Article for October 9, 2011.

I could feel the presence of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s ghost standing next to me on that ancient pinewood floor of the old mess hall, along with the ghosts of countless former campers.  It occurred to me, that on days like this day, generations of campers would have stood on this very spot, looking out the same door, at the same scenery, thinking what I was thinking:  “This stinks!”

For Camp Piasa, when the heavens open up, and the rains come, the campground pool—the hub of all afternoon entertainment and activity—closes down.  And when the pool closes down, every mother’s child in the camp is left to contemplate the silent, silicone-chipped devices whose keyboards and touch pads lay dormant and lonely back home.

It must have been a rainy day at camp that caused Longfellow to write,  “The day is dark, and dreary; It rains, and the wind is never weary; the vine still clings to the moldering wall, but at every gust the dead leaves fall, and the day is dark and dreary….”  Beneath this high-brow, poetic wrapping paper, I knew what Mr. Longfellow muttered in the privacy of his heart:  “This stinks!”  That message was my miserable afternoon mantra.

But soon I was to discover that not everyone in camp was chanting from the same hymnal with me.  I looked up to find my barefoot son, and a couple of other Huck Finns exploring a swimming-pool-sized mud puddle just next to an equally muddy hill.  First came a stomp, then a splash.  Like a summertime porch light attracting all the neighborhood insects, children began to swarm.  A full-fledged, riotous River Dance broke out.  It didn’t take long for one of the dancers to discover the magic of momentum.  With a running start, a whoop, and a glide, the dance floor instantly evolved into a runway, and soon, that runway connected to the muddy hill.  With that, the veil that divides adult from child grew thin, as parents and children left their feet, sliding on bellies and backsides amidst whoops, hollers, laughter, and an accumulation of earthy body paint.

As I read this Sunday’s Gospel selection (Matthew 22: 1-14), I imagined the crowd’s reaction to Jesus’ parable about a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son.  Jesus’ contemporaries would have been accustomed to shortages.  They would have listened in disbelief to a tale of people taking a pass on a feast that included fattened, roasted veal, and perhaps even leftovers to take home.  For people who seldom ate until full, an invitation to a king’s wedding feast would have been a big deal.  Only a fool would pass on an invitation to a banquet like this.

As I reflected on this Sunday’s Gospel passage, I wondered how many times I have unintentionally passed on an invitation to a banquet.  On a rainy camp afternoon, my eyes saw the same landscape that a group of boy’s eyes saw.  That rainy landscape prompted me to say, “This stinks!”  It prompted my son, his friends, and then a whole camp full of people to say, “Wahooooooo!”  The children heard the invitation.  They saw the banquet table that I had passed by, and promptly plunged in.

Our tradition teaches that the grace of God is everywhere, beckoning us to come to feast on soul-satisfying grace.  Even if the national forecasters are correct, and the sky turns dark and dreary, let’s resolve to be children of the kingdom who can see cost-free opportunities to feast on unexpected graces, even during the darkest days.

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