It was a great summer: the Jubilee, the London Olympics and my 40th birthday. The weather was not great but our family holiday in Costa Del Kent coincided with the hottest week of the year and my birthday picnic was only slightly dampened by a torrential downpour…
But for me, the best week of the year was again the one we spent with 150 other people in soggy field in North Devon. The Lee Abbey Camp brings together teenagers from different parts of the country to live in tents, make friends, have fun, form a community and learn more about God. It’s been running since 1948 and I don’t think it’s changed that much. Its simple living: cooking on an open fire, showering in the nearby stream and spending as much time as possible outside. And there is no TV, no computer games and, best of all, no mobile signal or internet.
Christian summer camps have had a massive impact on me throughout my life as I made a decision to become a Christian at the West Buckland CYFA camp. I went back for years and it gave me deep friendships which last to this day. My brother Stephen wrote an article recently about how important camps are for children. I agree with everything he wrote but would add one thing: they are brilliant for adults too.
A cluttered life
Just like younger people, adult’s lives easily become cluttered with worries and concerns. Finances, relationships, work stress and family life generate anxieties which can cling to us like barnacles on the bottom of a boat.
And peer-pressure does not just affect teenagers – it just becomes more subtle and insidious as you get older. The pressure to be successful, gain status, achieve a certain level of material comfort and maximise choices for your children easily warp your sense of perspective. You can easily imagine yourself as hard done-by, obsess about yourself and fail to recognise the reality of the blessings you have.
A reminder of what is most important
So for me, the best thing about going to Lee Abbey is to be reminded about what is most important. The atmosphere, the community and the simplicity reduces the noisiness of everyday life. It helps people throw off some of the self-consciousness of everyday life and experience a deeper acceptance. And this acceptance comes from an inclusive community who live, eat and have a laugh together. But all of this is built on the deeper acceptance which is available from God.
‘The itch of self-regard’
It is not easy to embrace this divine acceptance – many of us find it easier to cling to a comfort blanket of pride and insecurity. But God’s love challenges the pride of self-importance and can heal the insecurity of insignificance.
Both pride and insecurity are forms of what C.S. Lewis* described as the ‘itch of self-regard’:
‘As long as we have the itch of self-regard, we shall want the pleasure of self-approval; but the happiest moments are those when we forget our precious selves and have neither but have everything else (God, our fellow humans, animals, the garden and the sky) instead.’
At Lee Abbey Camp, I find the ‘itch of self-regard’ fades – I lose something of the need for self-approval and become more open to so much else instead: new friends, the beauty of nature and the love of God.
‘Sweet, fulfilling peace of mind’
All of this was captured nicely by Jos Anderson, a 17 year old camper, in a bit of performance poetry at Torchlite, the chilled out gig we have every night on the Camp:
“Come on down to Lee Abbey shore People travel half a day or more But it’s walking through the metaphorical door For the things God has in store. I bet you’ve never had a stream shower before You’ll be brave if you come back for more Sing-a-longs are the unspoken law But ultimately God’s the core. He don’t care if you’ve got no facebook friends And he’ll stay with you when Lee Abbey ends. If you’re willing, come and find Sweet fulfilling peace of mind”
I need the ‘sweet fulfilling peace of mind’ that comes from experiencing God’s love and acceptance. And this is what I find every year in this soggy field by the sea. So thanks Lee Abbey – and see you next year!
* This quote is taken from Rowan Williams’ book ‘The Lion’s World’ on C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books – it is reviewed here on R&R
Related posts: Why I love Lee Abbey Camp