CAMP CEDAR CLIFF DINING HALL
By Keith Turman
I was the first in my cabin to wake up. It was the Sunday morning of Youth Winter Retreat, and a vision from the night before was still stirring in my heart—a quiet cup of coffee on the hearth of a roaring fire that I would build myself. As I walked eagerly from the cabin into 13° cold, I noticed a convergence of teenagers moving in my direction. Teenagers—converging at 6:30 in the morning. It didn’t make sense, and I didn’t feel the danger until it was too late. We all claimed the dining hall at the same time, and my monastic dream was shattered. I couldn’t just sit spiritually by and watch this small army of volunteers prepare the room for breakfast, so I set up a few tables and fetched a few chairs and danced to the 80’s mix they blasted through the speakers. And then to my delight, they left as quickly as they had come. The dream was rekindled.
But as soon as I retrieved my leather journal and settled near the fire, Matthew Blackburn walked through the door with his signature grin, and with a lively band of sixth graders. How could this be possible? Breakfast was not until 8:30! On what planet do sixth graders arrive an hour and a half early for breakfast? All hope was not lost though. As a general rule, if you don’t make eye contact, you can completely ignore people, even if they are your friends. But it’s hard to ignore a group of friends when they actually sit down at your table and look you in the eyes. They invited me to join their game of “Apples to Apples,” and we played until the bacon was served. Bacon seems to cure everything.
My frustration at missing out on a bit of solitude was short-lived, because I know that a dining hall is not meant to be a monastery. A dining hall is sacred in its own right, its spiritual impact equally powerful. Now that I think about it, my soul came alive while I helped set up those tables. And it wasn’t because they were playing my music. Something beautiful happens when strangers work together for common good.
All weekend young and old were at the table together in the Camp Cedar Cliff dining hall. Even though some questioned the quality of the food, we had the makings of a feast—and we feasted. People were drawn to these tables. Some like me came for the first time, and others came from long distances for another chance at them. We reconnected with old friends and we made new friends. We played games and we told stories and we feasted. Together. Together happens in a dining hall, and we’re always better together. So now, I know a lively band of sixth graders by name, I know that we’re in this together, and I know the kingdom of God is at hand.
“When Jesus was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” (Luke 24:30-31a)