when the river breathes

entering the river

The Frio splashes on tires, and Charity rolls down the window so we can bathe in the sound of it. Right away I feel a shift in my spirit and a nauseous-not-nauseous sense in the pit of my stomach–anticipation as I melt into this thin place that’s thick with the presence of God. The sacred embraces us, and bushes flame all around.

I’ve retreated here to Laity Lodge in the hill country of Texas for a long weekend with members of The High Calling.

The bubbling and tumbling of the main fountain greets us, and the water seems louder this time even in the small places, like where it trickles from Anna’s fountain and down the rocks by the library.

Laity Lodge fountain

Anna's fountain

Anna's fountain2

And then there’s the rain that comes in a mist, in droplets, and in sheets that blow across the river.

The weather’s not conducive to building cairns with Gordon, so he invites us down to the library to talk about the wellspring of creativity that flows through our unconscious minds and how to tap into that dam even when writing under deadline. The room is chilly, and some share blankets stretched across their laps as we chat.

Gordon invites us to sit in silence for a stretch of time, and I don’t know where to look if I’m facing the group. I know if I close my eyes, there’s a good chance I’ll fall asleep. So I turn my back on everyone to stare out the window at the river and the burning bushes that line it.

We talk about the importance of paying attention to things around us, and Gordon tells of an impression he saw in the stone floor that reminded him of an ear pressed in tight… listening?

He tells us to pretend we’re children, to explore the room like a child, to see what catches our attention. I’m drawn first to the bookcase and touch shelves and spines and leaf through pages. I open cupboards and drawers. Some spaces are completely empty. Some hold kitchen items of hospitality. Someone has found some little white balls and spends most of the time spinning them. Others are intrigued with stacks of drink coasters and their designs. Another strokes the wood table and later describes it as closest to its mother.

Frio River

Thanks to Amy Breitmann for this photo

I’m uninterested in any of this and find myself again in front of the window that’s now coated with condensation from… the breath of life that flows inside this room? As I watch the river, I notice a mist rise and fall from it’s surface, and I’m mesmerized by it. I know scientifically the water’s probably warmer than the air, that I’m seeing it evaporate only because the air is colder.

But I’m arrested by the impression that the river is breathing. I lean in closer and seem to see the surface rise and fall.

It’s alive.

The river is alive.

It flows with tears that have been shed here, beats with hearts that have fluttered here.

It breathes life to this canyon, in this place where the breath of life itself hovers and breathes life into chaotic lives.

And in this cold, thin place, we’re all wrapped up in the warmth of it.

Standing here on holy ground, I press my ear against the veil and listen. I melt into the the breath of this presence, embraced by the sacred beside the burning bushes that flame all around.

Frio in Nov

fountains of life


Still breathing,


With Laura…

still saturday: what to remember when you're unhappy
three musicians you should know


  1. says

    Good gracious, this is good! I wish I’d stayed for the rest of the workshop, by that darned cold was telling my subconscious to get my body to bed. It was an amazing weekend, yes? Your words — here, and on Friday night are some of the best ever.
    Deidra recently posted..Sunday

    • says

      Oh, thank you, friend. You needed the rest. I still can’t stop thinking about turning our backs on burning bushes. I’ve been hunting YouTube for your mom with no luck. But just so you know, I’d sail in a sunfish to Bermuda with you any day. :)

  2. says

    Love it. So thoughtful. That impression of a breathing river that was gifted to you by your unconscious found a nice home when your conscious mind worked it over into this form.

    Lovely to be with you at LL once again.

    Gordon Atkinson recently posted..I buy thirteens

    • says

      It was good to spend some extended time with you, G. I’m still bummed that I didn’t actually see the ear. You need to show it to me next year. :)

      Thanks again for giving of yourself this weekend.

  3. says

    I love all the watery words, and that photo of you (with what looks like a full-body halo), and its interplay with the background photo of the same river in a warmer season.
    Laura Brown recently posted..Chalice

  4. says

    So blessed to have been able to hear you talk about this with Gordon and then read this. What a blessing this living water was to us. Almost as good as THE living water:-) And to be able to read the stories and relive it again and again through words as beautiful as these – well, it’s a gift. Thanks friend!

    • says

      What a delight to meet and spend some time with you, Jen! Yes, this water IS almost as good as THE water. I love going back to everyone’s stories during the year. It keeps it all alive until the next time.

      And I’m so glad you and the other Jen had each other to lean on the other day. :)

  5. says

    Hi Sandra,
    This is beautiful. So full of peace, and tranquility. What a blessed spot. Some day I would like to visit there.
    In the meantime I feel the peace of His Presence wherever I am – He is here.
    Many blessings,
    I am following you from Playdates and would love if you would link to Sunday Stillness.
    Janis Cox recently posted..Sunday Stillness – Matthew 6:33

    • says

      Hi Janis,

      So glad to see you here.

      That’s one of the things we talked about over the weekend. That wherever our feet land is holy ground.

      And thanks for the invitation to Sunday Stillness. I’ll try to get into the habit of linking. :) Blessings to you, friend.

  6. says

    Breathing here, in and out, long and deep. Yes, I’d agree with Gordon on this one – you let your unconscious loose with this one, Sandy. Gorgeous. Truly. (And if Patricia Hunter says she’s coming next year, then I’ll make even more of an effort to get there, too.) Sounds like this did end up being more of a writing retreat than was advertised – wish I’d known that. Still would have opted out this particular year, though. Too many good things.
    Diana Trautwein recently posted..Confessions of a Tired Over-Achiever — for SheLoves

  7. says

    I told myself I would retreat this year even if it was only with God, away to a thin place thick with Presence. But I did not. You took me to this river and I smelled those ions, breathed with the river with you. Thank you for sharing this sacred time and place with us. Sometimes you have go away in your mind…and be thankful for the capacity to do so…
    Dea recently posted..Thankful for the Real Caregivers

  8. says

    Dear Sandra
    Just this week I was thinking about how ants see the world around them. We know they are an intelligent, highly organized and hard working species. But I wanted to know how they perceive the BIG world around them who takes so little notice of them except as pests! Words, dear Sandra, that do not give life, cannot be inspired by the Living Word for where He breathes His whispered love, everything vibrates with new life!
    Blessings XX
    PS I would have loved to have been there with you. I have just read Keli’s post about this amazing weekend.
    Mia recently posted..The Flying Dutchman

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