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Making Room for Godzilla

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 buddy Marianne Abel-Lipschutz wanted to feel at home in my home, the woods, so she stayed overnight in one of the Prairiewoods Hermitages, rustic cabins nestled into the warm embrace of the woodlands. Here is the story of her first experience there …

Last spring I chose one of the hermitages for my first overnight at Prairiewoods. The buildings intrigued me—furnished bunkers set literally between prairie and woods. I explored the simple space while unpacking my things and making a cup of tea. A corner cabinet offered books, blank journal pages I could add to and drawers full of handy supplies—flashlights, bandages, notepaper, batteries, a transistor radio, playing cards, a phone book. A welcome binder under a daily devotional profiled the myriad possibilities of a stay at Prairiewoods.

I leafed through the binder just long enough to discover the page headlined “Nuclear Emergency Action Plan.” I scanned the two-sided sheet, imagining the “You Are Here” spot on my chair and the dotted line six miles northwest to the Duane Arnold Energy Center (DAEC) at the bullseye on the danger zone map. I felt like the stunned character in a 1970s cult cartoon, “Bambi meets Godzilla,” which showed the catastrophic meeting in the forest. Bambi, a lightly drawn image of meekness, munches twigs for 60 seconds. Then Godzilla’s right paw stomps downward through the center of the screen, squashing the fawn flat. Like Bambi, I had never considered my nuclear emergency action plan, a subject so far outside my typical circle of contemplation I could only reach for the jasmine tea.

This consciousness-raising whopper and the weekend’s sessions expanded my preconceived image of an idyllic spiritual retreat. Staying at Prairiewoods put the nuclear plant in my backyard in a way I couldn’t ignore. I’d driven past the clouds of fission-generated steam rising off the cooling towers while driving on the interstate many times, vaguely aware of their source. I casually disregarded them the way I ignored the rank smell of metric tons of oats roasting in downtown Cedar Rapids. Even though I lived 62 miles away, I couldn’t pretend my life existed outside of a nuclear energy zone. I had to make room for the specter of nuclear disaster as part of my community.

Hermitage 12_squareRight away I felt grateful that someone valued my presence enough to inform me about the emergency plan. I thought of all the placards on the back doors of hotel rooms I’d read; none of them cautioned specifically about tornado, flood or nuclear disaster. Later I learned about the reactor facility, built in the 1970s, and how years of extensive cooperation for disaster preparedness in the greater metro area helped prevent loss of life in the 2008 floods. The DAEC pamphlets used familiar words: resource use, environment, safety, protection, power, household needs. Yet their assurance of safe operations fell short of my truer needs.

At sessions during the Beauty is the Path to God’s Life Retreat, presenter Father John Quigley, OFM, helped us explore mind-shifting reversals about our images of God’s creative power that infiltrated my awareness. John cast a vision of God as “an eternal furnace freely breathing ecstatic joy,” a compelling contrast to Godzilla’s destructive atomic breath colored by radioactive heat waves flaming red and blue out of the monster’s mouth. God’s almighty breath will always overwhelm any real threat. “To just share a breath together is eternal,” John said. Love is a simple and effective emergency plan.

The generating capacity of God’s protection cannot be measured. Kindness, goodness, simplicity and love can empower our lives when we open our hearts and minds to the Source of all being. Like the concentration of spiritual energy at the center of the labyrinth, God welcomes us at whatever ground zero we face. We can walk the circular path without fear, returning to the Source again and again to restore the breath of life within us. Prairiewoods acts as a counterbalancing force in the danger zone, marked by a radiant footprint rather than a radioactive one.

—Marianne Abel-Lipschut, program participant

Garden Party

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.

On Saturday, June 4, Prairiewoods hosted its annual Garden Party fundraiser with more than 200 people (but no critters) in attendance. The people came together to celebrate Prairiewoods’ 20th anniversary, bid on live and silent auction items, and raise money for this place of peace and transformation. This was the 12th annual Garden Party and the most profitable one to date. Thanks to all those who made it a great evening of fun, food and fellowship!

2016-06-04 Garden Party 1

2016-06-04 Garden Party 2

2016-06-04 Garden Party 3

2016-06-04 Garden Party 4

2016-06-04 Garden Party 5

2016-06-04 Garden Party 6

2016-06-04 Garden Party 8

This Labyrinth

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.

In August of 2003—and many times since—Kathleen Mullin, BVM, came to Prairiewoods to retreat from her daily life. On that visit, Sister Kathleen spent time on the beautiful stone labyrinth that sits at the edge of the woods that I and the other critters of Prairiewoods call home. She wrote this poem. As Sister Kathleen shared it with us creatures of the woods, so too I share it with you …

Barefoot trodding
letting be
feeling grounded, homebound,
I freely move
midst woodlands, insects, wildflowers
about this labyrinth.
I merge memory of Dad home from war
and his selected tales,
of caring families, of stirring architecture
like that cathedral in Chartres
with now
with unknowns
as solitude empties, energizes me.
Gnat and butterfly, going in-out with me.
You evoke reflection of flights
and changes from other times,
you urge my reverence for
and relating with all of creation.
Divine Companion,
You connect heaven with earth in me,Labyrinth at sunrise_Elizabeth McChesney
offering a path for trust,
for truth, for peace,
through beginning-centering-ending, until
graced and shod,
I pilgrimage from Prairiewoods to share.

—Kathleen Mullin, BVM, retreatant

(image: the Prairiewoods labyrinth at sunrise, by Elizabeth McChesney) 

Surrounded by Nature

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.

Over the years, I have become good friends with Kathy Petsche, who volunteers in the office and helps plan and facilitate some programs at Prairiewoods. Here are Kathy’s thoughts on being surrounded by nature …

The sun crawls down and over at the top of the hill, gently bringing a slowly setting sun tonight on Bramblewood, what we call the 10 acres we have been blessed to live on for many years.

Creeping down, the darkness celebrates the day of sun … The mix in the bare trees, the shadows on the new grass. A new season is unfolding.

Being blessed and surrounded by nature, I have come to a complete stop from what I am doing and taking that precious time to bring into my heart and soul Mother Nature and God’s full glory. I watch the birds and the deer settle down, and I am soaking in the colors and mixtures of the sky above me. It humbles me almost to my knees.

The trees speak out as if to say and to remind me that they will remain tall through the night and reassure me that they will be right where I saw them last as the darkness settles in.

The birds go quiet for the night. And I know that with spring here, I will wake up to their beautiful music.

And then I am reminded of the bird feeder that the squirrel won’t leave alone as I gaze across the field. He has defied the “guaranteed” squirrel proofing and I have just decided that I can live with his defiance as he has once again arrived at the top of the pole, and has lifted the lid to help himself. I am sure he is a distant country “relative” of Otis. And I know that I will fill that bird feeder again at least one more time before summer fully blossoms and he will empty it out again.

frog_smallThe frogs are back on the pond and even though right now this very evening, I am thrilled beyond measure they are assembling their chorus of “ribbits” of many into the night. I will lie awake on a warm summer’s night when we open up the windows and they will be even louder, and I might lose some sleep, but an afternoon nap on the back deck will catch me up if needed.

Nature, the universe, the energy that supplies all of this beauty, the oneness we can experience, this sacred place of which we live and share together. I pray that we all take a moment or two, or three, and stop whatever we are doing and soak it all in.

—Kathy Petsche, volunteer and facilitator

 

The Prayer Room

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.

Have you met my friend Marianne Abel-Lipschutz yet? She 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” …

Last year’s sleeper hit The War Room featured the power of regular prayer and prayer warriors as key players accomplishing God’s work in this world. The character Miss Clara, a 78-year-old widow, introduces prayer as a war strategy for winning everyday battles with God’s help. “In order to stand up and fight the enemy,” she says in the movie, “you need to get on your knees and pray.” Miss Clara prays anywhere she feels like praying—out on the street, strutting around her kitchen, rocking on the sunny porch—but her favorite place is upstairs in her war room, a former closet off the hallway where she can be alone with God.

A dedicated prayer room is a frequent backdrop in the movie. Another main character, real estate agent Elizabeth, accepts a challenge from Miss Clara to spend more time praying than losing power struggles with her husband. Soon after their meeting, Elizabeth considers the options of her own closet while munching chips and sipping pop among her many shoes and outfits. Another time she prays, eats snacks, and snoozes in the afternoon bunked up against high heels. Eventually she sacrifices the stuff, like Jesus sweeping the merchants and money-changers out of the temple, and settles on a bare room with a few writing materials, a Bible, and a simple wooden chair.

Three generations of closets become part of the movie’s spiritual landscape: Miss Clara’s closet, mentoree Elizabeth’s closet, and Danielle’s closet where Elizabeth’s daughter posts her own prayers for her family and friends, her to-do list of accomplishments she trusts will be done. When a pastor and his wife tour Miss Clara’s house that Elizabeth has put on the market, the husband asks about the empty room at the top of the stairs. His suspicion confirmed, he says he knew it as a prayer room because of how it feels inside. Prayer is “baked in,” he says, and they buy the house on the spot.

Meditation Room Chairs“Baked in prayer” is my impression of the meditation or prayer room in the Center at Prairiewoods. Compared to the closets in the movie, this is a mansion. One of the more captivating indoor spaces on the property, it springs out from the main structure like a bowsprit, thrusting the energy of all that’s inside into the wonderland beyond. Here is a multi-generational legacy of baked-in prayer, a whole place prepared to receive us with thoughtful furnishings, a lit candle, and many intriguing provisions. The transparency of belief rests here, drawing us effortlessly to the Spirit through windows and light. This is prayer as a lifestyle, communication as a refuge, solitude as a harbor of holiness and peace.

One spring day I released myself into the soft carpet, surrendering some now forgotten conflict to the air. I let the everlasting wave of sunlight wash over me, casting me out further into an ocean of prayer. Time passed; I didn’t care how much. When I sat up, I felt stunned at the sensation of being wrapped in the arms of the cross as my eyes took in the structural framework that carries the room. I had never felt held by beams. Reinforced in my faith, buoyed with love, open to the light within and around me, I knelt in thanksgiving for another morning of mercy.

Saints and sinners alike know prayer as a relationship. Scriptures encourage us to seek God daily in an inner chamber, a private room, a secluded place, even a mountaintop or garden, the quiet places where Jesus often prayed, alone and with his friends. Clearing space in our lives can be a conversion that springs from a fresh commitment to the spiritual journey. The Prairiewoods meditation room is big enough to shelter whatever I bring into the space. Companionship is just another breath away.

—Marianne Abel-Lipschutz, program participant

Prairiewoods and Life: Some Thoughts on The Guest House

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. 

One such friend is Jenifer Hanson, the director and wearer-of-many-hats at Prairiewoods. When Jenifer first came to Prairiewoods last June, I greeted her with the warm hospitality for which we woodland creatures of Prairiewoods are known. Here is her take on the transforming hospitality that is ever-present here …

Hospitality. The dictionary tells us hospitality is the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers. I like to think that, at Prairiewoods, we take the notion of hospitality to the radical extreme: not just welcoming, but actively inviting people of all faiths and cultures to come here. The sign at our entrance declares: “All Are Welcome,” and within that simple phrase is a world of meaning. It encompasses an openness of heart, a generosity of spirit, and a respect for divine creation as expressed in all life, and in each and every person.

Often as I think about our Guest House at Prairiewoods, I am reminded that the best expression of Prairiewoods’ brand of hospitality can be found there—in comfortable, clean, simply appointed rooms where guests can relax, retreat, recharge. As we welcome retreatants and program participants to our space, we hope and pray that peace and transformation are also being invited into their rooms and hearts.

When I first toured the Guest House at Prairiewoods, I couldn’t help but think of the following poem by Rumi:

Guest House Welcome Sign 9This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond. 

—Jelaluddin Rumi, translation from The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks

Rumi suggests that radical hospitality be extended to all that makes its way into our lives: the good, the bad, the difficult, the joyful and the sad. Each should be honored for what it may share or teach us. Be grateful for each, says Rumi, as your own growth and spirit depend upon learning from these guests.

And that is the most intriguing character of radical hospitality—that as we affirm and care for each guest with generosity and respect, their presence also graces us. This is true in Rumi’s metaphor of life as a guest house, and it is true in our literal Guest House. Prairiewoods is a place of peace and transformation not because we offer these to visitors. It is such a sacred space because that is what our guests welcome into their own hearts and lives while here. And we are the grateful recipients as they generously reflect it back on Prairiewoods.

—Jenifer Hanson, Director

Walking the Labyrinth

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.

In July 2012, a couple from Milwaukee who introduced themselves as LoriLee and Jeff explored the woods and prairie that make up Prairiewoods’ 70 acres. When they returned home to our neighbor to the north, LoriLee wrote a short essay about their experience and shared it with those of us who love Prairiewoods …

A charming and fragrant pine chip trail wound softly through the sun-dappled woods on the grounds of a spiritual center in Hiawatha, Iowa. As Jeff and I wandered along, we came upon a warm and worn, sand and brick labyrinth at the edge of the woods. I had read about labyrinths serving as meditation devices and was excited to try it out.

I hopped straightaway into the labyrinth at the closest random point. I felt a bit uneasy as I began to navigate this maze. The concentric and winding path led me at times closer to and then farther from the center of the network. Surprisingly, after 10 minutes of what I imagined was movement toward the heart of all the circles, I found my self standing at an outermost spot, the farthest arc from the middle point goal. It was a dead end and yet, coincidentally, the only true entrance to the labyrinth. The only available next move was to step out or to turn around and step back in.

It was clear that I had to start all over again. Apparently my arbitrary entry point choice led me not to the core, but rather directed me back to the proper place to start. I laughed and was tempted to call it quits, but I was committed to being present and fully engaged on this day of exploration. My thoughts at this moment were—no matter what my ego chooses as the easiest, safest or “good enough” starting point in this “game” (as in life) God apparently will lead me back to where I need to begin. There is only one “true” place to start—at the source. In this moment I chose to experience this “sporting” event not in my typical fashion (as a spectator rather than a full participant) and I jumped back in—mind, body and soul.

Labyrinth_LoriLee Villwock_smallAs I began, I fretted about the humidity and the length the labyrinth trek might take. Did I appear foolish by playing this silly maze-game? Was my incessant chatter a bit bizarre? Was Jeff inconvenienced by the amount of time this going around in circles was taking? Did I seem odd or egotistic, as I felt compelled to relay every little insecure and/or insightful impression? I was in a constant state of analysis and commentary feeling alternating periods of stress and peace. I literally talked to myself out loud, trying to discern the cause of both the anxiety and the calm.

While this walk was slow moving, it was equally engrossing. I had to constantly observe my feet without distraction so as not to stumble or trip off the path. The turns were apparent and sharp. I concentrated on the effort, but continued to stress about the extent and orientation of the path. It clearly must lead to the center, yet just when I thought I was close to the goal, the path steered me back toward the outer arcs of the labyrinth. I began to see the spiritual significance of this winding walk. The path was purposefully designed and thus, must be followed purposefully despite how uncomfortable and unproductive it felt to move forward only to turn another corner and fall back. This was an “aha” moment, and although I accepted this truth, I still hoped that I could soon be done with this winding up and away.

Have I mentioned that this little trek around this labyrinth was seriously slow? I couldn’t look ahead to predict how much farther I had to go because in taking my eyes off the path I would risk losing my balance. It was not possible to continue to move ahead sure-footed while simultaneously looking down and around the distant turns. I had to stay focused in the present and be mindful of my feet. Trudging ahead, I admit, I had fleeting moments of doubt. Would this path actually reach that solitary little seat waiting patiently in the middle? Ridiculous. I was certain I was on the only available route and it simply had to lead to the center. In that awareness I discovered something about my faith nature. Faith keeps me moving and steady. Faith assures the conviction in my plans and gives me clarity of purpose. I had to be ever faithful and attentive to stay steady on this path. I began to feel more at ease as I simply surrendered to the experience. I no longer saw value in the analyzing or predicting. Moving ahead became less about navigating and more about going with the flow. This concept I knew to be true on the labyrinth trail and on the walk of life.

Eventually, the path came to an end and I approached the wooden bench in the center of the labyrinth. As I sat down, it dawned on me that the trek itself far outweighed the achievement of sitting in the center and claiming the prize. Thus, this is what the labyrinth revealed—life is in the journey, not the circumstances, perils or milestones that pop up along the way. In the end, it wasn’t the arrival at the center that seemed most satisfying. I felt accomplishment in the actual walking of the labyrinth despite all the things I endured that went against my nature: the absolute, non-negotiable, non-creative start point; the need to recognize the truth of that and acquiesce in the start-over directive; the slow, methodical progress that forced me to accept and appreciate equally the forward and backward procession; the focus on one task without distraction; and the faith to know that there was an achievable end point, a true purpose to the journey in spite of my occasional and very human doubt and discomfort. Most of all, I had to acknowledge that the “prize” at the end meant far less to me than the journey experience itself.

At the end of the path I felt a wave of gratitude. I was grateful that while I started the labyrinth according to the needs of my personality/ego (just jump in and figure it out as you go), the call of my soul won the day by sending me back to the authentic starting point, the truth as it were. This allowed the full journey experience to unfold. I was grateful that I was with my husband who kept the conversation going, asked me to consider other wonders and possibilities and, I think, learned something about his own personality and spirit in the process.

It is a wonder and revelation to clearly see why my personality occasionally causes me to lose my way. In that awareness, I can trust that I will proceed on my life’s path however God directs me—one foot in front of the other. My faith and resolve to move ahead is fortified. I weathered the labyrinth, and it was good, really good.

—LoriLee Villwock, labyrinth lover from Milwaukee

Dance of the Aspen

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.

In the summer of 2013, a Notre Dame sister from Nebraska participated in her fourth Silent Directed Retreat at Prairiewoods. During that time, she wrote a beautiful poem called Dance of the Aspen. She read it to the squirrels and birds, the beavers and rabbits and all other animals who find comfort in the bark of the aspen. May you find comfort in the aspen and in its story, as told by Sister Joan …

As I sat in chapel with my God today
I noticed the aspen outside the window begin to sway
A performance my God was giving to me
aspenIn the dancing leaves of the aspen tree.
To and fro the leaves danced, they twirled, spinned, then rested.
The wind is the music, the conductor is God.
Violins are playing the waltz while trumpets proclaim a dance more mod.
Now I hear the beat of the drums and an Indian from the shadows comes
A flute begins to play gently and at the sound,
Dancers are gracefully pirouetting round and round.
Now in my heart, I too am dancing
With a clang of cymbals, a bow to my God.
I thank Him.
What a performance God has given to me
In the dancing leaves of the aspen tree.

—Joan Polak, ND, retreatant

A conversation between God and St. Francis

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.

Prairiewoods is a Franciscan organization, meaning that they follow the Earth-loving teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. He was known for preaching to all the creatures, to the birds and even to us squirrels. So when I found the following story online — a conversation between God and St. Francis — I thought the people associated with Prairiewoods might enjoy it …

GOD: Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.

ST. FRANCIS: It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord: the Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers weeds and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD: Grass? But, it’s so boring. It’s not colorful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It’s sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it — sometimes twice a week.

GOD: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

ST. FRANCIS: No, sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

grass 1_smallGOD: Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

ST. FRANCIS: Yes, sir.

GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

ST. FRANCIS: You aren’t going to believe this, Lord … when the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It’s a natural cycle of life.

ST. FRANCIS: You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD: No! What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?

ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD: And where do they get this mulch?

ST. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD: Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

ST. CATHERINE: Dumb and Dumber, Lord. It’s a story about …

GOD: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

—Anonymous, found on multiple websites

War and peace 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.

My friend Marianne Abel-Lipschutz is back to talk to us about the huge battle between war and peace on the relatively small plot of land known as Prairiewoods. Who knew such a huge, world-impacting decision could be made in Hiawatha, a small town in Eastern Iowa?

Prairiewoods engages everyday wars. When I turn in off of Boyson Road, I breathe a sigh of relief and raise my white flag with hope. Safe again! Fresh troops arrive in the parking lot. Dinner aromas drift out the kitchen windows. Quiet intent calms my anxious heart. As a place of peace and transformation, Prairiewoods is a haven of opposition. Here surrender is better than fighting, giving in overturns giving up, and joining hands reverses the appeal of going on alone.

My drive to Hiawatha lasts about an hour but it took me over a dozen trips to realize how different the ride could be. Busywork started when I got in the car: catch up on this overdue phone call, reach out to this lonely friend, agonize over that hard decision, remember to schedule appointments. After a while, I saw these as war strategies I used to defend my life. What am I working so hard to defend my life from? I didn’t have a good answer to that question.

I learned to fold up my to-do list and click the phone to vibrate. I turn the radio off. When I release the tension and give in, the day opens ahead of me. My eyes wander from the highway as I drive south, taking in the seasonal changes in the woods and farm fields. By the time I arrive at Prairiewoods, less noise and chaos clutter my heart and mind. Open readiness is an option for the daily drama of life.

Fall Trees 18_smallA stroll on the savannah or a wander in the woods tells me the same story over and over again. No matter how I see it—in metaphor, allegory, or simple fact—the astonishing testimony of God’s work in our world is right there in front of me. The real mustard seed, the grisly bundle of thorns, the weeping sap shining on tree bark, the river of life flowing south, the garden, the sunlight penetrating my shadows, the serene connection beyond knowledge. Love changes everything.

The Prairiewoods driveway is a battle line drawn in the asphalt. My loyalties belong with the armies of a loving God who calls me to retreat, a clear signal of loss and failure that is radical at heart. Daily struggles can be transformed more easily when I admit the battle is not mine to fight. My best days here declare my unconditional surrender.

—Marianne Abel-Lipschutz, program participant