Text: Markku Kamula
Translation: Sirkka-Liisa Leinonen
A friend of mine called today and invited me and my wife to attend a camp in December. I was delighted! The organizers had decided that one theme for the camp would be “God’s guidance in life, at times of both trials and joy”. They had chosen to approach this theme through people’s life stories.
I began to see in my mind a camp where a group of travelers have gathered to sing, pray and listen to God’s word. Psalm 78 became alive in my mind.
In deepening dusk, the branches of trees extend toward the center of a small clearing, where a group of people are sitting around a fire, quietly singing. The last rays of the setting sun cast long shadows on the ground. Flickering flames light up people’s faces. A young man is plucking chords on his flute to accompany the singing. The people sit on roughly hewn benches; couples with their children, holding their youngest in their arms and keeping the bigger ones sitting by their side. Adult men and women dressed in cloaks have small bundles of food on their laps, some of them open, others already tied up. Children run back and forth between the circle of light and the shadows. Young people talk in small groups, and elders with wrinkled faces watch all this with knowing eyes.
When the singing ends, one of the elders clears his throat and begins to speak slowly in a quiet voice. But gradually his voice becomes louder and stronger. He reads words spoken by Asaf and recorded in writing a long time ago: "My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old — things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us."
The listeners sit up straighter. A mother tries to hush her fussing baby, lifting him up and patting his back soothingly. Another mother is feeding a baby who is only a few days old. She has closed her eyes and leans against her husband. The youngsters who were running around at the edge of the clearing slow down and walk closer to hear better.
The old man continues: "We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children."
By now, all people are quiet. Even the boys who were running further away wipe their noses on the hems of their capes and come closer to the circle of people to listen. A hundred meters away a dog gives a quiet bark. It has been guarding the flock and has now seen the shepherd approach. It runs up to its master; it has done its day’s work and expects to be fed and have some rest.
The elder is now speaking in a strong but humble voice. He looks at the people sitting closest to him and gently strokes the hair of his small granddaughter, then lifts up his gaze and continues: "They should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God. They did not keep God's covenant, but refused to walk according to his law. They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them."
The words conjure up memories in people’s minds. Many of the older women wipe tears from their eyes, some of the men bow down their heads and lean on their knees, their shoulders stiff. They remember their grandparents’ stories about Korah, Dathan and Abiram and their friends, who were hard as rocks and were punished by God (Num. 16). They remember the rebellious tendencies they have sometimes felt in themselves, which may have erupted as bitter words and even violence toward the people nearest to them. Life often seems so hard and unjust: Is it really true that life is here and now? Is there really nothing else to look forward to? They have been herding their sheep and goats one long, hot day after another, with brooks running dry and grass drying up. They have spent nights watching out for beasts and robbers. Is this really what God’s blessing is like – to have babies born into the desert and grow up to share this life of vagrancy and sleeping in tents, looking for greener pastures and clearer brooks?
While listening to Asaf’s psalm, their own thoughts begin to comply with the thoughts of God, their hearts grow tender, and they want to believe the message about something better. The message that has been spoken at campfires before and that makes one feel so pure and light. It is not a message about the present time only, but about a better time in the future.
The listeners lift up their eyes and look at the speaker, who continues: "In the sight of their fathers he performed wonders in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan. He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap. In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a fiery light. He split rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep. He made streams come out of the rock and caused waters to flow down like rivers.”
Even the boys and girls have heard this story many times before, and it has always been just as amazing. The smallest children, their eyes round with awe, look at the speaking elder, who has been moved to tears by his words. Our God has made great promises and has shown his power! He will help us, if only we understand his will and follow his way! Their mothers and fathers have similarly assured them about that, and belief in their assurance has given them wonderful peace.
Many of the little ones have fallen asleep, held by their parents, siblings or aunts. The speech meanders through the lives of forefathers and -mothers, recalling their trials, doubts and rebellious actions. The fire is dying down. Some robust young men haul a few small tree trunks on to the embers, and the tiny flames gradually grow into a blaze that makes everything look a bit brighter.
The elder is clearly about to close his speech. His comforting words encourage them to believe: "Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again."
He stops speaking, is quiet for a moment, and then lifts up his hand in a blessing. Those who are awake in the circle of listeners bow down their heads, some even join the elder, quietly mumbling the words. They are united in the blessing that God once gave to Moses and Aron and the people of Israel to use as a prayer.
The camp briefly comes to life. They will need to get up before sunrise in the morning. The sheep will be thirsty and hungry, they cannot wait. A couple of women have bowed their heads and are talking in a low voice, then one embraces the other as if to encourage her. Two men have gone aside to talk. Each puts a hand on the other’s shoulder and they bless each other.
Soon all tents are closed, and the fire slowly dies down into embers. The only sounds in the silence are the occasional whines of babies and the faint crackling of the dying fire.
In my mind I can see the connection between camp work and the campfires of ancient times. Both enable the gathering of travel companions around the holy word. It is miraculous that there is something that does not change!
Rukous on annettu ihmiselle lahjaksi, jotta hän voi kääntyä asioissaan Jumalan puoleen. Joku käyttää tätä viestikanavaa harvoin tai ei koskaan. Jos ihminen ei usko Jumalaan, hänellä ei liene tarvetta uskoa rukouksen voimaankaan. Tilanne voi kuitenkin muuttua, esimerkiksi hädän tai suuren pelon keskellä. Ukrainan sodan sytyttyä suomalainen näytelmäkirjailija Elli Salo kertoi ukrainalaisen ystävänsä viestistä sodan keskeltä: ”Ateistitkin ovat alkaneet rukoilla” (HS, 25.4.2022).
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