I’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.”
Twenty 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:
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