By Ellen Jockusch
The highlight of my summer, from when I was age 9 to 17, was spending a week at Camp Capers, the camp of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas. It’s hard to overstate how excited I was as it got closer to the date my parents would drive me to Capers—how I relished every stage of getting ready, how I couldn’t wait to meet my counselor and fellow campers and settle into my cabin. Pure anticipation, pure joy.
In the summer of 1961 when I was getting ready for my first session at Capers, I was upstairs in my childhood home, studying the what-to-bring list that had been mailed to me by the camp. In addition to the usual summer clothes, bathing suit, and sunscreen specified on the packing list was an item that stood out to me—a bible. With feverish excitement, I called out to my mother downstairs, “Mama, I need to bring a BIBLE!” Wondering whether I was supposed to bring an RSV, King James, or Phillips, she hollered back up the stairs, “What KIND of bible?”—at which I yelled back with triumphant certainty, “THE HOLY BIBLE!”
I tell this story because in this time of upheaval and uncertainty, I experience God’s presence through objects that are sacred to me. In addition to an assortment of bibles, my sacred objects include a Book of Common Prayer which belonged to my mother—the blank pages dotted with scribbles of psalms and prayers that were especially meaningful to her—and a 1940 Hymnal which rested on our piano in my childhood home. On the wall by my desk is a wooden cross, carved in relief, that was my craft project at Camp Capers when I was 12. I love looking at this cross because it reminds me of the unconditional love and the beauty of creation that I soaked up summer after summer at camp. And then there are rocks of various shapes, sizes, and colors that I gathered on the beach of the Bay of New Beginnings on the Isle of Iona, itself a sacred place. When I look at the rocks, I recollect that the present moment is infused with the mystery of the eternal: how long did these rocks tumble under the surface of the water, being polished smooth?; how many more are there, some day to be washed up on the beach? It will be in God’s time, not ours, of that I’m sure.
I’m always moved in the liturgy of Holy Baptism when the priest, with a touch of consecrated oil, gently marks the forehead of the newly baptized with the sign of the cross and declares, as my priest did with me some 67 years ago, “Ellen, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.”
When I feel afraid or disoriented by the Pandemic or by the current crisis of leadership and institutions in our country, I remind myself about who I am—a child of God—and that I belong to Christ, marked as his own for ever. I steady myself by meditating on scripture, by praying a psalm, or by contemplating my beautiful collection of rocks. I gaze on that carved wooden cross, and I ask Jesus to help me seek and serve his Body on earth, even in this uncertain and restricted time we now find ourselves.
What are your sacred objects? If you don’t think you have any, ask the Holy Spirit to help you create or find them. Keep them close, make them a part of your day, and above all pray for the healing of the world.