Monday, June 04, 2018

On returning from a camping holiday

I love to camp.  I confess, I don't quite trust people who don't enjoy life under canvas.  Sorry if that's you.  I'm sure you have many other admirable qualities.

Two reflections on camping.  The first one is that camping really brings it home to you that creation is there.  I mean, I know we live in God's creation all the time; I'm aware that the city as well as the countryside belongs to God.  But there is something about sitting out in the countryside for a week that highlights the solidity, the given-ness, the sheer there-ness, of creation.  When I'm in the city, the built environment, I easily forget that the world is not something of our construction.  It doesn't belong to us, and we don't control it.  Even in the neatly and nicely tamed countryside of south Devon, how could anybody forget that we human beings didn't and couldn't shape the hills, didn't and couldn't bring forth the trees, didn't and couldn't set the rocky cliffs above the surging sea?  Waking up at night, one need only pop one's head outside to see stars - innumerable stars, more stars than you would imagine possible from within the artificially lit city.

Here's the paradox: what is a streetlamp compared to the countless stars of God?  And yet a streetlamp will cut off the view of the stars completely.  The city shrinks the world, makes it manageable.  I am not confronted by the heights and depths of God's wonderful creation, but only by the altogether manageable mediocrities of human construction.  It is good to be reminded that creation is there, because it reminds me that God is there.  Just as creation is only really hidden behind the pavements and houses, so God is only hidden behind the frenetic human activity of life.  Behind it all, he is there.

Second reflection: tent living is precarious.  It feels precarious, when the wind is up, but it's more than that.  Out there is the vast given-ness of God's world, and here I am, in a scrap of canvas, clinging to the earth of the creator's moulding.  The city, with all its concrete and control, makes me feel secure, in a way.  But I am not secure.  Maybe I did say in my prosperity "I shall never be moved" - but it was only God's favour that made it so.  One is reminded of that, in a tent.  Weather-dependent, in a way which you're not in the city, the conclusion that we are dependent, contingent - that is, or should be, impossible to avoid.  How fragile we are, and how fragile is everything that we construct and value.  All living really is tent living, although we cover it from ourselves with bricks and mortar.

And a reflection on coming home: one of the worst consequences of sin is that we are constantly seeking to be what we are not, to deny creational realities.  I think Adam before the fall could have built without ever forgetting that the work of his hands was really the work of God's hands.  I think he would have known and understood his contingency and fragility without being threatened by it - for what is contingency other than to be in the hands of the loving Father God?

But we are a fallen people, and always we are seeking to build our way out of creation, out of the need to acknowledge God, out of the fear of contingency.  Whether it is literal bricks and mortar, or the ideological bricks and mortar of godless philosophy, that is what we do.

I think a camping holiday might do us all good.


  1. Daniel Cameron11:10 am

    This confirms what my wife has been saying for years - time for a camping holiday! Definitely this summer. Almost certainly. Hope you're all well.

    1. It really is time. Get out in a field somewhere!

      We're all well, thanks, although I'm slightly reeling from being back indoors and back in front of my computer...

  2. Very helpful Daniel thank you; perhaps I should blog about my cycling accident!

    1. I would read that. Hope not a serious one...

  3. "what is a streetlamp compared to the countless stars of God? And yet a streetlamp will cut off the view of the stars completely. " OO. This.
    I strongly encourage your Devon camping trips! And I'm sorry to learn you don't completely trust me, but that still won't persuade me to cook my dinner over a glorified tin can and swelter in an airless tent or queue to go to the loo in a hut that smells of mud and urine.

    But yeah to all the creation stuff!!

    1. It's possible you've been to the wrong campsites... But anyway, many other admirable qualities.

      We will keep coming to Devon!