Skip to Content

For the Beauty of the Earth … and its Preservation

Otis & Friends 3I’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.

Prairiewoods was founded in 1996 by six Franciscan Sisters on principles of ecology and spirituality. Here are some thoughts from one of those foundresses, Betty Daugherty, FSPA, on the important role humans play in caring for Earth …

“We humans are evolution come to consciousness.” This quote by Ilia Delio, OSF, in an article in the magazine Human Development, expresses a widely accepted truth to those familiar with the scientific story of evolution. It is a simple statement but profound in its meaning.

Ilia Delio is a Franciscan and, though it may not be apparent, her message is deeply Franciscan. That becomes clear when we accept St. Francis as an example of a very evolved person, of someone conscious of his own intimate connection to the sacred community of Beings around him, of someone totally aware that he is kin to all that is.

In reading the life of Francis, we can’t miss his ecstatic joy, the amazement and love of creation that floods his soul and swells into song. His connections to creation are spoken in the language of the sacred.

Ilia relates how Francis, immersed in prayer before an icon of the crucified Christ, is opened “to the reality of God’s presence in the human person and in nature.” To him everything is related because “everything is created through the divine Word.”

Francis is all about relationship; not a relationship based on hierarchy, power and control, but one of sisterhood and brotherhood, of connection and engagement. His stance is one of humility and gratitude.

The view of the cosmos in the thirteenth century was certainly different than it is today, but Francis, the mystic, knew within himself that he and all of creation emerged out of the same Love. Without knowledge of quantum physics and all the ways in which the new cosmology reveals the connections between spirituality and science, he saw that all things are related. All created things—not just human beings, animals, the birds he preached to or the wolf he tamed, but also the sun, moon, water and wind—were his sisters and brothers.

In his spirituality we find the same understandings that science highlights for us today: the sacredness and interconnectedness of all existence, the interdependence of all life.

We can see the relevance of this spirituality as we look at all the challenges before us today: millions of people living in brutal poverty and without hope while a very small percentage enjoy an opulent style of living; a culture based on run-away consumption with little regard for the resulting degradation of the planet; fear and anxiety winning out over a sense of peace and security.

Were Francis here now, he would be as disturbed as any of us at what Ilia calls the three major crises we face today: “an overstressed planet, excess energy consumption and global warming.” We are, she says, “on the brink of catastrophe,” destroying God’s creation that Francis praised so lyrically.

No doubt, Francis would be amazed and puzzled at how alienated we have become from the planet and its ecosystems, not just physically separated from the created world but lacking any sense of a common sacred origin.

We often read that the environmental crisis we are experiencing is really a moral or religious issue. This has been stated over and over in past years by popes, bishops and a whole range of spiritual leaders, people who are convinced it is a religious issue because it is fundamentally a crisis of meaning. If the crisis we are in is a moral and spiritual issue, Ilia suggests, then the remedy must be seen in those same terms.

Ilia points out that Christianity has often been more absorbed in a future life beyond this one with a focus on personal salvation, rather than on cherishing and protecting a creation that is sacred and still evolving. We are just beginning to realize that all is connected; spirituality and religion, economics and ecology, politics and social issues are connected. All are part of a great and intricate web of Being.

It was Francis’ deep understanding of the presence of the divine in nature that gave him such a sense of right relationship with creation. And as a human being with the capacity for self-conscious reflection and the ability to make moral decisions, he chose a path of reverence and inclusion.

For us today, we are coming to understand that it will only be through a spiritual relationship with Earth and all its creatures that we will have the strength and courage necessary to live in what Thomas Berry calls “a mutually enhancing” relationship with the natural world.

This way of living an incarnational theology in a world that reveals God’s beauty is traditionally Franciscan. The well-known liberation theologian and former Franciscan Leonardo Boff, in his book Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, writes that what we need is a “true revival of the sacred,” a re-enchantment and reverence. He says that only a sense of the sacred can bring us back from our exile and alienation. We need a “personal relationship with Earth,” one of love. Boff says that we cannot continue to think of ourselves as separate from Earth since “we are the sons and daughters of Earth, we are the Earth itself become self-aware.”

Murray Bodo, OFM, author of The Way of St. Francis, finds Francis’ sacramental view of reality—one that sees everything as a sign of the presence of God—as the only way to unify our lives. It demands a realization of our interconnectedness to creation and to Christ as its source and goal.

Bodo says that in 1224, Francis articulates in The Canticle of the Creatures how to “integrate the depths of the self by leaving self and entering into what you can see and hear and touch and feel and smell. God dwells in ‘deep down things,’ and you find God when God finds you loving the world.”

In the Canticle, Francis, the poet and mystic, tries to express what is happening within the depth of his being, the union of everything with God:

Praised be You, my Lord, with all your creatures, especially Brother Sun,
Who is the day and through whom You give us light.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
In heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
Who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire through whom You light the night,
And he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through our sister, Mother Earth,
Who sustains and governs us.

Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks.

—Betty Daugherty, FSPA, Prairiewoods foundress

Leaf through the Last Year at Prairiewoods

Otis & Friends 2I’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.

As 2016 wraps up, Prairiewoods looks to the future …

Dear Friends:

The sign at the entrance to Prairiewoods says, “All are welcome.”

If you have been to Prairiewoods, you know that by welcome, we mean the warm hospitality so deeply rooted in our Franciscan heritage. And when we say all, we mean people of any culture or background, on any spiritual path. Truly, all are welcome!

As a friend to Prairiewoods—guest, program participant, retreatant, volunteer, donor, neighbor—you have personally experienced this welcome. More than that, you have contributed to the atmosphere of peace and healing that has transformed so many lives in our first twenty years!

You have helped Prairiewoods impact the environment, change lives and renew spirits—and we are truly grateful!

What Prairiewoods has to offer is vitally important: 70 acres of woods and prairies in which to reconnect with nature and experience the interdependence of all creation; programs and retreats that focus on spiritual growth, renewal and understanding; a generative community co-creating a shared future and holding space for what is emerging.

2016 Annual Report - coverIn a turbulent and rapidly changing world, our community needs Prairiewoods. Your gift can ensure that Prairiewoods remains a place of peace and transformation by helping us present a rich and varied slate of retreats and programs, while also keeping the cost to participants affordable. Plus, your gift now is automatically multiplied by a donation of matching funds through our Rooted & Growing campaign, so this is the perfect time to donate. Thank you for contributing to Prairiewoods’ welcoming spirit!

Peace and all good,
Jenifer A. Hanson, Director


Highlights from the Last Fiscal Year

Aug. 2015: Celebrated Pope Francis’ eco-encyclical Laudato Si’ with Praise Be series of programming focused on eco-spirituality

Sept. 2015: Kicked off 8th annual Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life (SEEL) retreat that lasts 9 months

Sept. 2015: Hosted Iowa’s 1st native music festival with Sweetgrass Flute & Nature Fest

Oct. 2015: Began hosting 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction classes

Dec. 2015: Provided meaningful gift-giving options at annual Holiday Bazaar and Cedar Rapids’ 18th annual Alternative Gift Market

Jan. 2016: Launched 2016 with announcement of 25 spiritual retreats

April 2016: Welcomed Diarmuid O’Murchu, MSC, and Peter Mayer to annual Spirituality in the 21st Century conference with 230 people

May 2016: Completed East Culvert Project to reshape eroded banks of Dry Creek to help our community with stormwater mitigation

June 2016: Celebrated our 20th anniversary with 200 friends at Garden Party fundraiser, raising $31,325 for future of Prairiewoods

O Little Town of Bethlehem

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.

This Christmas, the critters and I would like to bless all of you with the words of the traditional hymn O Little Town of Bethlehem. May you and your loved ones find peace and all good this holiday!

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth

2016 Christmas Blessing for websiteHow silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel

Anonymous Sightings at Prairiewoods

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.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, we are reminded of a multitude of tiny gestures that can add up to a feeling of welcome and beauty. One Prairiewoods guest, who prefers to remain nameless, finds reasons for gratitude in the tiniest details …

Anonymous is alive and well at Prairiewoods. Turning in off Boyson Road, the landscaped explosions of perennial colors show the care provided by volunteers we may not know. Just look at all the giving that enriches this sacred space: quiet conversations, swings, tables and chairs on patios, decks, picnic tables, benches, bird feeders, open space, laughter, mulched pathways, guest houses, silence, the solar installation. The community spirit is everywhere but you have to come frequently to catch someone actually doing the work that keeps Prairiewoods vital.

The floral and nature bouquets set on tables wherever people gather in the Center or Guest House are a subtle but consistent reminder of Anonymous among us. One winter weekend, I participated in a retreat that could have focused only on the exuberantly fresh flowers arranged in a vase on the presenter’s table, a glorious living sculpture the size of a human torso. The bouquet breathed the retreat theme of beauty as a path of worship.

Rita arranging flowersOne morning, I watched Sister Rita Heires trim the wilted flowers and greenery during a session break. Another time I saw several people prepare the Center for a silent retreat with single tables set for each retreatant. Every place held a unique tabletop corsage created by Sister Rita. I love coming to Prairiewoods to see what she has made for us that day.

Recently I walked into the conference room at the Center and out of the corner of my eye, the soft colors mixed in a tall vase on a side table intrigued me. My mind thought “iris” but another mental screen flashed “November.” Surprised, I turned to look more closely. Tall twigs with crisp, ochre leaves impersonated flowers. An evergreen branch held its flat needles like leaves. These simple parts posed in a pastel pink vase refreshed me, clarifying my attention for the contemplative session ahead.

When I asked about her training, Sister Rita laughed at anything so formal. Playing with flowers and natural forms dates back to her childhood on her family’s farm near Carroll. She loved making bouquets, even though her father didn’t like one more thing added to the table set for their large family. Now she roams Prairiewoods to collect what attracts her.

Sometimes her findings are spread out over the dessert table before she assembles her creations, vases and fabric and ribbon alongside hickory nut husks, flowers, greenery, water, and rocks. Intricate fabric swatches complement the complex patterns in seed pods and feathers, dried leaves and acorns. The juxtaposition of shapes, colors, and textures delights us: a centerpiece at lunch last week sported a hosta leaf, some parsley sprigs, and a dainty miniature iris, soft as silk.

The daily tasks of the Prairiewoods staff set the tone for humility and service in the programs, fields, gardens, and forest. You may not know or meet the person who does the work that catches your eye or fills your heart, but until then, you receive the great gift of service for the common good. Their work effortlessly transforms us. “I don’t know what it is about being here,” I’ve overheard people say on their way to the parking lot. “I feel different when I leave.” I think it’s why we keep coming back.

— Anonymous

UN Sustainable Development Goals

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.

Prairiewoods board Vice Chair Chuck Peters is working hard to create an inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable community right here in eastern Iowa. He and other business leaders are finding inspiration from world leaders from the United Nations …

Late last year I was fortunate to hear a presentation in London on the UN Sustainable Development Goals and how they relate to everyday businesses. I could not help but think of Iowa’s Creative Corridor and the role that Prairiewoods plays in our development.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals ( are becoming the framework of a clearly emerging global narrative. Just recently, I have heard of many global companies, philanthropic organizations and governmental agencies using these goals as their framework for action.

Chuck PetersThere are 17 goals, and the work of Prairiewoods touches on most of them, with a strong focus on several.

In particular, I am sensitive to goal 11, the development of sustainable cities and communities. The summary of that goal is making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

For Iowa’s Creative Corridor to thrive, and live into our brand, we also need to be inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable to enhance our ability to imagine the future we desire to live into.

Our focus at Prairiewoods on the Universe Story, ecology and joyfully living in accord with the world as it is enhances the ability of individuals in our region to develop our capabilities to do this work.

I am so grateful that Prairiewoods was founded 20 years ago and continues to develop into its strong role in our community.

Our local, inclusive and sustainable community also needs to be connected to the world. Prairie woods brings in diverse global voices that enrich our community and connect us to the world. We have another wonderful opportunity next May 5–6, when Ilia Delio, my favorite theologian, joins us.

—Chuck Peters, Board Vice Chair


Travel with Us to Assisi

Otis & Friends 3I’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.

Guess what, everyone, this squirrel doesn’t just hang around one tree, he travels when he has a hankern’ for Italian acorns … and boy, oh, boy are they tasty! Humans aren’t the only ones with ancestors from across the pond — this squirrel is half I-talian!!

My friend Emy Sautter and I recently traveled as pilgrims to Rome, Greccio and Assisi — what an adventure! We visited many beautiful places that had special meaning to my beloved friends, St. Francis and St. Clare. We stopped by the Vatican to say hello to Pope Francesco (love that guy!), kissed the Holy Door at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, and admired the faces of the putti, the cherub angels that adorn the great cathedrals.

Then we stopped in the cutest little town of Greccio and had a Christmas pranza (lunch) … goodness was I stuffed after that! St. Francis popularized the Christmas crèche after visiting the town of Greccio. After that we traveled to the beautiful medieval holy city of Assisi where St. Francis and St. Clare lived. The olive trees, the oak trees … bella vita … I was in squirrel heaven!

While in Assisi we traveled to the caves that Francis and the brothers spent time in for prayer and solitude, the Carceri Hermitage. There were some beautiful trees there that I asked Emy to take a picture of. That afternoon we had a day of silence and solitude and we walked along many steep, narrow streets in Assisi, eventually making our way to Rocca, the arsenal above Assisi. There I visited with a small lizard and we became fast friends. He opened his home to me (such Franciscan hospitality!), and as I sat in silence he shared his thoughts with me … the importance of being hospitable and facing our fears in life. (He was a teeny lizard after all, and I, a mighty squirrel.) And I do believe I saw God in those lovely eyes of his.

Emy and I and our fellow pilgrims celebrated mass each day, and we visited a most tiny chapel, the Porziuncola (meaning little portion), a favorite meeting spot for Clare and Francis. We visited the resting places and basilicas of Francis and Clare as well.

What a pilgrimage — praying with your feet is what one of our leaders called it, and it sure was! This little squirrel’s mind is packed full of wonderful history about St. Francis, St. Clare and so many holy places that they visited, and my body is fit for climbing the tallest trees after hiking up those hilly streets! My belly is full from all that pistachio gelato too! Most importantly my spirit and my heart are full of the Goodness of God, goodness that was so beautifully reflected in the lives of Sister Clare and Brother Francis who gave us Franciscan values to live by … in loving relationship with God, our fellow squirrels (and humans) and the whole of creation.

Pax et Bonum! Ciao!
Otis and Emy

DSCN1942DSCN2003DSCN1915DSCN1930 DSCN1900DSCN1864

DSCN1969 DSCN1970DSCN1989DSCN1873 DSCN1860 DSCN1870 DSCN1865 DSCN1878


DSCN1913 DSCN1916 DSCN1929

DSCN1947 DSCN1950 DSCN1963


The Seeds that Grow into Prairiewoods

Otis & Friends 2I’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.

More than 20 years ago, the land I lived on was visited by six gentle humans. The critters and I soon learned that these were not humans to be feared, but humans who would value and revere us and our habitats. Here is the story of how they planted the seeds that have grown and are growing into Prairiewoods, as told by one of those original gentle humans …

Twenty years. I’m looking back today—looking back, yes—but with great excitement for the future. So much more is possible.

What were we thinking back then, twenty years ago, we six women, Franciscans in touch with the spirit of the great saint of the 13th century, Saint Francis, a saint who related to the poor, to the leper and the wolf, to simplicity and joy, to Earth’s beauty?

What were we thinking? Only that something was calling. It was time for something to happen on the 70 acres that our community had purchased in 1961.

Francis was a dreamer and so were we, dreamers all, and hopefully led by the Spirit.

The six of us were:

– Joann Gehling, just back from Chicago with a new degree, a doctorate in ministry with a concentration in feminist theology and psychology. Joann was ready to add her counseling skills to the venture;

– Maryam Gossling, a professional artist and the one who constantly reminded all of us of the value of the beautiful. We still remember with delight her go-to dinner prayer, “May this food be to our health and beauty.”

– Nancy Hoffman, a former creative and beloved teacher now emerging in her new role of becoming a beloved massage therapist and creative teacher of T’ai Chi with a deep spiritual connection to and knowledge of nature;

– Joann Moeller, with a doctorate in home economics plus a mixture of gifts including a flair for beauty complemented with a bent for the practical and a great organizer.

– Therese Marie Pedretti, arriving from Wisconsin to join the group, bringing with her her own great experience in retreat work and a high qualification as a spiritual director.

– and me. I was the sixth member of what would come to be known as the Core Group, a group with a desire to work as a team. I had recently completed a term of service to Franciscan Sisters mostly in Iowa and Minnesota.

The foundresses: (from left) Sisters Betty, Nancy, Therese, Karen Flottmeier (FSPA President at the time), Maryam, Joann M. and Joann G.

The foundresses at Prairiewoods’ ribbon cutting in 1996 (from left): Sisters Betty Daugherty, Nancy Hoffman, Therese Pedretti, Karen Flottmeier (Regional Director at the time), Maryam Gossling, Joanne Moeller and Joann Gehling.


It was 1994 when we began the exciting challenge of laying the groundwork for what would become Prairiewoods. As many other religious women of the time, we were greatly influenced by the work of Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme, plus other theologians and scientists who were telling us of the new Universe Story with all of its spiritual implications.

In the next two years, the six of us met almost weekly to study and pray together. We read articles and watched every tape that Brian Swimme produced, plus most of Thomas Berry’s. It seemed in those days that new and exciting books were coming off the presses every week. So we read.

We discovered resources in the community—Trees Forever and Iowa Renewable Energy Association (I-Renew) were both extremely helpful and encouraging. Many other local authorities gave advice and support. Those Wednesdays when we met were needed for such things as deciding on an overall vision, developing a plan for the protection and development of the land, deciding what responsibilities and activities we each might embrace, and eventually working with architects and contractors. None of this, of course, was even thinkable without the approval and support of our community, The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA), in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Their “yes” to the creation of Prairiewoods made it possible then and continues to make it possible now. In addition to members of the core group, other members of FSPA have since joined the staff, each adding her own more wisdom and personal skills to the common effort.

The entire history of these 20 years requires more than this blog for its telling. There have been so many memorable moments, so many creative and committed people who have played a vital part as members of the staff, so many board members gave their time in a generous spirit and who have faithfully kept the center moving forward, some challenges, some disappointments, some work and, yes, some pain.

The mission statement of Prairiewoods today is remarkably similar to the original one. The vision has not changed. Our desire has been and is to open this 70 acres as a sacred space for all who desire to deepen their spirituality, to come to know themselves more completely, to welcome the healing power of Earth and to recognize the spiritual connection we have with all life and to come to realize that, no matter what our creeds or cultures, all of us are one human family.

Our Universe is most fantastic, radically amazing! And through the Universe Story, we learn about the long, long journey life has had, becoming always more complex and more diverse through the centuries. And as to the miracle of life on Earth, we can turn to Brian Swimme who says, “This is the greatest discovery of the scientific enterprise: you take hydrogen gas, and you leave it alone, and it turns into rosebushes, giraffes, and humans.”

Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center is a sacred space where people of all faiths and cultures are invited to explore and nurture their relationships with the Source of All Being, Earth, Self and Others with an increasing awareness of the story of the Universe. Won’t you join us?

—Betty Daugherty, one of six Prairiewoods foundresses

Two Unique Gift-Buying Opportunities at Prairiewoods

Otis & Friends 3I’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.

Today I’m excited to tell you about two unique opportunities to buy more meaningful gifts for those you love this Christmas season …

2016 Holiday Bazaar LogoThe Holiday Bazaar on Saturday, Nov. 19, from 8 a.m.–1 p.m. offers a variety of local, handmade items from distinctive vendors and showcases baked goods, jewelry, felted wool mittens and bags, pottery, water color paintings, and many other art forms. There will be 13 local vendors, plus amazing fair-trade items from developing nations. The Prairiewoods’ Knitters and Stitchers, who meet at Prairiewoods twice a month, will provide mittens, scarves and blankets, as well as kitchen and baby items, all hand-crafted with love! Come early for pastries and coffee in the Coffee Corner, or join us for lunch from 11 a.m.–1 p.m.

2016 AGM LogoTwo weeks later, the Alternative Gift Market (AGM) on Saturday, Dec. 3, from 9 a.m.–2 p.m. offers a great opportunity to relieve poverty and empower individuals by learning about and supporting charitable projects locally and around the world.  An alternative gift is a humanitarian donation given in honor of a friend or loved one. Just like traditional gifts, they express love and affection, celebrate special occasions and show you care. But unlike traditional gifts, alternative gifts don’t contribute to the consumer stream and won’t be left to collect dust on a shelf. Honor a friend or relative with an alternative gift of food, medicine, livestock or education, in areas with great need around the world and here in our community. Thirty international projects and up to thirty local organizations will be represented at the market. Sales Exchange for Refugee Rehabilitation and Vocation (SERRV) will sell fair trade and hand-made items.  A bake sale will run all day, and lunch will be available from 11:30 a.m.–1 p.m. Change the world one gift at a time with gifts that empower the poorest of the poor on our planet to sustain life and to build a future for subsequent generations! For more information, visit

African Women Empowered (AWE) will be present at both events. They feature hand-made items that support African women refugees in the Cedar Rapids community.  This year, shop alternatively at Prairiewoods and give gifts that have a local or global impact!

The Spiritual Dimension of Climate Change

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.


Although Prairiewoods is a Catholic organization founded on Franciscan principles, it is open to people on any spiritual path. Recently, we critters learned a lot about some of these other spirtualities through a program focused on the problems of climate change from various religious perspectives. What an eye opener! Here are some thoughts on the day from Daishin McCabe, one of the program organizers and facilitators …

On Aug. 28, Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center hosted The Spiritual Dimension of Climate Change, a retreat that looked at the changing composition of our Earth and atmosphere from the perspectives of some of the great Religions of the world—Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Native American, and Christianity—as well as Humanism. Representatives of these traditions—Imam Hassan, Patrick Courtney, Rev. Zuiko Redding, Nancy Rhoades, Rev. Joan Fumetti, and Alan Diehl—offered insights and action points to the on-going dialogue around climate change. Noteworthy of the event was the coming together of multiple worldviews around a single topic, implying that not one of us has all the answers.

Climate change is a problem like no other that humanity has grappled with. Until recently, humanity’s concerns have mostly been limited to specific geographical regions—not taking into account the whole of Earth and how the actions in one place affect the actions in another. Our vision has been mostly limited to perhaps a few generations beyond the present. Climate change is forcing people to look beyond the activities of local bioregions and beyond the present moment, for it is a problem that affects everyone on the planet for the next several hundred if not thousand years. We are dealing with a long-term emergency, which we are not only ill-prepared to meet, but linguistically challenged to articulate. This linguistic challenge is reminiscent of the numinous experience—that which cannot be comprehended with words or rational thought alone.

Daishin McCabeThe Spiritual Dimension of Climate Change provided a safe space for people of faith or no faith to wrestle with and make meaning of our changing planet. It also provided action points to consider, with the recognition of the need for a long-term commitment to the issue. Special thanks to the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County and Iowa Interfaith Power and Light for sponsoring and promoting this event.

—Daishin McCabe, program facilitator


A Letter Home from a Well-Traveled Spider

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.

You may not think of squirrels and spiders as being particularly good friends, but all the critters at Prairiewoods have grown close over the last 20 years of living together. When the dust cleared after the awesome Sweetgrass Flute & Nature Festival here a few weeks ago, I couldn’t find my friend Brown Spider. I was starting to get worried, until I received a letter from her …

My Dearest Otis & Friends,

I wanted to take a minute out of your busy day gathering nuts preparing for the winter months coming up to let you know I have moved. It was a quick and unexpected decision for me. Remember just a little while ago we had some “Sweet” music floating through the “grass.” It was during that time that I was noticing there were more of our human friends visiting our home at Prairiewoods. With all the extra foot traffic through my grassy home, I thought it would be a good idea to find a more protected place to wait out the crowds.

I noticed that the side vertical opening of the large permanent structure was opening and closing more often than usual. I attached myself to one of the human visitors and rode safely through the opening and immediately dropped off. Still unsecure with all the foot traffic I ducked under the first vertical opening possible and found a quiet cave. There was one inviting canvas cloth that seemed like a great place to stay while all the extra humans were among us. I snuggled down in and took a long nap.

spiderLittle did I know that at the end of the day the canvas started moving, and I wasn’t sure where I was going to end up. Several times I heard slamming of medal doors and then I felt less movement and more vibrations for about 15 minutes. Then all the vibrating stopped and the canvas cloth started moving again. By this time I was really scared, not knowing what was happening to me. Then the world stopped moving and just seemed to go extremely dark and quiet for about nine hours. I was starting to settle in and then the world got brighter. I almost shot out all my web when the canvas cloth opened and I saw a very surprised human face. I was hoping I wouldn’t get squished. I have found that most of our human visitors at Prairiewoods are kind, and this human got over her shock and gently carried the canvas outside and introduced me to my new exotic home in Marion. I hope the winters are shorter and warmer here!

So don’t worry about me … I know I will be happy in my new home. Goodbye and blessings!

—Brown Spider (as dictated to Lois Ocenosak, volunteer and program participant)