pass It On."

Then the picnic table, the old and wobbly picnic table donated by Steve's church for just this purpose. On top of the fire and burning with surprising speed,  the first little licks of flame in a circle near the center, then the entire length of the boards leaping into the chorus. But we were not singing now; this must be watched.

picnic table graciously donated by Epworth UMC, Cockeysville, MD
Overhead there was no longer any denying that the night was ending, and it is to this moment that Ben's reflection returned me. The waning crescent hung 75 degrees in the sky against a color somewhere on this guy's face:
photo credit: Kevin Bolton
David claimed to awaken the dawn with the harp and the lyre; surely we had kindled the horizon with our fire and roused the sun with our voices. It was not only our moods that were lightened by the blaze, our inhibitions that gave up the ghost; the whole theater around us was literally shifted along the visible spectrum.

This difference in perception was not just a sentimental imposition of the imagination. The colors really did look different to our eyes. When the time came to extinguish the fire (there was still a boat picnic and a polar bear swim to be had, after all) and the buckets of water became sizzling clouds and the orb we had created yielded to another which had not yet shown its face, the spell broke. The sky no longer looked mysteriously indigo, but kinda paleish. With the adjustment of our eyes illumination did not seem to emanate from within our circle, but was shed equally from all directions. Though no one else was around, I suddenly felt observed.

Later on my stepbrother jokingly harassed my mother for allowing me to go to such a place as a kid, insinuating pagan dances around the fire. I don't think he knew how close his description was to reality. There was no influence of substance stronger than s'more, no shameful act committed by firelight, no rash oath sworn, and no stupid tempting of the flame. The God who was blessed and who blessed it was none but the Lord of heaven and earth.

But that was revelry.

1 comment:

Ben said...

I like your description of light coming from all around, rather than just within your circle. I'm familiar with that transition, but only in the opposite direction.