The summer after my sophomore year of college, I was one of five camp counsellors at Koinonia, a church camp nestled on the banks of picturesque Lake Sylvia near Annandale, Minnesota. We spent the first week sequestered at a remote cabin, four of the five counsellors and Allan, the camp director, a hairy wholesome aging hippie, all yoga and spiritual.
The four of us grew up together: Lee, Craig, Jen, and I. We watched each other learn to walk, break bones, sprout zits and hair, and make questionable decisions around dating. In this cabin in the woods, Jen and I shared a bedroom. In the bedroom there was a mousetrap, and in the mousetrap sat a mouse. A mummified mouse, tail caught under the wire, sitting bolt upright.
The stated purpose of the retreat was to foster group bonding. In reality, we’d already bonded every Sunday of our young lives. Jen spent a week with my family each summer, fishing, sailing, and seining for minnows. Allan represented the outside faction.
The other outsider hailed from England, a more mature (read slightly older) nurse who guzzled a noxious brew of Chinese herbs (pronounced with a hard “h”) every night. Two of our four spiked the herbs once with cayenne pepper, the other two guilty in the witnessing.
The real bonding occurred over food. We ate. Oreos and Doritos and pop and sandwich cookies, ice cream and Teddy Grahams. As a group, we put on more pounds than insight.
Allan, the hipdipity yogi in his scrotum-hugging cutoffs, brought a love of meditation that he hoped to instill in each of us. For thirty minutes each day, we meditated on a passage from Psalm 46: “Be still and know that I am God.” Allan instructed us to let the sentence stew in our brains for a bit, then drop a word. Let it sit, and drop another.
Be still and know that I am.
My mind does not quiet easily. I’m not the one who falls asleep in ten seconds.
Be still and know that I.
I made a concerted effort, tried to empty my consciousness of the profound and the mundane.
Be still and know that.
Years later, Jen and I laughed over our floundering attempts at meditation. She went on to become a teacher, a perfect fit for her patient nature and the tenacity she developed as a pioneer of girls ice hockey.
Be still and know.
Lee and Craig guffawed – well, Lee guffawed. Craig probably chuckled under his breath. Neither had any luck with Allan’s exercise. Lee lives out West. His typical FB photo shows off his broad smile and affinity for liquids, both saltwater and alcoholic. I bump into Craig every so often, the last time in an obscure movie at the Lagoon Theater. He’s a lawyer.
Be still and.
We survived the retreat. No children died at camp. Jen, Craig, Lee, Nurse X, and I led countless rounds of “One Tin Soldier” and “Blowin’ In the Wind” from the Koinonia Songbook, with its purple print mimeographed pages of copyrighted material. I finally located a copy of the Songbook, with its original apple green cover, long after its compatriots burned.
Jen and I left the mouse as we found it.