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Happy Anniversary, 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.

One such friend is Laura Weber, the associate director and retreat coordinator at Prairiewoods. Laura, like many who come to Prairiewoods, finds solace in a slow walk through the woods, a wordless discussion with nature. Here is her take on Prairiewoods’ first 20 years …

When Prairiewoods opened twenty years ago, the first retreat we hosted was a Silent Directed Retreat, offering guests a gracious invitation to come away to the quiet and rest. Guests were welcomed first and most hospitably by the land and the creatures who call Prairiewoods home. Pilgrims who needed respite were embraced by the trees, caressed by the gentle breezes rolling through the prairie grasses, and delighted by the deer peeking through the brush to see who these cerebral creatures were making their way through the woods. Butterflies and dragonflies alighting on the lily pads, bees buzzing around the wild flowers, turkeys in their rafters gobbling for sheer joy, frogs croaking in great chorus to welcome the evening shroud, and squirrels like Otis scampering through fallen leaves to hide their nutty stash were all welcoming signs of love and hope for the weary souls who came to this sacred place carrying too many burdens.

Soon, more people would come, and more, until thousands made their way each year to Prairiewoods for the quiet, to receive healing energy, to pray silently in the Meditation Room and to fall asleep listening to the owls and the locusts. They came to walk the Cosmic Walk, entering into the big story of the great Flaring Forth of the universe from the Font of Eternal Love and then finding their own place in the awesome magnificence of creation. They came to stroll through the gardens, and to breathe in the sweetness of lilac and jasmine, pine needles and pungent brown earth. They came to wind their way prayerfully around the labyrinth, in the midst of all life’s twists and turns, and to journey way out to the edges, only to find themselves at home in the middle of it all. They came to sing or dance, paint mandalas, beat drums, or sit peacefully by the pond or Dry Creek, mesmerized by the birdsong and the way the sunlight plays on the high canopies. Here is where they remembered their breath again. Here is where they found that “all is well and all manner of things shall be well.”

Laura and WolfieTwenty years later, Prairiewoods is still hosting sojourners seeking spiritual renewal, healing for body and soul, and sacred space for contemplation and rest. One guest put it this way:

Prairiewoods
This is a place of grace
A place resplendent with Queen Anne’s Lace
Along the gravel paths I trod
On my journey with my God
Show me the way, I pray
—Kathy Braun, SSND

As we celebrate this milestone in Prairiewoods’ history, we join with the choirs of creatures, the swaying grasses and the forest symphony, and we thank God for all good gifts and the wonder and joy of being alive! Thank you for joining in the dance!

—Laura A. Weber, Prairiewoods Associate Director and Retreat Coordinator

 

Great Blue Heron

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.

One friend I want to introduce you to is Jenifer Hanson, the director at Prairiewoods. Jenifer is often taken with the majestic beauty of the many creatures who call Prairiewoods home. Here is her story of meeting one such resident …

On a humid July afternoon, I decided to walk out on the trails here at Prairiewoods. I am still trying to learn the lay of the land on our 70 acres and when my schedule permits some outdoor time, I try to seize the opportunity!

As I walked, I was contemplating the deep sorrow I was feeling in response to the series of recent national events: the Orlando shootings, the death of Philando Castile in Minnesota, the attacks on police in Dallas and elsewhere. Also weighing on my heart was fear for our environment (as Earth experienced another year of record heat) and fear for our society in the midst of an alarming political season in the U.S. I felt powerless to do anything useful in the face of so many issues and concerns.

Suddenly, as I approached a shaded bench near the creek, I was startled by the sudden flight of a very large bird. Unbeknownst to me, a great blue heron had been standing in a shaded pool of water; I must have startled it first! The bird’s wings easily spanned more than five feet across, and I stood in awe of their powerful beating as they lifted the heron into the air. Almost as swiftly as it had appeared, the lovely creature had flown from view.

Jenifer HansonI sat down on the bench I had been moving toward when the heron’s flight stopped me in my tracks. As I caught my breath, and my heart rate returned to normal after spiking when I was startled, I was filled with very different emotions than the sad and fearful ones I carried into the woods with me. These lines of poetry came into my mind:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul …
—Emily Dickinson

I couldn’t help but compare Dickinson’s metaphorical bird with my direct experience of the great blue heron. In mere minutes, I felt hope had been reignited in me.

And that is one of the everyday miracles of Prairiewoods. When they chose to hold this land as sacred space, our foundresses and the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration held space for active hope. In such moments at this, that hope can be experienced as a living, breathing thing embodied in the profusion of life inhabiting both woods and prairies.

When I returned to the Center, I shared my sighting of the great heron with Sr. Nancy Hoffman. She smiled and nodded knowingly. “I’m not surprised,” she said. “We’re occasionally blessed with these beautiful visitors.” I nodded, thinking how my brush with this particularly lovely visitor had gifted me with renewed hope. Yes, indeed, we are blessed.

—Jenifer Hanson, Prairiewoods Director

Thomas Berry, Mary Oliver and Squirrels

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)

 

20 Voices for 20 Years

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.

Today I’d like to introduce you to a whole scurry of them!

In honor of Prairiewoods’ 20th anniversary, we asked 20 friends, “Why are you grateful for Prairiewoods?” and “How have you been transformed?” As you can see in the quick YouTube video below, they are grateful for everything from the quiet serenity they find here to the natural playground created by our 70 acres. What has been your favorite thing about Prairiewoods over the last 20 years? What are you most looking forward to? #20Voices20Years

 

20 Voices for 20 Years

Everything I Need to Know I Learn from Otis

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.

One such friend is Marianne Abel-Lipschutz. She and I spend a lot of time together at Prairiewoods, and I learn from her as she learns from me. Here are some of our best lessons …

An atmosphere of acceptance at Prairiewoods allows things to have their meaning, to exist as they are. Otis gets this better than I do. I love watching him —or whoever it is among his sisters or brothers or cousins, not sure of their identities but I know they’re related. They scamper through the woods, up and down trees, across the patio, into the flower beds, wherever the urge takes them. It looks like fun being a squirrel.

Marianne Abel-Lipschutz

They embody the confident community at Prairiewoods who delight in its marvelous abundance. I think of all the squirrels who have been born here, lived their busy lives, and died somewhere on the property. All that time they spent being who they were made to be. Sounds obvious, but I need a refresher on this lesson.

Otis teaches a powerful point: believing in abundance and acting in confidence. Everything a squirrel needs is right there somewhere, available. Eating, drinking, harvesting, storing. Places to rest, hide, sleep, visit. Paths to walk, trails to run, things to leave behind. Trust that everything you need is provided. Come as you are. Be as you are made to be.

—Marianne Abel-Lipschutz, program participant

 

Some Favorite Prairiewoods Critters

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.

Whenever I see Prairiewoods Artist in Residence Joni Reed Cooley, she has a camera in her hands. She snaps, snaps, snaps pictures of me, of the trees, of the other critters that call this land home. Here are some of her favorite pictures from this holy space …

One of the many joys at Prairiewoods for me is the opportunity to take some special nature photos. I love to watch for the critters around Prairiewoods and capture their personalities in photos. From many hours with my trusty point-and-shoot camera in the woods and through the Guest House window, these are some of my favorite photos of Prairiewoods animals.

Deer in Winter_Joni Reed Cooley

While I was sitting on the swing by the labyrinth on a late winter afternoon, this group of deer ambled by. I just love how you can clearly see each deer’s personality. The ringleader, the watchful scout, the shy one—can’t you just imagine what they are thinking? And just what do you imagine the ringleader is saying?

Praying Groundhog_Joni Reed Cooley

During a summer retreat in the Guest House, every day was “Groundhog Day” as I rushed to the window each morning to look for the groundhogs. They were frequently very busy grazing outside my window and keeping a watchful eye out. I enjoyed watching them suddenly rear up and stand motionless to check for danger, and then quickly go back down again. I later learned that their eyesight is not so good, hence the need for frequent upright checks. I always imagine this groundhog as the greeter, proclaiming “Welcome to Prairiewoods.”

Turkey_Joni Reed Cooley

Walking to the bench overlooking Dry Creek one summer day, I saw a lone turkey heading down the path behind me.  As I came to the bench, I wondered if he would continue coming toward me. We looked at each other and he apparently decided I was no threat to him. As I grabbed this photo, he continued down the path with his jerky turkey gait and walked past me into the grasses. Later while sitting on the bench, I was amused to think about the implications of the turkey and I on the same path.

Rabbit_Joni Reed Cooley

This special rabbit rested next to my Guest House window one spring afternoon. I felt sad about her ear and I wondered if she had been in a fight or maybe had it caught in something. But it had healed well and she seemed fine. I marveled at all of the colors in her fur, something I had never noticed before. I was inspired to paint her portrait before I left my retreat that week.

Nursing Deer_Joni Reed Cooley

If you attended Prairiewoods’ wonderful Spirituality in the 21st Century event, you have seen this photo. But did you know that it was taken from a Prairiewoods Guest House window? I spied this majestic doe standing across from my window one dusky evening, and I hurriedly focused on trying to get a good close-up photo of her. Then I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye, and fortunately I drew back to see the fawn with her! I was so amazed by what I was seeing that my hands were shaking as I tried to capture this incredible scene. Wow, did I ever feel privileged to have witnessed this beautiful, intimate tableau. And to think that I almost missed it!

Deer - spotted_Joni Reed Cooley

The last photo is that same fawn making its getaway after acknowledging me in the Guest House window. I love how she is so stretched out, so you can see all of her spots. To me, she looks like she is smiling and saying, “Gotta run—see ya later!”

 

—Joni Reed Cooley, Artist in Residence

 

New Sacred Spaces 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.

Sister Marj English came to Prairiewoods almost a decade ago. In her role as Coordinator of Spiritual Services at Prairiewoods, she tends to the spiritual needs of humans and critters alike. Here are her thoughts on some of the new features at Prairiewoods …

Erlacher Fountain 2_Joe Young_small
Otis, have you noticed the increased traffic and population boom in a couple of your treasured hangouts? I have seen a number of people sitting reflectively, even peacefully, by the fountain just outside the Center’s north door. I’ve also seen some serious journaling being done there.

 

2016 Sacred Earth 1

What used to be the herb garden was expanded recently into a healing garden. This seems to be a very popular place as well for retreatants and visitors. (Recently you may have noticed the staff having its picture taken in the midst of this new healing garden in support of Sacred Earth.)

Since you seem to be fed quite often in these areas, I take for granted you have noticed. Don’t worry, Otis, I trust you will continue to be fed and to make some new friends. Thanks for looking out for our guests and sharing your space with them!

—Marj English, OSF, Coordinator of Spiritual Services

The Stunning Seasons at Prairiewoods

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.

Joni Reed Cooley is a human who helped me understand just how kind and gentle humans can be. Armed with her camera, paint brush and charcoals, she truly sees all of us who call Prairiewoods home, not just the two-legged ones. Here are some of her best photos that capture the changing seasons on these 70 acres of woods and prairie …

Each of the four seasons at Prairiewoods is spectacular! Capturing the changes of the seasons with my camera is one of my favorite pastimes. Each season shines with its own colors and textures. Can you recognize the spots at Prairiewoods where these eight photos were taken? (By the way, I once took a number of photos in the woods at Prairiewoods after a major snowstorm and showed them to Sister Nancy Hoffman. She easily identified the exact location of each snow-laden tree!)

Dew on Grass_Joni Reed Cooley

 

Summer

The dew on the blades of grass was an exquisite sight during my early morning walk on this day. The photo was taken near the bench overlooking Dry Creek.

Swing by Pond

 

 

Such a restful place! This scene by the pond always makes me wish I was sitting there—I can hear the frogs now!

 

 

 

Fall Trees_Joni Reed Cooley

 

Fall

I love the different colors of the fall leaves against the dark tree limbs in this photo. This beautiful tableau was near the path coming down the small hill from the Center, looking up to the side.

Milkweed_Joni Reed Cooley

 

 

The milkweed pods were opened when I walked by them, making me want to take a big breath and blow the puffs away! This beauty was growing near the parking lot in front of the Guest House.

 

Winter Trees 1_Joni Reed Cooley

 

Winter

Walking the trails at Prairiewoods in the winter is a special treat! The woods are especially beautiful after a heavy snow. I headed out to the woods on an exquisite blue-sky morning after it had snowed all night. Everywhere I turned, the sights were simply awe-inspiring. These branches were along the trail heading down to the creek from the labyrinth.

 

Winter Trees 2_Joni Reed Cooley

Another beautiful morning after a major snowfall! I loved the patterns of these clouds, and to me, there are few things lovelier than fresh snow on the pines. These glorious trees greet you along the entryway to Prairiewoods.

 

Butterfly 24_Joni Reed Cooley

 

Spring

The gardens of Prairiewoods are always so lovely! And the efforts to provide a habitat for butterflies have been wonderful. This monarch posed prettily in the flowers in front of the Guest House.

 

Swing by Kitchen_Joni Reed Cooley

 


This swing scene looks so peaceful! Perhaps you have enjoyed sitting here outside the kitchen (our friend Otis’ favorite territory). I had a wonderful time creating a painting of this scene during an art retreat.

 

So perhaps these photos have inspired you to take your own tour of the seasons at Prairiewoods. Treasures await you!

 

—Joni Reed Cooley, Artist in Residence

 

Sounds of Silence

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 remember Prairiewoods Spiritual Director Marj English, OSF, who I introduced you to a few weeks ago. As a retreat facilitator, she helps create a peaceful, calming atmosphere for our guests. Sometimes this peace is accompanied by total silence here at Prairiewoods (other than my chatter, of course!). Here are Sister Marj’s thoughts on the popular Silent Directed Retreats …

walker 1

Otis, did you notice the palpable silence here the week of June 5–11? It was so quiet, I bet our guests heard your scurrying here and there. I know some heard the bull frogs chatting in the pond between the Guest House and Center and the chirping birds serenading. These sounds and the silence of voices seem to call people to listen more deeply. They were a soothing respite for many from the workday noises. The silence and the rhythms of natural sounds seem to assist retreatants in going inward and listening to the often buried sounds of the soul. I truly believe peace and transformation were gifts received by participating retreatants.

Starting this Sunday (July 24), we have another one of these opportunities when we host our second Silent Directed Retreat of this season. The peace will be palpable throughout the grounds! If you are in need of some soul nurturing, come join us, and let the “sounds of silence” stimulate your soul.

—Marj English, OSF, Coordinator of Spiritual Services

Prairiewoods and Iowa’s Creative Corridor

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.

The vice chair of the Prairiewoods board, Chuck Peters, is one busy guy, but he’s never too busy to stop by Prairiewoods, engage a new friend or identify an exciting new growth area here! As president of The Gazette Company, he’s been instrumental in fostering Iowa’s Creative Corridor. Here are his thoughts on how Prairiewoods is an essential part of this transforming region …

Prairiewoods has had a huge influence on my life.

As I was struggling personally with the aftermath of the flood of 2008, and our company was reimagining our future in a drastically changing market, Prairiewoods hosted some of the most respected community builders in the world in 2013, inviting Peter Block, Walter Brueggemann and John McKnight to guide us in substantive and authentic conversations. I was deeply moved by 540 people spending 24 hours fully engaged in developing our community.

And one of Walter’s messages has really stuck with me—that all of human history is the resolution of conflicting narratives, yet in the United States we are so locked into one narrative that we have difficulty imagining that others can exist.

I now believe that Prairiewoods is a critical connecting point for Iowa’s Creative Corridor. Not only is it a peaceful, generous and encouraging place, it plays a critical role in the development of our region.

After the conference, we were challenged to re-imagine our community for the emerging future, a world in which authentic networks locally, connected globally, enable the creation and development of sustainable and inclusive communities.

A generous and creative mindset, grounded in the most accurate representation of our place in the Universe Story, is helpful as we do that work.

Prairiewoods is the entry point in our community for some of the world’s best thinkers on helpful frameworks for this work.

I am very excited that one of my favorite authors, Ilia Delio, is coming to Prairiewoods next May 5–6. I look forward to seeing many of my friends there, and having another opportunity for growth and development with Prairiewoods.

—Chuck Peters, Board Vice Chair

2013-04-04 Spir in 21st Cent 1