Into His Presence
Editor's Note: Each year, Laity Lodge hosts a writer's retreat. This year's retreat will take place September 27-30. Speakers include Jeffrey Overstreet, John Medina, Julia Kasdorf, John Wilson, and Lauren Winner. The retreat provides a safe and intimate environment for serious dialogue about the craft of writing and the writing life, and a chance to meet with some of the editors from The High Calling. This year, before and after the retreat, Sandra Heska King will offer her personal reflections from her experiences of the retreat. Today, she shares a reflection from her experience of the 2011 retreat.
It’s a two-hour drive from the airport in San Antonio to Laity Lodge. I watch the city clutter fall away as we head into the hill country, pass through open land dotted with live oaks and scrubby vegetation.
I’ve tucked my Horseshoe Lake poem in my pocket because I’ve registered for the poetry workshop. It’s not my first choice, but the fiction and nonfiction ones are full. I’ve been playing with poetry, but a workshop? That’s a little out of my comfort zone.
I didn’t want to say goodbye to my mom, and I worry about her. Is she eating? Are they answering her light promptly? What if I get “the call” while I’m gone. It’s been just a month since her fall and sudden diagnosis of a brain tumor. I’d decided this retreat could wait until next year.
God, however, had other plans, so I’d stayed up all night cleaning and packing, and when I left the house to catch the plane headed for Texas, it was still dark outside.
I shed pieces of my soul clutter with every mile between San Antonio and Laity Lodge, and as I start to relax, I realize just how exhausted I’ve been.
We turn left and down a steep hill toward the river. I’m wide awake now, and I sense a yawn deep inside, a cupping in my spirit. Because something sacred happens when rubber meets water, when the tires first splash into the liquid road. (Yes, you drive in the river.)
There’s no way across or around.
Only in and through.
This canyon, it’s drenched in beauty, and I let it seep through every tired pore. I rest under shady green, trail my fingers in the Frio, press my hand against cool limestone as water trickles, glistens in the sun. I walk the path in early morning and climb the bluff to look down on Blue Hole.
The water begins to carve a canyon in my heart, a hollow space, a hallowed space, a place for more of Him.
I’m so very hungry. I devour words. Words etched in stone throughout the grounds, quotes from poetry and prose and the Word. I’m asked to read my own words out loud, hear another read them, and then sit quiet while the group affirms them, feeds me with their words.
I feel so...literary. And loved.
I don’t need to worry about what I’ll eat or drink. In the dining hall, Tim and his staff prepare bread for body, and feasts for the famished. I join others around a long table, and we eat and laugh, and sometimes conversation turns deep.
This is a thin place, a place thick with His presence. He’s everywhere, and there’s no place to hide.
On the last morning, they’ve turned the chairs in the Great Hall to face the canyon wall, to face the river, to face His creation. I eat of His body broken, and I drink the cup. And I’m re-created. The water has left its mark. I’m filled with so much of Him I’m sure I’ll burst.
When I get home, my mom undergoes a brain biopsy, and the news is not good.
I ladle Laity Lodge love and hospitality in soups and ice cream, in sleepless nights and foot rubs. I serve the famous cookies to the hospice staff and other families.
I spill words through the keyboard, write free about last days and laughter and love and grief and peace.
Eight weeks to the day of my return, on the first Sunday in Advent, I’m at the bedside when my mother passes into His presence.
I think God knew I’d need to retreat in order to move in and through.
In order to say goodbye.