New Skin: Reflections from the Laity Lodge Writer’s Retreat
Editor's Note: Each year, Laity Lodge hosts a writer's retreat. This year's retreat took place September 27-30. Speakers included 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 is offering her personal reflections from her experiences of the retreat. Today, she shares a reflection from her recent experiences at the 2012 retreat.
I’m one of the first to cross the threshold of the river into the canyon. The squeals that greeted me for last year’s retreat echo softly, then dissipate. I survey the dock and envision who stood where, who sat where, who clicked cameras. I remember skin-against-skin in hugs and handshakes.
All’s silent now, still, save for the gentle lapping of the Frio. The dock’s a-jumble with overturned, drained canoes and kayaks, the “small boats of skins” as the Inuit called them.
More of us will come soon. Some will journey far and long, others not so much. We all come with lives jumbled in some way, some emotionally drained, others just in need of a fresh drink.
Some will come for the first time, some for the umpteenth. Most will come hoping to make sense of what whirls in their heads, to learn new ways to release words, to spark their creativity.
And we’ll be Jesus with skin to each other here where it’s safe to seek solitude or companionship, to talk or to listen, to be quiet or loud, to laugh or to weep.
I stroke a chocolate-hued rocker on the new library deck, lean my elbows on the rail above the river, gaze at the canyon wall, and breathe deep.
It’s as if I never left.
Later this deck will host photo shoots, deep conversations, quiet times, and sweet snacks. There’ll be screams followed by gales of laughter when she capsizes her kayak and baptizes herself fully clothed. And in the gray dim of dawn, I’ll hear the clunks of a canoe lowered in the river and soft plops as the fisherman paddles below me.
Make yourself at home, they’ll tell us. Throw your crutches down and stretch out on the sofa. Put your feet up. Feel free to wander at night, pour a cup, sneak a snack. If you’re locked out, don’t fret. Here’s the key. It opens almost every door.
Just hang loose, they’ll say. Go with the flow.
We’re all here now. I know many, and I meet many. I listen to stories that spill in sacred moments on the deck, in song introductions, in coffee-scented words whispered in a corner of the Great Hall one dark morning, in anthropological discussions over a plate of salmon. The stories meld with mine, and I collect snapshots in my mind.
There’s a woman from Utopia and one with an interesting name who suffers with lymphoma. She’s on chemotherapy, struggles to stay warm, and is writing a book about a horse. One prepares for Haiti, while another prepares for surgery. I hear stories of sexual abuse, challenges with children, and doubts about faith. I hear stories of strength in the face of struggles.
At some point, I dare to peel back a corner of my own skin, and nobody recoils.
I’m so immersed in conversation Saturday afternoon, I miss the cell phone photography session. So I hang out in a hammock with a handful of books borrowed from the store.
We bow heads around the table and break bread, feasting on deliciousness. A glass of chocolate milk materializes for someone who voices a longing for it late one night after dinner. Another wishes for bolder coffee, and a pot appears. Someone needs hand cream and finds some in the office.
In sessions, we wrap our fingers around pens and wrap ourselves in words. Jeff reminds us to play with words. John reminds us to exercise and sleep to create words. Lauren tells us not to apologize for our words. We worship, eat and drink the Word.
“How long did it take,” a friend asks as tires hum down highway, and we head home after a hundred goodbyes, “to come down after last year’s retreat?”
I pause, and a wave of warmth envelops me because now I understand.
I never came down.
The canyon, the river, the love, it remained in me.
When I arrive home, the grandgirl shows me an old wound. “Look, G-ma. God’s given me new skin.”
I nod. “Me, too, Grace. Me, too.”