The Still and the Great: The Legacy of the Quiet House

July 9, 2015

A humble cabin in the hill country of Texas nourishes the souls of thousands.

How do you nurture your inner life?

It’s a question that can seem like it comes from out of left field. Contemporary rhythms and social expectations encourage a human agency that is more attune to the demands of external forces—others’ expectations, overflowing inboxes, status metrics—than to a still, small voice directing from within.

But 2,000 acres of a canyon property nestled in the hill country of west Texas offer an invitation to tend to the tendrils of the soul, and they’ve been offering it for over 50 years. From youth summer camps to a distinctive family program to the ecumenical retreat center known as Laity Lodge, thousands of wayfarers caught up in the scent of God have found refuge along the winding Frío River to encounter Him more fully, bringing the grace there uncovered back into the demands of ordinary time.

Nowhere is this offering more distilled than in The Quiet House, a secluded cottage sitting one mile from Laity Lodge. A humble abode intended only for the covering of one or two guests, it nonetheless embodies the same convictions that have infused the Lodge and the H.E. Butt Family Foundation with a unique capacity to draw people from all walks of life and corners of Christ’s church together for a recovery of hope, unity, and a sense of the sacred. Just three months before The Quiet House received its first guest in May of 1978, Howard Butt Jr. and three Butt family foundations facilitated the North American Congress of the Laity in Los Angeles—an unprecedented convening of scholars, journalists, public figures and businesspeople gathered to discern the responsibility of the laity in the second half of the 20th century. The intent of the Congress was to till the soil such that a creative lay mindset could take a more considered and self-confident hold of Christian hope as a real force operating in the world—in all the nuances of the era’s challenges and opportunities. It was this same unity and attentiveness to God’s work in worldly affairs that inspired a different structure—a one-room cottage—founded just three months later.

Built in 1978 by then-Lodge director Bill Cody, The Quiet House was designed to provide an opportunity for an individual or married couple to commune with God and His creation in stillness and prayer. Inspired by the monastic tradition more often associated with Catholic spiritual practices, hundreds of guests from all sides of the Christian spectrum have since passed through its stones. Markings have been left, both inside the cottage itself as well as in stacks of personal reflections recorded in diaries left open for the next guest’s contribution. These journals speak of solace and struggle, new discoveries of God’s ways, and, always, kairos. Most of all the Quiet House journals record a living love story of human beings communing with their Lord, and, through the years, with one another. It is a Hebrews 11 story, a story of the laity rediscovering their primary identity and the One who calls them to fulfill it, day after day, decade after decade.

The first thing you notice when you read these journals is the prose style. It’s remarkably consistent across time and carries the same lyrical, surrendered cadence almost no matter who is writing. There are prayers in these journals, exhortations, self-recriminations and sensitive depictions of revelations received. But lacing them all is a melody that rings of fragile buds opening in long-desired drink of the sun, of drying-up, trickling streams at last reaching the rush of other streams who all find the tributary from which they were born and toward which they must return.

“Let be what will be and let grace come upon you,” reads the first entry from May 30, 1978. “Whether in the heat of the sun or cool of the breeze, receive the divine visitor into your heart. He speaks with love.”

These words could well summarize the many decades of soulful obeisance renewed in the Canyon. It is a space that has consistently allowed for a reorientation of awareness, one where spiritual faculties are awakened at the same time that perception of surface-level details sharpen in discerning attentiveness. The Quiet House, with its secluded location, simplicity of décor and provision of carefully selected literature from 20 centuries of Christian reflection, opens wide the gates to hear the deeper sound beneath the noise of everyday life. “In returning and rest shall you be saved,” says the scripture. “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”

The journals span nearly 40 years at this point, and no one entry is alike. They are deeply personal, each a snowflake in their depiction of the faith experience. On the other hand, there are clearly identifiable patterns in both human expectation and divine surprise that lend clues as to where wisdom resides on every person’s pathway to God, revealing also en route the sacramental cast of the family of institutions that have allowed for this pattern of discovery and formation.

“It’s not easy to tell the truth,” says one. “To be quiet, prayerful, and full of grace…just because one comes here. No. It is learned, practiced, perhaps even painful…for we are wayfarers all, and stopping seems less holy than going. But stopping makes going better, and us more able in the journey.”

“I came here to find something I swore I didn’t have,” says another. “Instead, I lost something I was really unaware of, and, in losing it, came face to face with what was left. Do we, in our daily living, fill our lives so that being alone with God becomes ultimately a scary possibility?”

Another wrote, “As I tried to settle in at the Quiet House on Friday evening, I felt the cloud of compulsion come over me as I tried to decide what I was going to do this weekend—what I needed to do for God to love me, for Him to approve of me. As I became aware of these feelings of guilt, I was engulfed with the awareness that God loves me and approves of me regardless of what I do. I became aware that the purpose of the spiritual disciplines is to help me receive God’s love.”

And so they go on, each one a written testament to the most intimate encounters with the living God, experienced—often profoundly and unspeakably—inside The Quiet House. A poem comes to mind in front of the fireplace, a rock left by a previous guest is found in the loft and confirms a verse on this guest’s spirit. Birds hungry for attention and a gazelle grazing by the window bring life to the Psalm 42 lying open in the kitchen. It is surely a unique place, laden with prayer, surrenders, and covenants renewed.

But like any place, it’s bounded, both by the temporary nature of the reprieve it offers and by the fact of its particularity. The Quiet House exists as one small cottage within a larger 2,000-acre oasis where the air may be “thin” and divine whispers heard more easily, but it is a container for renewal, not a galaxy for God’s everlasting activity. Lessons learned in the Quiet House and throughout the broader Canyon rather serve as a monument, as stones of remembrance for those postures and focal practices that might allow God’s grace to work more beautifully in each pilgrim’s life back home—in their work, relationships, churches and spheres of influence. This was the vision of the Butt family: to trust in the soul-transforming and society-renewing power of God meeting people in quiet spaces tenderly wrought.

The Canyon and its stewards have been sensitive to a legacy of Christian wisdom and tried to build that wisdom into its walls and rhythms—a wisdom that honors silence and simplicity, natural beauty and human handiwork. God-breathed words grace the wooden beams as writers like Augustine and Henri Nouwen, Frederick Buechner and Thomas Merton flesh out their charge. What actually happens under this canopy is then up to God, the same God who accompanies each guest through thin air and thick.

In the following excerpts you’ll see nods to this wisdom, awareness dawning on many of the guests as they, too, come to understand some of the essential, counterintuitive truths of how God works in, through and sometimes even against our own souls. May you be encouraged by the consistencies: that to be present is a powerful gift; that attentiveness is better than active interpretation; that love is to be received not earned. And may you, like the writers of these reflections, find yourself giving God a fresh chance—to surprise you, to meet you in your unknowing, to nudge you to seek Him in freedom and safety, not fear. These are the gifts of The Quiet House, the transformative takeaways from encounters with God.


…There is a stillness in me which, it seems now, is unshakable in the hardest storm. What shall I do with what I have learned here? It is my wish that I walk and live in understanding—as far as it is my ability, at peace—out of that stillness which is the “presentation of myself as a living and holy sacrifice…it is my spiritual worship.”

It is at the core of each of us where we meet God. I was never alone.”

Yesterday we came here to escape the tensions of a busy life. Last night the quiet and solitude began to break open the walls of the real enemy which has held us captive—OURSELVES.

There is an authentic fear to come before God when He reveals to us who we really are…

Rest for the soul came when the rays of a morning sun penetrated with warmth the joints and marrow into the quiet hiding chamber of a sinful heart. God’s grace is sufficient and abounding.

Praise God for His everlasting peace.

The tension between knowing what to do and inspiration/improvisation. Free dance. Guilt by contrast. Not meeting the rules. The plan.

“We return today to the city more ready than ever before to see God in what we are doing and more committed than ever before to a disciplined spiritual life.

The Quiet House is not an end but a beginning. Peace, harmony and love exist wherever we are—if we will but see it.”

“We have been here for 26 hours. We have made a covenant that I’m sure could not have been made in the middle of the world. We have much work ahead of us to keep this covenant and we both look forward to that work and a more fulfilling life.”

Dear Wayfarer,

This has been a very interesting stay in the Quiet House—not at all what I had pictured when I reserved it.

This has been a place of confrontation—isolated alone with my Lord, my sin, and the victim of my sin—my wife.

This has been a place of conflict—a battleground between the accuser, Satan, and the advocate, the Lord Jesus Christ, with God, the righteous judge, presiding.

This has been a place of consolation—where the stripes of sin have been cleansed and bandaged once more by an everloving, kind and compassionate savior.

This has been a place of comfort—receiving the forgiveness of my wife confirms the mercy of God.

This has been a place of communion—the same Holy Spirit that saved me and commissioned me has renewed my strength and my vision.

“I know not why God’s wondrous grace

To me He hath made known;

Nor why, unworthy, Christ, in love,

Redeemed me for His own.”

BE OPEN to the kind and style and quality of time He has prepared for you—cease from striving. AMEN!

We read in the Bible of Jesus’ going to the hills to be alone to pray—to escape the crowds who were eager to be near Him. He realized the need to be alone with His Father, in solitude, away from the demands of everyday life. Surely, if Jesus needed this time, how much more we also need time apart.

Time this weekend at the Quiet House has been an opportunity for such a retreat. It has allowed the inner peace to surface. I was reminded of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s thoughts on this upon finding her book, Gifts from the Sea, on the kitchen bookshelf. To find that peace we must have a “singleness of eye”—to live a life of simplicity rather than a life of multiplicity. There are few distractions here to keep us from the contemplative life—where we can feel the presence of God, and know that He is and all we need.

…We experienced many insights about ourselves—the one for me that stands out is living out of the “should” that others have for us—or ever the ones I have for me that ultimately keep me separated from loving myself, my wife and you. It is clear for me today that God loves me just the way I am and that this love is unconditional—something I want to know more for myself.

Often I feel fragmented, pulled in many directions by the pressures of everyday life. This weekend was a much-needed pause, which enabled me not so much to find answers, but to slow down and work on the tools with which to seek those answers.

…It has been a unique experience—predictable in some ways, surprising in others. As expected, we shed our enslavement to time and its concomitant acceleration of pace. We have rediscovered the joys of reading aloud, of sunrises and sunsets, of simple meals and simple pleasures, of hikes and swims and living on top of the world.

Yet it has been a quiet time in only the narrowest sense of the term. True, we have come away from what is ironically termed “civilization.” We are free from most man-made sounds save an occasional truck on the highway or dinner bell at a camp in the valley. Yet to call this solitude or a time alone would be myopically anthropocentric. The cedars are alive with a cacophony of cicadas. Black-chinned hummingbirds beep out warnings before carrying out Star Wars—like raids on others of their kind. Squirrels chatter from the branches of live oaks. And the calls of wrens, finches and jays beg to be heard clearly and identified.

It is as if our faculties have become re-prioritized. Those which serve us so well in the city—the left brain for rational calculation, the voice for learned discourse—recede in importance. In their stead come sight, hearing, and the right brain. This shift was clearly demonstrated by our hikes to Circle Bluff. Loose rocks and cacti trip up those who do not closely watch the ground ahead. Disregard a clattering of hooves and you miss seeing a deer close at hand. The path, subtly marked in places, requires more an intuitive sense of direction than the ability to read maps or boldly lettered signs. (Q: Are highway markers designed with civilization-numbed senses in mind, or are they merely a function of the pace of life?)

With this shift in our senses has come a general reorientation of awareness. In the words of the Gestalt psychologists, the “ground” becomes “figural”—that which once was the landscape, the scenery in front of which life was played out now is the focus of our attention. Removed from our structured routines and normal duties, we are left with our milieu—in this case, a lovely cottage and the wonders of nature.  What better way to have demonstrated the true meaning and joy of life?

Alas, we must now add our names to the long list of family and friends who penned their thoughts here upon imminent departure. May we take with us a measure of the peace, understanding, and intimacy that we have gained during our stay. May our new home be for us and others a Wayfarer’s Cottage. And may we always have a Quiet House within.”

I’m glad you responded to the call to come here even if you do not recognize the call—you were brought here. You will be surrounded by love as you uncover your pain in deep honesty. God’s creatures will parade around your house—go, explore, stand spiritually naked before God’s universe.

I don’t know you but you are known, you are loved, yes even with your deepest sin laid bare—nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. You indeed are not separate but connected—brother-sister—we’re one with in this place—and we take this with us into our worlds. The secret is simply this Christ in you, bringing with him all the hope of glorious things to come.

Our futures are filled with hope.

Thanks to all who make this quiet place a reality and to God who gave them the power to create.

God will meet me—not in my knowing, but in my unknowing.

Coming here was anticipation…What would I find…Anything different? …Anything dramatic? …I came in anticipation and expecting to be able to find insight and the great answers to all the questions we all must answer.

I found in studying the Lord’s prayer not a dramatic answer but the only answer.

“The will be done…”

That means of course that the work will be done and the answers given not in our eager and well-meaning zest but done:

God’s way not ours,

At his pace not ours,

For His glory not ours.

I do not give thanks to anyone that made this possible, for they know they did the work that God had for them to do not for their glory but for God’s. All we can do is a small part of His plan…For He fights the battle. I am but an instrument for Him to use.

God’s peace and love to all who follow here and in his way.

Upon my arrival the weight of many problems were circling about much the same as the atom. The objective unclear as to why I am here. Is there need of one? To deal with my many problems and search for an objective to each in blank solitude offers no solution.

However total submission to my higher power, to God, to seek a path and direction not previously known has become somewhat clearer. There is no answer clearly stated, there is no predictable outcome. There is only hope and faith that the uncertain path will lead to clear conceptual faithfulness that will guide me through these current problems and those which surely lie ahead.

Thy rod for protection

Thy staff for progressing through life’s journey which has by chance channeled me here.

Coming to this flat-topped “mountain” is a pilgrimage to a wilderness altar. We come bearing the offering of ourselves—the successes, failures, doubts and pleasures of being human. Here in the quiet aloneness we offer it all to God who rejects nothing that we bring to him. In the time of silence here He returns it all to us, broken into blessing.

Thanks be to God!

God’s message to me: “Let go.”

…I realize I have felt the controlling part of me is even bigger than God—too big for Him to control. Christ’s words from John 8:11: “Go home and do not sin again.” Show great faith on His part. He can see in my own strength I can’t do that but in my weakness He can be strong—and His faith that I can go and sin no more is based on my faith in Him and His knowledge that the Holy Spirit indeed indwells me.

…Today I feel God has put the picture back into perspective. Our problems aren’t too immense for His love. The sign of love over the front door says so much of what I’ve felt the past two days. His truth WILL conquer in the end.

I join the many to venture out from this comfortable womb—the Quiet House—to make the journey to Circle Bluff. As I approached the bluff I could see the Cross. The closer I moved the stronger and clearer the Cross became. As my journey moved me closer to the Cross it was taking me away from the security of my retreat whose walls contained my modest possessions—socks, toothbrush, underwear and a few apples. And the retreat had already moved me miles from my more secure, more materialistic home. But moving to the Cross does that. The nearer one’s journey the farther one is from the things of this life. As I stood on the Bluff, touching the Cross and standing inches from nothingness I was intensely aware that there were only 3 choices—to stop and journey no more, to go back to the security of my known world, or venture forward into nothingness. To give up all in order to be one with the Cross and he who is Magnificent. It is only the path to nothingness that allows the journey to continue that we might become One.

“She who insists on her own way will lose it. But she who gives up her way—for my sake—will gain it.”

We came here aching—tired—dried up. I cried to Larry, “I feel like I’m dying.”

He looked at me and offered, “No—I think you are being born.”

Grace—Grace to know…to see such love through confusion and tears. Oh, God! –What grace!

Thank you dear God for all the fresh starts you have given me. Thank you for this new morning, for once again giving me a fresh start I hold it tightly with newfound strength and covenant with you to make it count.

Thank you everyone who created this place for new starts.

Such a special place, so sacred. Where did these cool July breezes come from that have aired the house so comfortably? They have touched my body & moved ___ asking, is there space here, or here, or over there, for the Christ that you seek to understand? Like an onion I’m peeling back layers of memories, risking to believe myself, feeling a hurt so deep, knowing it is all a part of breaking free and coming into a closeness with Christ in a way I’ve never known before…the kingdom within.

This house nurtures with its pockets of safety that embraced me as I slept, read, prayed and meditated. Space enough even for 2 to dance quietly around each other, then meet in a hammock or loft for time together.

Thank you, wayfarers.

I return each visit to this blessed home more earnest in my call to God. I want to let go of control, recognizing sin yet blind to the fine weaving God is so aware of. Lord, I ask to understand what has come to pass in my life, guidance to grow through this present pain, and to grow stronger in Christ, coming to know his many faces, and in so doing, to grow wiser, softer, more loving, more giving, and most of all, more forgiving.

My first visit to this special Quiet House has been to the glory of God. He met me specifically on several questions of my heart…and left untouched several others. There are still question of deepest heart-hurts that I had hoped would be discussed, healed, met with mercy; but they were not. God in His grace and infinite mercy will strengthen me until yet another time. I pray forgiveness to be received as well as given. Until then, heaven is bound.

Integrity. The word describes this place, this idea, this offering. A pace for quietness, at-one-ness, atonement. I bring my jumbled interior constant monologue here and am pulled to the peace and quiet. The integrity of the gift of the Quiet House—the integrity of the people ho made it possible—their value—I want more of this myself—here is a place—the whole Butt Foundation enterprise where the content is Biblical without being dogmatic, where the stand, the bedrock of belief, is solid without being rigid, where Jesus Christ and the Cross and the resurrection are central without being screeching. Oh, for all this, I am SO thankful.  I am so thankful that a place like this exists, that I am privileged to know about it and participate in it, and throw myself up against it.

I am always pulled back to this place—whether a week-end program, a week in the summer, or a few days at the Quiet House. I am so deeply thankful for this model of depth and integrity. And I am thankful for the Love—God’s love—in people’s hearts that make this possible. I want to be more like this place, this Quiet House.


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