Fairhope, Alabama—I am with a thousand Episcopalians in the woods at Camp Beckwith. For the entire weekend, I have been wishing someone would eventually say to me:
“The Lord be with you.”
Then, I would answer with a quick: “And also with you.”
Because I’ve always wanted to say this. This is what Piskies say to each other, before they give each other a secret handshake and discuss world domination.
But alas, nobody has said this to me since I’ve been here. And don’t it turn my brown eyes blue.
Anyway, this morning is warm. Beckwith sits on Weeks Bay, surrounded by longleaf pines, magnolias, and mosquitoes who commit immoral acts upon your skin. It’s perfect.
I am here for a weekend of festivities. I am staying in a cabin next door to a bishop.
I had to call my mother to tell her this.
“Oh my word!” said Mama. “A REAL bishop?!”
I come from deepwater Baptists. The only bishops we have ever seen are the sort on chess boards.
At last year’s camp excursion, for instance, I slept in this same cabin, next to this same bishop. I told a friend back home about it. Word spread around town.
After church one Sunday, an elderly man shook my hand and said, “So, tell me what it was like sleeping next to the Pope.”
“He’s not the Pope,” I said.
“Did he have a bulletproof limousine?”
“No, he was a bishop, and he’s just a regular guy.”
“How about a pointy hat? Did he have one of those?”
Anyway, daybreak is approaching. The sun peeks above the tree line. And all at once, the camp is alive.
Laughter. That’s the main event here. At least that’s what one woman tells me. She’s from Magnolia Springs. She is walking to the mess hall for breakfast with an elderly woman.
“We come to Beckwith to laugh and have a good time,” she says. “That’s what we Episcopalians are known for.”
Her friend laughs. “Well, that, and vodka.”
They both cackle.
I can hear kids, teenagers, adults, middle-agers, and the elderly, chuckling from a mile away. Every last one of them seems happy this morning. It’s a magnificent sound, happiness.
I hear a screen door slam.
This sound comes from the cabin next to me. The bishop is leaving his porch to start his morning. He wears no pointy hat, but an Auburn University shirt, shorts, and sneakers. He doesn’t look like any bishop I’ve ever seen.
Then again, I haven’t met many bishops. Last night this fella got me a beer from a cooler. Then he placed it in a coozie.
No member of the clergy has ever handed me an Anheuser Busch product.
I almost call out to him: “The Lord be with you!”
But, I rethink this idea. This would be silly. After all, I don’t want to come off looking like a total nerd bucket in front of a bishop.
Still, I like this particular greeting.
Once, in a beer joint outside Mobile, I was watching the Iron Bowl. It was 2013. The Tigers whooped the Tide during the last thirty-two seconds of the game.
The joint went buck wild. A fistfight broke out among patrons. But, before things got messy—I’m not making this up—the fight was stopped by a man who shouted, “The Lord be with you!”
Voices hushed. The place turned into a sanctuary.
“And also with you,” came a response.
Magic words, I tell you.
I’m leaving my cabin porch for a morning walk. I am moseying, exploring heavenly scenery within God’s front yard.
Dew lingers on the grass. Birds serenade the sunrise. There is a rock chapel near the bay. It’s a small semi-circle of heavy stones which form a mini-amphitheater.
Morning light washes across these rocks until they are fiery orange. Clouds above begin to break, and the sun is getting stronger. The bay water catches a breeze and begins to move. It all makes me sigh.
Because the world is coming back to life. Just like it does every morning. And I believe that no matter how dark things get on moonless nights, and no matter how bad things look without the sun, nothing lasts forever.
Every morning, a miracle happens—like it’s happening right now. The sun rises. And the rest is history.
And I am lucky to see it. I’m beginning to feel something for which I have no words. A sensation in my chest. A humbling feeling, just from seeing an average sunrise.
Two middle-aged women are out for a morning walk, carrying coffee mugs. They smile. They wave at me.
“The Lord be with you, Sean,” one woman says.
I finally got to say it.