February 9, 2021|Spiritual Life Stories
Heather Mason Murray
There is a magical place where my family has the privilege of spending time together every summer. It’s the kind of place that lets you leave the hustle and bustle of the big city behind. A place where you can feel relief. The energy shifts at the welcoming entrance to the 300-acre Ziontario campgrounds in the rolling hills of Southern Ontario. This gorgeous piece of land is surrounded by magnificent trees, creeks and cedar paths and it hosts a natural swimming pond, where I was baptized as a girl, by my great-uncle. The many nature trails connect different areas, and my father, at 86, still tends these trails, contributing in his perfect way as a steward of the land….if I can learn one tenth of his knowledge of nature, I would consider myself fortunate. If you’re lucky, you can catch a glimpse of deer, and hear the coyotes talking to each other in the evenings. When I was a child, going there felt like coming home. You know that feeling of missing something and when it’s finally there, everything is right with the world again? Ziontario was a place where everyone automatically accepted the weird, awkward kid I was. As an adult I feel the same way about the place, with the added experience of knowing that the energy is different. It’s different in that place. It raises vibrations, this sacred land that has a cross of ley lines. There are spirits there that encourage and observe like no other place I’ve been. But as a child, I mostly just felt safe and loved.
It was during one of those childhood summers that I encountered something pretty awesome, though I wouldn’t realize what exactly until years later, when I was an adult.
The denomination we were members of, Community of Christ, owns Ziontario, and the family camps held there every summer are called Reunions. Reunion encompass events that our family looked forward to so much, we kept the mimeographed handout of the whole camp schedule on the fridge and referred to it constantly. Reunion would mean classes in the great outdoors, and the fun of camping out, some of us in tents, and some of us in trailers. One family stayed in a converted bus I thought was the coolest thing ever. They say that when Ziontario was first formed, as they were clearing spaces on the ring road, that the areas for campsites just appeared, as if angels helped the people know where to set up campsites and buildings. The spots were divinely inspired, the work led by these angelic beings. I didn’t know anything about that then, I just knew I was in for a week of fun.
Every campsite during Reunion seemed its own little world. Swim suits and towels were strung out on clothes lines to dry, kids laughed while playing outside with each other, different cooking smells emanated from each campsite as makeshift rainproof outdoor kitchens were constructed for the week. A general sense of well-being was everywhere. This was my first taste of community, and I loved it. I especially loved that most of my cousins and aunts and uncles were there too. I thought of them as part of my tribe. Mornings began at a picnic table, my brothers and I munching out of those neat little cereal boxes you can eat out of, then rushing off to classes on the hill. Parents would have coffee together in the main building and attend adult classes, which to me seemed really boring. I felt sorry for them that they didn’t get to do exciting things, like sing and make crafts and play games like me.
Lunch was always at the trailer, followed by an hour of quiet time, which was hard for an active kid like me. But when that hour was over, we got to do sports, like baseball or swimming. It was the best! Adults would play with us! For dinner, sometimes we would all eat in the main building, all of us! Then it was back up the hill for more classes. Then, my favourite: campfire in the main building, singing for an hour. As the stars rose, we’d close the night with canteen, running for the concession booth and buying ice cream. We would eat and laugh and joke around together until our parents dragged us back to our campsite for lights out at 10:00 p.m.
As I say, community. Everyone was nice, everyone had smiles on their faces, and everyone was having fun together. At least that’s what I remember. As an adult, bringing my kids to Ziontario, I quickly figured out that the adults do a whole lot of work to make the week run smoothly, and that’s exactly how it should be. For years I led the music classes for the kids, changing up the lyrics of popular songs to push the envelope and to keep things current and interesting for kids to sing. Such a fun, positive experience for families but especially for the kids.
One year, I’m thinking I was about 8, so it would have been 1978, I was of course the last one to leave classes on the hill. Just taking my time, by myself, that’s how I liked it. I loved being alone, although I never felt alone. I was perfectly happy just doing things by myself. On that day, I was distracted, looking at the plants growing in the woods, surrounding the path that leads to the main building and the campsites. The “old old path” we call it, named after the hymn we’d sing as we walked it. (I always wondered who was there before me, singing that same hymn). Anyway, on that day I was fascinated by how everything would grow on its own, even though I wasn’t there all year to watch it. How did this happen, I wondered? Who planted all the huge trees? And as I looked into the surrounding woods, I could see rays of sunshine pouring down through the forest canopy onto the white trilliums scattered at the base of all the trees. It was so beautiful, I just stood there enjoying how that made me feel. This must be what heaven is like, I thought.
While standing there, I started to notice groups of people, adults and children, were walking towards me from either side of the path, from the woods. I didn’t recognize anyone, and that didn’t matter, I was in a safe place, enjoying the feeling of nature. I just accepted that all of a sudden there were people where there hadn’t been a second ago. Like a dream, you just go with it and don’t question anything. The people were happy and smiling and every one of them took the time to give me a nod, talk to me or just put their attention on me like I was important. They were beautiful, and I was fascinated that they had any interest in me. I mean I was just a kid, going about the business of being a kid, I wasn’t special or anything. Most said hello like they knew me, one patted me on the back, and asked me how I was enjoying the woods. I gave the expected responses, then asked where they were going. I was told they were going to a meeting at the top of the hill. That meant they were headed toward the landing beside the children’s building, a place marked by a huge cross at the top of a hill, overlooking a magnificent view of all the different shades of greens and browns, in the trees, in the grass, in the many plants and shrubs that somehow grew exactly in the right places. It’s a perfectly breathtaking view. I think if I were to pick the perfect spot in Ziontario, it would be here.
I didn’t remember any meetings on the schedule. Didn’t everyone know it was lunch time? Oh no, I was going to be late for lunch! I was asked if I wanted to go with them to the meeting at the top of the hill, and I had to say no thank you, I had to get back to the trailer, my mom would be waiting for me.
Years later, when it was revealed to me as an adult that people had reported seeing angelic beings on the grounds of Ziontario, my mom asked me if I had seen anyone I didn’t know. I then told her of my experience in the woods, and had confirmation of my angelic friends’ presence.
Looking back, I think now that if I had only known as a child what I was experiencing, I would have gone with them to that meeting on the hill. I would have asked questions. I would have paid more attention.
I do believe Ziontario is heaven on earth. I’ve had confirmation of it, even if our friends just come by to visit now and then.