by Pia Fritsch, Prairiewoods Intern

What Greater Cathedral?
Why are monuments to the
Living God
Made of stone?
I do not comprehend this
Holy Weight.
What greater cathedral could we build than an
Oak savannah?
What taller ceiling than the sky?
What greater columns than the
Trunks of old oak trees?
What purer communion of earth and heaven
Than root and leaf?
What more beautiful mural
Than illuminated foliage?
Once as a child, I perceived the world as a great oak tree
In space, Self-rooted, as the magnetic polar exchange.
As a young adult, I feel like an Ent,
A tree granted freedom to move.
With all my growing heart,
I wish for the old woman I will become,
And for my unconceived children that the churches
Of the future
Will be made of
A Living Wood.

As I was looking out at the restoration of the oak savannah and prairie this weekend I saw the relatively small oak trees and wondered how it would feel to walk in a field of ancient trees. I had the thought that there is great majesty and awe in the presence of towering trees. I feel like that would be the best place to pray, where the earth communes with the sky. When I read the Bible I was confused when I read the phrase the “living God.” To me, I feel like religion has become encapsulated in a restrictive paradigm. It is as if people are ready for something new now, but the doctrinal powers of religion are resisting this change. I have read a lot of books here on this subject. I was attracted to Prairiewoods originally, because it is a place where people can merge their faith with an expanded awareness of spirituality beyond the usual topics in church. So I pondered the term “living God” and thought how that name could be best represented by a living environment. I feel like no building could ever be as expansive as a field or as tall as the oldest trees. When I thought this I imagined myself small in comparison to the trees and space. Then in my mind’s eye I looked up and saw the massive trunk of the closest tree recede into space. I had this feeling of expansion and joy in my chest when I imagined that. This poem is basically an ode to that moment, but as with anything for me there are more questions than answers in this poem. The truth of this moment in history is stranger than fiction. Even though the only reality I have ever known has been based on the logarithmic depletion of an already depleted earth, it still seems strange. There is something inherently wrong with destroying life, even if it’s non-human life.

This Wednesday I was walking through the woods and then came upon the prairie. I saw some Black-Eyed Susans in the field which reminded me of the seeds I had gotten from the dream retreat. It said on the package: “Help us plant the seeds of peace and transformation.” This then reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend when I was telling him that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. He had replied that everyone is a seed. You may not know what seed you are, but the potential is always there. Then I thought about the restoration work on the prairie and I thought: “I just need to find the right environment for my ‘seed,’ and then I’ll be able to grow into whatever plant that is me.” All I need to do is go where I feel most nurtured, emotionally, mentally, physically, socially, spiritually, and that is enough to kick start the potential within myself. I don’t need to force an image of what I think I will do on my life. The ‘plan’ or events of my life will arise organically and in many ways unpredictably. Roger Housden says in ten poems to change your life that “instead of making ourselves, this more ancient tradition would say we ourselves are there in embryo from the start, and we unfurl as we go along, colored by circumstance and climate. Just as an oak tree is there already in the acorn, the baby carries on its brow and in its eyes the mark and signature of its later life” (98). This doesn’t mean that every detail is predetermined, but there is an essence to the “quality of engagement that is unique to him. It is as if our joys and trials are there in seed from the beginning” (Housden 98). Therefore, our essence and potential is within us. All we need to do is “discern that pattern, listen for it, and give room for it to emerge” (Housden 99).

I can feel reaffirmed then, because I do feel like I have listened to myself at least in the area of education. I have taken the route that has no security or even career path, but that I wanted to take for the sake of learning about it. I just need to keep listening to myself, and put myself in the right environment. Prairiewoods has been a great environment for me to continue to grow. I couldn’t have anticipated that I would find a place like this to intern at. I just need to take one step at a time and not get caught up in the need to plan everything, while not forsaking everything to chance.

I have really enjoyed my time here. I’ve met some really fun and amazing people. I’ve had a lot of time to reconnect myself to nature. I feel like I will be able to clearly articulate what this experience has done for me in retrospect, but for now I am just glad to have been here. I’ve more than doubled my list of good books to read. I’ve absorbed some great knowledge from books and activities that I’ve participated in here. I came here with the intention to see how Prairiewoods creates the space for personal transformation. I saw this the most in the Dream Retreat where lectures, group discussions and dancing helped build trust and insight. It was difficult that I don’t know people in the area, so I did get bored sometimes. However this created the time for me to just go outside. That time that I would normally spend with friends became nature time. I wouldn’t say I had any kind of mystical experiences, but I did get something out of that interaction. Mostly I enjoy nature, because it’s beautiful. It brings some balance to myself. I also got a taste for one version of how small organizations can run. Mostly, I think I will sit with this experience and put it into perspective as I go on. I still think it’s funny that I’ve worked with nuns, and even more so because they are basically hippie-Catholics. I think hippie-Catholicism is a great place to start personal and collective transformation.