Otis & Friends 1I’m Otis, Prairiewoods’ favorite squirrel, and I’ve taken over this blog for 2016 in honor of Prairiewoods’ 20th anniversary. You’ll hear from me or one of my friends each Friday.

From my perch on the topmost branch of the great oak near the kitchen door, I see and hear all that is happening here. The view is great! By day I can watch immense white clouds drifting in from the West on a bed of blue and disappearing across the horizon. And at night, I live in a world of moon and stars. My tree is the perfect place for meditation. How could I not be prayerful living in such beauty?

Sometimes I hear a poem being read and that too leads me naturally into a meditative mood. There are so many great poems, but I often find something from Mary Oliver to be perfect. For instance, when I heard someone read her poem Leaves and Blossoms Along the Way, I loved how she talked about holiness being visible, even though God may not be. Holiness—it is visible. I see it all around me. It’s here in those clouds that the wind hurries across the sky. It’s here it is in the simple fact that this tree is here and that there is an earth, that there is day and a night, sunshine and rain mountains and rivers—and acorns. Holiness is here in the fact that our world exits, that through the long journey to our present existence, a journey of some 13-plus billion years, something kept evolution moving forward.

A friend of mine, Thomas Berry, inspires me the most as he tells this story, the Universe Story. In telling this story of all that exists and how all of us got here, Thomas sometimes refers to some special moments that were more dangerous than others as Moments of Grace. This is because, at each time of crisis, a major challenge was overcome and life was able to continue. The story could go on. One example of such a transformational moment was when our mother star scattered itself into the vastness of space. It was only out of this that our sun and entire planetary system was born. Another was when the first multicellular organic forms of life appeared. All future life forms are possible because of this one moment.

Tree - Grandmother 2_smallJust think, from those first small life forms comes what I see from my tree and, of course, even beyond. But I can see the fields of prairie, those big patches of waving grasses and flowers being enjoyed by bees and butterflies. Then there are cute rabbits, wandering geese, graceful deer and my fellow squirrels—all interesting to watch. Frogs sing in the pond and hundreds of birds swoop through the air. Humans too, some caring for the land, some resting in the sun, some creating those inviting aromas that drift through the kitchen window.

Thomas tells us that now we are the ones living in another Moment of Grace. The present, he says, is a time of great transformation in which the future will be determined. He tells us, though, that since we have been guided so far through many turbulent centuries, we should have confidence in the future. I think that is the mission of Prairiewoods, to offer what we can so that the transformation of each of us will help to bring about the great transformation that the future depends on. I want to be a part of that magnificent transformation that will surely happen when we take time to meditate wherever we are, in all the sanctuaries that are offered to us. Mine happens to be in a tree.

There are probably not many people who know that Thomas Berry has been a major inspiration for the creation of Prairiewoods. His vision seemed to simply grab at our hearts. In a way he opened new doors, although as we looked through them we recognized that we too felt that holiness is everywhere, that all is sacred. He verified for us that our spirituality is intrinsically linked to understanding our connections with our universe. I like to quote him as saying that “what happens in the outer world, happens in the inner world.”

Thomas and Mary Oliver make a great team as they both uncover the holy and the mythic meaning behind each new scientific discovery.

In the poem I mentioned earlier, Mary Oliver says that “all important ideas must include the trees, the mountains and the rivers.” And, as for me, I naturally see the need to include the trees in this idea of what is important. One of them is my home. And I can see that I am not the only one to seek out a tree as a refuge. Almost every day I see people here at Prairiewoods who find it a natural part of a retreat to sit under a tree; and I can see that they are having a great conversation together.

The trees, the mountains and the rivers are all mystical places. Our connection with them is spiritual. They feed our souls and make holiness visible. And the last line of the poem tells me that I, Otis, am a part of it all. It reads, “The point is, you’re you, and that’s for keeps.”

—Otis (as dictated to Betty Daugherty, FSPA, Prairiewoods foundress)