This takes place immediately after the first time I am really wrecked up over a boy I loved. I was fifteen.
The tradition on the first night of camp is to have an altar call camp fire. An altar call is a mystical event, where people “recommit” their lives to Christ. It is a spectacle born of guilt that often concludes in tears of joy or gratitude, and brightened eyes, and a steadfast path forward in the Lord, at least for a time.
That night, there was a chilly breeze as Avon Skin So Soft dried on my newly shaved calves. I zipped my hoodie and stepped in closer to the fire with my marshmallow-laden stick, focusing on the way those crunchy brown dots appeared slowly, the dry swell of the marshmallow promised a delight of goo in its skin. My mouth watered when I imagined the way the marriage of sugar, gelatin, and fire would adhere to the grit of a Hershey’s chocolate bar and a two halves of a generic graham cracker. I felt in that moment perfectly alone and with God, even though there were hundreds of other teenagers in the immediate vicinity, and I could hear the music guy tuning his guitar, priming to lead us all in a whole mess of camp songs, which were full of strange, phallic, worshipful phrases like, “tower of refuge and strength,” and “reign from heaven above,” and “ye chosen seed of Israel’s race.”
The denomination that ran camp YoLiJWa was not Pentecostal. That means that we did not throw ourselves onto the ground and convulse “in the Spirit,” nor did we handle snakes or do laying on of hands or speaking in tongues. These things were scorned by the pastors in charge of our denominational distinctions.
But as those guitars began to strum and we Godly children full of hormones and fear and hang-ups and self-imposed rules that resulted from fear of our parents and God, I grew a case of gooseflesh so intense that I felt like my nipples were going to fall off. I really felt God. Like everywhere. In my hair, on my shoulders, in my weakened knees. I fell to the ground without pain, leaned back, and really let God beam down on me, via the fire, via the music. It was God in everything. In my nose hairs. And suddenly, the pain of betrayal disappeared. My depression dissipated. My self-consciousness leaked out through my toes. I felt beamingly, gloriously happy and light and my tears became tears of joy, affirmation, power.
And it was all thanks to God.