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A Star in Flight

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

—Betty Daugherty, FSPA, Prairiewoods foundress

Posted Feb. 14, 2017

Welcoming Everybody In

Everybody In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody In, music and lyrics by Peter Mayer,

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

Posted Jan. 17, 2017

Dakota Access Pipeline & the Value of Water

Otis & Friends 5I’m Otis, Prairiewoods’ favorite squirrel, and I’ve taken over this blog for 2016 in honor of Prairiewoods’ 20th anniversary. You’ll hear from me or one of my friends each Friday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Jenifer Hanson, Prairiewoods Director


Set the Pace for Peace

Otis & Friends 4I’m Otis, Prairiewoods’ favorite squirrel, and I’ve taken over this blog for 2016 in honor of Prairiewoods’ 20th anniversary. You’ll hear from me or one of my friends each Friday.

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

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

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

—Marianne Abel-Lipschutz, program participant


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

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