This weekend, many Americans will hitch up their trailers or pack up their tents. They’ll load up their truck beds and trunks with coolers, roasting sticks, and marshmallows to enjoy a weekend of camping. It’s not everyone’s ideal getaway (I have one friend who says her idea of roughing it is a Holiday Inn without a pool), but in 2015, 28.6 million American households went camping. Citing benefits like escaping the stress of everyday life, being active, and enjoying quality time with family, living outdoors for at least a couple of days at a time is something a lot of people choose to do.
Outdoor ministry, or, Christian camping, has had a major formative impact on many folks in the pews today, but there’s a deeper connection between spirituality and camping than that. The Jewish festival of Sukkot, usually translated as the Feast of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles, is a time when God’s people are, in a sense, commanded to go camping.
The festival, which begins on the fifth day following Yom Kippur, thus falling from late September to late October, has a double significance. It is both a harvest festival and a commemoration of the Exodus, and that is where the booths come in. Long ago, during the harvest, farmers would live in temporary dwellings or “booths” (that’s what sukkot means), and, when the Israelites traveled through the wilderness en route to Canaan from Egypt, they also lived in temporary structures. You can read about the Festival of Booths in Leviticus 23. Here are the instructions for observing the festival given in verses 42-43: “You shall live in booths for seven days; all that are citizens in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” God told the people to go camping for a week every year so they’d remember how God rescued them from slavery in Egypt. That’s quite a camping story.
My family has more than one photo album filled with pictures of camping trips, and thus the stories that go with them, but Sukkot is a camping trip intended to tell a story itself. As people of faith who want to pass our faith on, our lives should be filled with rituals like that. So whether we’re sitting in a pew at St. Paul this Sunday or sitting on a log next to a campfire, may we find ways to remember who we are and what God has done for us.
– Ryan Bailey, director of faith formation