Laity Lodge is a hidden gem. Nestled in the Texas Hill Country, along the Frio River, it is, simply put, a retreat centre. However, visit and stay, and you’ll see that it is so much more. Laity Lodge is a place of beauty, rest, rejuvenation, teaching, and friendship. It is open to anyone, with weekend-long retreats on various topics bought to life by talented speakers, musicians, artisans, authors, and chefs.
The Food Retreat explored the joy of food and how it creates moments of delight with others — experienced tangibly through wonderful meals, coffee tasting, and a pie baking class. It also examined how we can more thoughtfully engage with food as consumers, particularly ways to conserve and gratefully receive what the earth provides.
This article originally appeared in the Laity Lodge newsletter.
There is a literary thread that runs throughout the history of Laity Lodge: from the poetry and other quotations Mrs. Butt Sr. posted all over the grounds to the hundreds of visiting speakers who also happened to be authors to special residencies and friendships with the likes of Frederick Buechner, Madeleine L’Engle, Henri Nouwen, and Eugene Peterson. We’re delighted to now include Sally Lloyd-Jones in this tradition. Sally is a much-celebrated children’s author, whose titles includeThe Jesus Storybook Bible, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, and Being a Pig is Nice. Besides her wonderful readings that leave us all feeling like kids again, Sally also brings an exuberance and energy to the Canyon. She can’t seem to sit still and, in the afternoons, can most likely be found flitting in the Frio River somewhere (even in winter). Sally recently enjoyed an extended stay at the Lodge to concentrate on some writing. The tail end of her stay coincided with The Food Retreat, so we asked her to stick around, take some notes, and write about her impressions after she returned home.
Coming to Laity Lodge, for me, is like taking off a heavy winter coat and heavy winter shoes — and running barefoot. It has something to do with childhood, and something to do with remembering, and a lot to do with play.
Have you noticed how great little children are at getting gifts? They have no problem with gifts — they love being given gifts. They expect to be given them. They are little gift-experts.
Or how about playing? Little children can find a way to play at any time, wherever they are, with whatever they have. They’ll play with the wrapping paper as much as the gift inside it. They are experts at play.
What makes a little child so good at receiving gifts? They know they are little. And they know that they would have nothing unless it had been given to them.
What makes a little child able to play? Knowing the parent is there. As long as they can see their dad or mum, little children are free to play without fear. Their dad is looking after them, protecting them, giving them all that they need.
For me, my recent visit to Laity Lodge was about opening my eyes to see that we are little children and everything we have is a gift. It was about opening my eyes to see that our heavenly Father is there. To see Him all around us — to see Him in places we may not have seen Him before — to see His love in everything that we have been given, in all the works of His hands.
He is there speaking to you in the beauty of creation. And creation, at the Lodge, is impossible to miss — it is everywhere you look, shining all around you: the windows of the lodge open out on beauty that takes your breath away, “more beauty than our eyes can bear” (Marilynne Robinson).
He is there speaking to you as you explore the canyon with a friend, as you go hiking, running, late-November swimming (if you are that crazy) in the freezing Frio River.
A Blue Heron launching slowly with trailing legs from the bank beside you.
A kingfisher flashing by.
A flycatcher dancing above your heads, silhouetted against the sky, as it catches a fly.
The riverbed below you — turquoise, blues, greens.
Your strong body that can swim.
The breath in your lungs.
. . . All proclaim God’s great love!
Everywhere — God’s love is going crazy!
And then, too, in the food we eat together.
And in each other.
It is amazing. When you think about it. When you stop. And you really think about it.
“Eating a meal together is experiencing the love of God,” Norman told us. “And when you say grace,” he said, “You are being a revolutionary!”
When we bow our heads before a meal, he told us, we are remembering what is behind the bread we see on our plate: from the grain that was crushed, from the wheat that grew in the fields, that sprung from the soil, that was tilled and watered and cared for.
If we remembered everything, someone once said, we wouldn’t ever have time to eat, there’d be so much to be grateful for.
“The more you care,” Lorenzo told me, as he carefully poured water over the ground coffee, “The more delicious it is.”
No wonder creation is so delicious. We have a Father who cares.
“ . . . more beauty than our eyes can bear.”
The great mystery we are a part of.
Our God is not a God who introduces Himself to us in Genesis as a warrior king riding high on his steed. Our God is down on his hands and knees in the dirt.
He is a gardener.
And this is His world, not ours.
And with that then comes the sobering realization, that we — each of us — are complicit in treating His beautiful and loved creation as if it were a warehouse to use up, instead of caring for it as a garden to be loved. To be loved as He loves it.
We are gardeners in His world — joining in God’s work in His world.
That’s the thing about gardening — it puts you on your knees.
“ . . . precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm” (Marilynne Robinson).
And so I come away on my knees — with a renewed wonder and reverence for the magnificent works of God’s hands that I get to live in and taste and see. With a sorrow over how we’ve treated his world. And a new prayer that I do what I can do, that I choose the better choice for God’s world over the cheaper; that I sacrifice the convenient thing for the right thing.
Stories are told of orphans who — even years after they are adopted into loving families — still steal and hoard and hide food under their pillows. How often we have an orphan mentality. We go through this world as if we do not have a Father who loves us.
But we do have a Father and He does love us. And He is here, in His world, doing what He’s always been doing, doing what He’s done from the very beginning — making His love visible.
How wonderful that we have a God who invites us to delight in Him and the works of His hands — who invites us to be casting off like heavy winter shoes and coats, our restlessness and worry and fear, those great thieves of joy that fill our world and our hearts, and to bask and to delight in His love.
It’s our Father’s gift to us.
What do you do with a gift? You give thanks. And then? Do what little children do — open your hands to receive it.
There is a quotation on the fountain at Laity Lodge, which I love: it says, “The only thing we ask of a fountain is that it play.”
Perhaps that’s all God asks of His children, too.
May every beat of our hearts be praise to Him!
The God who shows us His love
In the works of His hands.
Whose greatest gift was
Wrapped in rags
And given to us
In a feeding trough.
The Bread of Heaven!
Emmanuel — God with us.“Thou that has giv’n so much to me
Give one thing more, a grateful heart
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Not thankful, when it pleaseth me;
As if thy blessings had spare days:
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
—George Herbert, “Gratefulness”
I was honored to be part of the second annual Food Retreat led by Norman Wirzba, with music by Nathan Tasker, music (and apple pies) by Gabe Scott, special food by Contigo and special coffee by Lorenzo Perkins, special art history study of Caravaggio by Ginger Geyer, and special food readings from me (I had the best job ever. Shhh. Don’t tell. I think it’s the — what some have claimed to be fake — English accent.)
All photos by Topher Ayrhart.
New York Times bestselling children's book author (How to Be a Baby and The Jesus Storybook Bible), Sally Lloyd-Jones, is originally from England and has been based in New York City for over 10 years. She recently released Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, a book of hope for children available now at Amazon.com.