When We Went Down to the River to Pray, Part Two: With a Babe on her Hip

Christopher Williams and his Djembe. Video by Sandra Heska King

[This post is the second in a series of reflections from the retreat I attended in November with The High Calling folks. You can find the first installment here.]

At Laity Lodge, the musicians in residence aren’t there to entertain.  They are there to engage. In fact, thanks to the unrelentingly human scale of our doings, it took about two minutes for me to stop thinking of them as “the talent.” After only the first few bars of a song, offered without trappings of stage or footlights or sets, I don’t see musicians. I see a man with his drum. I see a woman with her baby on her hip. In this video, I am at the far left in my jeans and my red raincoat, listening to Christopher. He couldn’t have been more than 8 or 10 feet away from me. We made eye contact while he sang.

And so every day, I told him a story. He’d brought his offering, his music; I felt moved to share my offering, my stories.

One day I tell him that his guitar looks like it has been his good friend for a long time.

Seventeen years, he replies, without a second’s hesitation. He knows their history by heart. That guitar looks well-loved; inspired, I tell him about my husband’s beautiful gift to me, putting a new finish on the family piano that has just arrived in our household. Somehow that leads us into a conversation of the musical instruments in our past.

Frets always got in my way, I tell him.

I began as a cellist, he says. Engagement.

Ellie Holcomb and Drew Holcomb were also present at the retreat. Present is exactly and specifically the right word. Nobody phones it in at Laity Lodge. They were accompanied by their beautiful baby girl, Emmylou (yes, named after that Emmylou), who rode her mother’s hip during some performances. She also held court at the breakfast table and generally enchanted everyone.

When my daughter was three, she said to me one day, Mother? There are people who don’t love me, but they don’t know my name yet. I look forward to learning Miss Emmylou Holcomb’s view of the world when she is three years old. Seeing people applaud your parents’ gifts must have some salubrious impact on a little girl’s perspective.

On Saturday night, Christopher and Ellie and Drew performed a concert. They sang “in the round,” each taking a turn presenting a song. As any one of them sang, the other two sat on their stools in the background, but they sang along, adding harmonies and counterpoint.

That’s just how it is at Laity. Everyone feels cared for because at the lodge, everybody cares. 

Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, The Wine We Drink.

rabbit conga

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

–Jesus Christ, as quoted in John 13:34 (NASB)


  1. Oh, just *sigh*. The music is always a big part of the canyon experience but it seemed to be even moreso for me this year. Thank you, Sheila. I needed to start my day with this.

  2. inhaling, again

  3. You know what? I cannot get over the conversations I had with Chris, and Ellie, and Drew while we were there. And that baby! I would have squeezed her if not for that stupid cold I was carrying around. I am so enjoying these Laity Lodge reflections I see popping up around the web…even now…nearly two weeks out. It was a mystical experience, don’t you think?

  4. Wonderful, Sheila. LOVE the word salubrious. :>)

  5. Everyone feels cared for because everyone cares. Yep.

  6. The engagement there is beautiful and miraculous and simple and normal, all at once, isn’t it?

    • Yes indeed. Maybe more it’s a matter of us taking the time to see the beauty and miracles that surround us in each day’s simple, normal stuff?

  7. Hey, Sheila! I just bought Ellie’s new CD for my brother-in-law’s birthday gift. Did someone ever take a video of her singing with the baby on her hip?

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