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Ubuntu

Last week, my niece posted a photograph of her new tattoo: hands, holding the Earth, with the word “Ubuntu” inscribed below it.

The next day, I met singer/songwriter Sara Thomsen, and saw her project booklet (from an event combining music, art, poetry) titled Ubuntu.

On the third day, I walked into my brother’s home in Chicago and immediately saw a sign, “I am because we are.” In other words, ubuntu.

Some, perhaps many, people would have me believe this is a great example of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon (also known as frequency illusion). But that would remove all of the magic and wonder from the experience of such synchronicities—and I believe that magic and wonder are absolutely necessary these days. I refuse to give them up in the name of psychology.

I first heard the word and concept of ubuntu in a televised interview with Desmond Tutu 20 years ago. He roughly translated it as “a person is a person through other people”—I remember it because I immediately wrote it in my journal so I wouldn’t forget. It spoke to me very deeply of what I knew in my heart but always had difficulty articulating: namely, that we are all intimately connected with one another. The concept has a long history and has been translated in various ways, though maintaining throughout its essential character. Ubuntu is about relationships. (See more history here.)

Though I haven’t had a chance to ask her yet, my niece Hallie most likely became aware of the concept because of her love for and travels to Africa. Hallie is our social justice warrior, our peacemaker, our world citizen. Ubuntu is a concept she has understood since she was quite young, regardless of when she learned the word that names it. Hallie has a heart for the world and will fight for equality and opportunity and fairness for all. When I saw the beautiful photo of her tattoo I couldn’t help but feel emotional. “My humanity is inextricably bound up in yours,” she declares. It is written on her body.

I met Sara Thomsen when she was one of the facilitators for our annual Spirituality in the 21st Century event. I learned about her work with the Echoes of Peace community choir, and their “Art of Ubuntu” project. Prairiewoods’ vision, expressed through offerings such as our annual event, is beautifully commensurate with the Beloved Community described in this quote from the “Art of Ubuntu” project materials:

It is like the Beloved Community, the “network of mutuality” of which Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke … “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. This is the interrelated structure of all reality. You can never be what you ought to be until I become what I ought to be.”

Immediately after closing our conference on Saturday, I drove to Chicago. The main reason for the trip was to see my niece Zoe in the role of Veruca Salt in her school production of Willy Wonka. (She was awesome!) As I joined together with family and friends after the production, I was once again reminded that connectedness is our nature. “I am because we are,” as the sign in my brother’s living room declares.

Ubuntu: I so needed this repetition of the concept. I refuse to chalk it up to a mental trick or illusion. When you are parched and thirsty, water is always a miracle, not merely a chemical compound of hydrogen and oxygen. More than anything, I needed the reminder that there are many others who hold ubuntu in their hearts. It is inspiring and affirming and it offers me energy for whatever this day or the next may bring.

As Sara Thomsen’s song “By Breath” says:

“The fire in my heart, my soul flame burning
Is the fire in your heart, your soul flame burning
We are Spirit burning bright, by the light of day, in the dark of night
We are shining like the sun, and like the moon, like the Holy One

By breath, by blood, by body, by spirit, we are all one”

—Jenifer Hanson, Prairiewoods director

Posted May 23, 2017

 

What can I do to make today a little easier for you?

I am not comfortable with the phrase “beggars can’t be choosers.” Why can’t they be choosers? Someone who has to ask for help is no longer entitled to preferences?

A few months ago, I saw a woman standing on the side of the road, asking those who passed by in a little Prius or a huge Durango for some spare change and a little compassion. I took a break and sat down with her, this kind, well-worn woman named Dawn. I learned that Dawn loves chocolate donuts, red Gatorade and hot chocolate on cold Iowa days.

So instead of simply handing a few dollars out my car window and driving on, I began asking, “Dawn, what can I do to make today a little easier for you?” Some days, she just wanted something cold to drink; once, she needed a full meal, as she hadn’t eaten in over 24 hours. No matter what sustenance she needs on a particular day, Dawn seems to crave companionship as much as anything. I try to give her both.

Over the last few months, she has gone through several major life changes, including leaving an abusive boyfriend who bruised her skin and her spirit. I just listened, and brought her a few extra chocolate donuts.

Pope Francis recently said that, when we encounter panhandlers, we should give them money and not worry about where it will go or what it will be used for. Whether it is used for diapers or drugs, food or liquor, we should give. The pope says that if “a glass of wine is the only happiness he has in life, that’s O.K. Instead, ask yourself, what do you do on the sly? What ‘happiness’ do you seek in secret?”

When Pope Francis says that giving to someone in need is “always right,” I think of Dawn and all she has given to me. I can only imagine how much better life would be if we approached everyone with the question, “What can I do to make today a little easier for you?”

—Andi Lewis, Prairiewoods marketing coordinator

Posted April 25, 2017

Solar Love

On March 31, Iowa Interfaith Power & Light organized a solar tour in Eastern Iowa, inviting local elected officials to learn about solar and why organizations in the area choose solar power. Here at Prairiewoods, we choose solar for a number of reasons:

1) Solar (renewable energy) fits deeply with our missions and core values of caring for creation

2) Solar power helps us be a place where people can come and learn about many ways that individuals and businesses can incorporate eco-friendly practices and systems into their lives—whether it be installing a photovoltaic solar array or making a rain barrel

3) Benefits are three-fold: environmental, financial and educational

Prairiewoods has a 100-unit photovoltaic (PV) array that is tied into the Alliant Energy utility system. (We have other solar units on site that are off-grid and store energy in batteries.) This 17.5-kilowatt system provides about half of our electricity needs. It was installed in 2009 and 2010.

I loved sharing our solar story with some of our elected officials at the city and state level. Renewable energy is on the rise, but people are still largely unaware of how these systems work and opportunities to see them in operation are still fairly uncommon. Thankfully Prairiewoods is a great place to come and learn more, as well as see renewable energy systems and eco-friendly practices in person! Do you have a group that wants a tour of our many eco-features? If so, get in touch with me here at Prairiewoods!

We love solar here at Prairiewoods, and thankfully the sun loves us too … and I am reminded of that great love when I read this short poem:

The Sun Never Says
by Hafiz

Even
After
All this time
The Sun never says to Earth,

“You Owe Me.”

Look
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.

—Emelia Sautter, Prairiewoods ecospirituality coordinator

Posted April 11, 2017

Transformational Singing Bowls

Kathy Broghammer offers regular opportunities to pray and relax with the sounds of singing bowls at Prairiewoods. (Find some upcoming opportunities on our calendar.) Here is her take on the experience …

I become an open vessel, one with the bowls. Allowing the vibrations of the bowls to settle in, releasing tensions, calm my mind, and soothe my soul. I give myself space, connecting with the Divine within. I listen, RECEIVE, melt into peace. Allowing this sense of well-being, I become a better healing vessel for the world, to BE a healing presence for others.

The Himalayan and crystal elemental bowls must be experienced to fully appreciate. Others have commented on their transformational and nurturing experiences. Offering opportunities to others to have these experiences is heartwarming and enriching. Playing my singing bowls brings me great joy, whether it is at a spiritual retreat center, yoga studio or private session.

—Kathy Broghammer, Prairiewoods facilitator

Posted March 28, 2017

Echoing a Song is Somewhere to Begin

A song is a gardener
It picks up a shovel and starts to dig.
Tenderly tips the blade into the burnt and brazed,
Crusted, cranky, depleted, impenetrable soil
at the surface of the heart

Tosses and turns over and around all the scraps, remnants, remains,
All the crap, cruelty, and craziness
Amending, softening, sifting
Activating, aerating, enlivening

A song is a seed
It is not derailed, discouraged, deterred by gated, guarded hearts
It finds every shortcut, crack and crevice
It flits, floats, meanders, winds, works its way in
Wakes us up to what is and what can be

It will knock down the wall and fashion a bridge from sundered stone
Enter the soul’s secret garden
Subtly scatter seed

A song will not change a policy, re-write the laws, topple dictators,
End discrimination, stop deforestation
House the homeless, feed the hungry, heal the land

The singing of songs, the piping of poems,
The drumming, dancing, delving, digging, delighting, daring,
Beautiful boldness of art
Will merely crack open the hard shell
of the dormant heart

And hearts awakened
are unstoppable.

May a song, a story, a poem, a painting, a puppet
Tap you on the shoulder
Trickle to your heart
Invite you to Dance
Ripple, rhyme, resound
a pebble tossed
an echo of peace

—poem by Sara Thomsen, Prairiewoods facilitator

 

Sara Thomsen will be the musician for Consciousness & Christogenesis, Prairiewoods’ annual Spirituality in the 21st Century event May 5–6, 2017. Learn more about this chance to find hope for emerging wholeness here. Also be sure to check out Sara on her website or listen to her song Somewhere to Begin on YouTube!

 

Posted March 14, 2017

The Cedar Rapids Floods

 

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness …
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

—from Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

In 2008, Cedar Rapids experienced a catastrophic flood. It surprised us, the waters rising fast and destroying so much of what made our town unique. I’ll always be haunted by the memory of cresting the hill on the south side of town, after the main flood waters had passed, to discover the very heart of the city enveloped in darkness. The sorrow and loss of that sight.

For eight years, many people labored to not only bring the city back but to make it better, stronger, more distinctive until you could literally feel the energy of creativity and new growth.

As this photo from Lone Star Aerial shows, Cedar Rapids was prepared for the flood in Sept. 2016.

And then the unthinkable: another flood threatened the city in the very same way. This time, we had some warning, a little time to prepare. And the people, remembering, rolled up their sleeves and got to work saving our city and each other. It was inspiring, and it was humbling—and it was an example of what we are capable of when we forget our differences in the midst of what we share.

We still have our differences. We still have our critics. We still have our imperfections. However, what we learned from what we lost is ours now—we own it, and it has changed us for the better.

—Jenifer Hanson, Prairiewoods director

Posted Feb. 28, 2017

 

A Star in Flight

A star in flight—
The woods brighter.
Flashes with the stardust people.
Come out and be with us, the woods say.
You too are stardust.
Come enter our family. All there Is, is here.
All creation.
Here—with stars
glancing in between shadows on the snow
saying come.
The woods saying—
It is time for stories and dreams.
The woods look at us—
Unable to move closer, but saying, welcome.
The woods, the stars, the souls of all those who enter,
all tremble at the mighty Life here.
Life, thriving in the pockets of stardust sprinkled on snow.
Yes, we hear.
Clarity rises through woods and stars.
Now the universe moves toward us.

—Betty Daugherty, FSPA, Prairiewoods foundress

Posted Feb. 14, 2017

Welcoming Everybody In

Everybody In

Our new blog, Everybody In: a Prairiewoods blog, focuses on various perspectives from people (and animals!) associated with Prairiewoods. Every other Tuesday, we will post a new perspective on ecology, spirituality, holistic health or welcoming “everybody in” to the center of life! Since we found inspiration for the title in Peter Mayer’s song Everybody In, we thought we’d start with the lyrics and a video of his first performance of this song at our 2016 Spirituality in the 21st Century conference. (For more from Pete, visit www.blueboat.net.)

Pete MayerEverybody In
Jesus spoke, entreating them
To live together in a great circle of love
And when his followers asked him then
Who should be included, Jesus said

CHORUS
Let everybody in, Everybody in
Everybody into the circle, circle
Everybody, Everybody
Everybody, Everybody
Everybody into the circle, circle

Oligarchs and tyrants try
To keep some in and everybody else outside
Till revolution sweeps across the land
And the people all stand and the common folk cry      CHORUS

Sometimes a circle is a class or creed
Sometimes a circle is made of only men
Until Susan B. Anthony
Says what about me? Let me in!      CHORUS

Sometimes a circle is a privileged thing
Excluding people for the color of their skin
Until the voice of Martin Luther King
Says let freedom ring! and let them in      CHORUS

Gay and straight, rich and poor
Whole and broken, open up that door
The more we are, the greater we become
And after all, we all are one
Bring in the people but don’t stop there
Bring in the fish in the sea and the birds in the air
Bring in the rivers wide and the mountains tall
We go together or not at all.      CHORUS

Everybody In, music and lyrics by Peter Mayer, www.blueboat.net

Watch the video from the debut of Everybody In on YouTube.

Posted Jan. 17, 2017

Dakota Access Pipeline & the Value of Water

Otis & Friends 5I’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.

My squirrel friends and I live on the banks of Dry Creek, so we understand the value of clean water. Prairiewoods Director Jenifer Hanson grew up on the banks of the Mississippi River. Here is her story of what that water — and all water — means to her …

I could not see the river from the yard of my childhood home, high on the bluffs of Dubuque, Iowa. Yet the Mississippi was a felt presence there, always that force by which I oriented myself in the world. Even at play, I paused for the low sad call of a barge whistle. In the Dubuque of my youth, there were the flats and the bluffs, dividing rich from poor; there was the north end and the south end, dividing Germans from Irish. But relation to the river defined them all.

All of my early life was lived along the Mississippi. We left Dubuque for Davenport and Hastings, Minnesota, but both were Mississippi towns. For the four years we lived in Ohio, in a town along the Little Miami River, I yearned for THE river. Despite the fact that the Little Miami is a National Scenic Waterway, I couldn’t appreciate it. The Mississippi River was the water in my blood.

Jenifer Hanson on bike_cropA couple of years ago, on a bike ride with friends in the Twin Cities, we stopped and gazed at the Mississippi, from a point high above it. My friend, V, born and raised in St. Louis, released a satisfied sigh and said, “My river!” I laughed, having just had the same experience — an internal relaxation like that of coming home, accompanied by a proprietary love. Neither of us owns the river, but we both love it fiercely.

Today, in North Dakota, there are people fighting to protect the Missouri River from the Dakota Access Pipeline. People for whom that river speaks of life and home. People whose histories are inextricably bound to the land through which the Missouri wends its slow passage. My heart is with them, because their fight is my fight too — the same “black snake” is intended to pass through our rich Iowa farmland, and then underneath my river, too. Their fight is my fight, and is bigger even than us: because water is life for ALL.

I can’t believe in the safety of this pipeline despite the many assurances we’ve been given by those who support it. Pipelines virtually always leak at some point. It doesn’t take long to learn this — check out this list of pipeline accidents in the US since 2000, if you doubt that this pipeline poses a danger to the waters of our rivers, our groundwater, our soil. Look at the pictures of the aftermath of these leaks and explosions — I did, and they broke my heart.

There are many issues and opinions associated with this pipeline. I don’t claim to have all of the information, much less all of the answers, though I am educating myself. What I do claim is my love for one special river and the ways that river feeds, slakes the thirst of, and enhances the earth and its people. And because of that love, I hear in the depths of my heart the voices raised in care for other special places: other rivers, waterways, beloved and/or sacred lands that are endangered by human action.

What I do claim is my belief that water is the sacred right of all creatures on this earth — not to be squandered uselessly, endangered through greed, or owned by corporations.

—Jenifer Hanson, Prairiewoods Director

 

Set the Pace for Peace

Otis & Friends 4I’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.

Marianne Abel-Lipschutz is a writer, frequent program participant at Prairiewoods and friend to critters large and small. And as she describes here, she is one who is “baked in prayer” …

My friend Teresa texted our group of friends to pray for her mother Dorothy when she was rushed to the emergency room with a heart problem recently. A second text shared the doctor’s plan to install a “peacemaker” in Dorothy’s heart. I read through the typo, knowing that Teresa meant a pacemaker. This second text came as an early email before I left my house for Prairiewoods that day. The mental space offered by the hour-long drive helped me acknowledge the meaning of Teresa’s message. Going to Prairiewoods is the peacemaker my heart needs.

Marianne Abel-LipschutzThe Prairiewoods environment, community, events, and spiritual focus activate me in ways that reach beyond the masterful abilities of an electrical device. I can adjust more readily to the pace of life and be more fully responsive to the needs of those around me. Opening my heart and mind to the expansive energy of our world, I can receive and reflect the blessings of abundance that God makes available to all of us. Prairiewoods recharges me with the gift of lovingkindness, an eternally sustainable resource that comes with the air we breathe.

—Marianne Abel-Lipschutz, program participant