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Review of Renew Your Life: Discovering the Wellspring of God’s Energy by Kai Mark Nilsen

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.

Have you met my friend Mary Nilsen? She and her husband, Roy, have been coming to Prairiewoods for years, participating in everything from programs to holistic services. Here she tells us about a spiritual book written by her son, Kai …

How could we have known years ago, when the phone rang and the plaintive voice of our son said, “Dad?” that that call would find its way into a book; that my husband’s words, “You may have to muddle through this for awhile,” would become something of a mantra for him? But most important, how could we have known that the reason for the call, the withering time he was going through would lead him? push him? force him? into new discoveries about the restorative love of the God he worshipped and preached about every Sunday but had lost touch with?

Our son, Kai Nilsen, pastored a large suburban congregation—a dream job, but he had fallen into despair (a despair not unfamiliar to pastors or most anyone involved in a helping vocation or avocation, including parents). Simply put, he didn’t care. Not about his parishioners. Not about his community. Not about his family. And especially not about himself. The call to us, his parents, was the cry of a middle-aged man trapped in an arid, frightening place.

We were caught off guard. And after the conversation we were left with the powerlessness parents feel when their adult children are in trouble. All we could do was pray and trust that he would find some way to access the same divine energy that had helped us muddle through similar times in our lives. And trust that in this wilderness struggle, God would provide all he needed.

Mary and Roy Nilsen 3The wisdom gained from that dark time is shared in this compelling book filled with stories both humorous and poignant. Beyond that, Kai sets his experience (and the experience of so many Christians) within the biblical foundation of the creation story, where he discovers the renewable energy of God, an energy available to us all. He also gives to his readers common sense practices that can help them move more quickly through those times of muddling through.

This book can give to individuals going through dark times a sense that they are not alone. It is also designed to be read and studied in groups—granting time and space for people to admit their plunges into apathy and doubt, share wisdom gained from such times, and grow in faith that the same God who walked with the Israelites through the wilderness and accompanied Jesus during his wilderness sojourn will be with them, giving them energy for the day and hope for tomorrow.

Kai explores seven energies released at the time of creation and available to all who are open to receiving them:

1. The energy of grace—How can I both accept and pass on the graces God is eager to bestow?

2. The energy of possibility—How can I tend to the life I now have and at the same time stay open to the possibilities for something new?

3. The energy of paradox—How can I learn to accept the “unwanted” as gift? To say yes to both light and storm?

4. The energy of the natural world—How can I regain my child-like wonder at the beauty of the day? The power of a storm? The delight of a rain shower? And in so doing, how can I learn to coexist with all of creation?

5. The energy of relationships—How can I open myself to both give and receive so that I can gain energy from relationships instead of letting them drain me?

6. The energy of fruitful work—How can I be energized to develop respect for and joy in both what I do for a living and what I do to keep living?

7. The energy of rest—How can I organize my life so that I can receive the energy that comes through rest, whether that rest is sleep or meditative prayer or a long walk in the woods?

We are grateful that Kai muddled through, that he learned in and through the muddling, that he was given the energy to move out of that place of frustration, and that he has done the hard work of writing it all down in a way that can be helpful to others who wake up one day and realize that they simply don’t care.

—Mary Nilsen, long-time friend of Prairiewoods

The Prairiewoods Knitters & Stitchers

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.

Today I want to introduce you to Linda Martin and her friends, the Prairiewoods Knitters & Stitchers. This group of crafty humans knits and crochets items for area charities. (They’ve even offered to make me a sock to keep my tail warm this winter!) Feel free to join Linda and this fun group …

A group of ladies gather the second Tuesday morning and fourth Wednesday evening of each month at Prairiewoods, with the intention of knitting or crocheting items for donation. The Prairiewoods Knitters & Stitchers has 18 members. Yarn that has been donated is used to make hats, mittens, scarves, blankets, and sweaters. Each meeting we share patterns and techniques and give help to those that need it. We welcome people with varying skills, including beginners. There will always be someone available at each meeting to assist.

This year we gathered over 500 items for donations to 8 local groups! Items were delivered to Veterans Outreach, Olivet Church, Catherine McCauley Center, Mission of Hope, Young Parent Network, Salem United Methodist Church, Linn County Child Development Center and a Baptist church in Marion.

In the past our group has participated as a Prairiewoods representative in Earth Day activities. We use our craft to knit and crochet with plastic bags we called plarn.

Prairiewoods Knitters and Stitchers participate in the yearly Prairiewoods Holiday Bazaar. Proceeds from the bazaar are used for needed supplies and operating expenses. We have donated money to Prairiewoods, to Grant Wood School Back Pack Program, and to Olivet Church.

Members of our group spend time during the summer in the Sprint Program at St. Paul’s Methodist Church. We help children learn how to knit, crochet and do other yarn crafts.

If you would like join us in our endeavors at Prairiewoods, call Prairiewoods (319-395-6700) and ask to be put in touch with Linda Martin.

—Linda Martin, member of Prairiewoods Knitters & Stitchers

2015 Knitters and Stitchers

Visio Divina 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.

Remember my friend Marianne Abel-Lipschutz, who I introduced you to last month? She is a writer, nature-lover and frequent participant in the Seeing IS Believing: Visio Divina program that takes place twice a month at Prairiewoods. Here she tells us about Visio Divina, or holy seeing …

I drive down from rural Cedar Falls for the Visio Divina sessions on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at Prairiewoods. These sessions, guided by Rodney Bluml, are two hours of prayer using an illumination and an accompanying verse from The Saint John’s Bible. I know that quiet prayer happens elsewhere on the property, but not from ten to noon on alternate Tuesdays. Our group of seekers includes artists, writers, readers, and prayer warriors who collaborate in a wide-ranging dialogue with the Word. God inspires us with creative interpretations, uncanny wisdom, and honest reflections about our faith.

The Saint John’s Bible is exquisite testimony: terrific writing and remarkable illustrations presented with excellence fit for the King. Artists cooperated for more than a dozen years to reinvent the handmade treasure for our new century, blending the traditional crafts of the monastic scribes of the middle ages with the book arts skills of the modern era. Even when distorted in pixelated projections onto the electronic screen, the images accomplish the artists’ desire to communicate a true message from God.

Visio Divina, or divine seeing, is one of several disciplines used for spiritual formation, such as worship, fasting, solitude, silence, service, prayer, or study. Visio Divina joins prayer with Bible study in an active process, a group effort to enter the presence of God with teachable hearts. Each encounter with a Bible story, even a familiar one, is a way God comes to us. Each of us receives the Spirit differently. Our prayer is our conversation and we listen in while God gives individualized hope, encouragement, counsel, or direction. It’s one of those hundred-fold divine benefits of community when we hear God speak through each other.

A logical extension of this spiritual practice is to see things in new ways. Without my conscious intention, God’s shaping force through Visio Divina keeps transforming me. Many ah-ha moments connect me to the Spirit, like the other day when I realized something that now seems so obvious, I’m surprised I didn’t “see it” earlier. I’ve been using two troubling pictures from 1955 in an intensive memoir writing project over the past five years. Now I see information in these pictures that I couldn’t perceive before. I couldn’t see what I couldn’t even look at. These revelations are fruits of the Spirit looking at hard things with me that grew through my practice of Visio Divina.

Marianne Abel-LipschutzNo matter what mood I arrive in, I leave our sessions with a sense of revival and wonder. The deep fellowship, the delicious lunch, the laughter and silence, our songs and stories, everything draws me closer to God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind. I keep the printed librettos, with the illumination on one side and the verse on the other, in a binder. When I travel, I pick out a few sheets from my bootleg bible for daily devotions or spiritual fellowship. These sheets prove God’s sustainability, a simple renewable resource of word and image that keeps the Spirit alive.

Our prayers over each other and our lives in God touch me the most when I come to Prairiewoods. If I miss a Tuesday, I think of the circle of intent and focus myself for a few moments of prayer. How blessed we are to openly share the surprise and mystery and heartache of our days where peace and transformation are the norm. Not every place is as sacred as Prairiewoods, but I feel grateful that we can see the hope in the world more clearly after simply being here.

—Marianne Abel-Lipschutz, program participant

An encounter with deer (continued)

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.

Don’t you just love art? Did you know that Prairiewoods has its very own Artist in Residence, Joni Reed Cooley? I often pose for her, hoping to get picked up in one of her beautiful photographs or painted works of art. Last week, she reflected on an encounter with some of the deer who spend much of their time on the 70 acres that make up Prairiewoods. Here’s the rest of her story …

Last week I shared with you my experience of watching the deer from my Guest House room at Prairiewoods, when a large doe came flying out of the woods and frantically ran around a group of deer who had gathered to feed under the pines. She buzzed around them in a circle twice and then galloped back into the woods, leaving the deer in a very agitated state. I wondered what in the world was going on and stood there puzzled.

A few minutes later, I was given a spectacular experience. Up walked three bucks, a large elder buck, an adult male and a little one. They immediately became Grandfather, Father and Grandson in my mind. The young one with his tiny antlers melted my heart! They walked into the clearing by the window slowly, glanced in the window and stopped there right in front of me.

My jaw dropped as I saw what they were about to do: the Grandfather was play sparring with the little one! The little guy was going antler-to-antler with Grandfather, with the elder training him on how it is done. My heart swelled at the precious scene, as I watched the little guy push so hard with his little antlers against the great antlers of his elder, so much bigger than him! The little one was so intent and serious about it, and the Grandfather was stoic and gave in just the right amount. The Father deer stood close by at the ready, alert to stop the little guy if he became too rambunctious. I was spellbound. They continued locking antlers in their sparring training session for about ten minutes, until Grandfather seemed to tire of the game, and the Father moved in to signal the end. They stood and rested for a short while and then slowly moved on without a backward glance as if it were nothing.

Deer at Prairiewoods by Joni Reed CooleyIt was such an incredibly heartwarming scene. I felt so honored to be able to witness it. They were clearly aware that I was there at the window, and I swear that they decided, “Hey, let’s show her what we can do!” I was totally awestruck. Ironically, I did not have my camera at the window like I normally do, and I didn’t want to break the spell and spook them by moving away to get it. But as is typically the case, it was for the best, because I was able to fully savor the tender spectacle unfolding in front of me, instead of focusing on getting a good photo.

So what happened to the rest of the deer? I was so engrossed in watching the display in front of me that I didn’t see where they went. But they had moved on, alerted by the one brave doe scout who apparently signaled the bucks’ arrival.

I felt very blessed that night, as I reflected on that rare, poignant scene played out in front of me. I thanked God for allowing me to witness that intimate and moving experience with three generations of his walking miracles. I also thought about how we are like the three generations of deer in our best moments. That night, I felt very blessed to be so close to nature and God’s creations, and deeply thankful for this incredible place called Prairiewoods.

—by Joni Reed Cooley, Artist in Residence

An encounter with deer

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 dear friend is the deer-loving Joni Reed Cooley. As Prairiewoods’ Artist in Residence, she often spends a week at a time in the Prairiewoods Guest House. She photographs many of us natural creatures, and then we peer through the window to see her transforming the photographs into realistic paintings. We marvel at her talent and like that she tells our story through her art. Here she talks about an encounter with the deer herd that calls Prairiewoods home …

Prairiewoods offers so many opportunities for wonders to be discovered. One of my favorite treasures is the abundant wildlife. Whenever I am walking in the woods and stopping to reflect in the stillness, I am also hoping to catch a glimpse of some of the animals. I keep my eyes open for my special favorites: the deer, turkeys and groundhogs, and of course Otis and his adorable squirrel chums. It is humbling to remember that they are always aware of me moving in the woods, but I don’t often know where they are.

Watching the deer is a special highlight for me at Prairiewoods. Their silent beauty and somewhat awkward grace brings me a sense of peace and knowing that all is right in the world. Their spirit is quiet and calm. Whenever I see a deer, I think, There goes another one of God’s miracles. The deer are my personal favorites, and I never tire of watching them. I have taken many deer photos and have painted them too, hoping to reflect some of their wonderful spirit.

One amazing experience with the deer stands out in my mind. During a late fall stay at Prairiewoods, I was thrilled to see the deer stroll past my Guest House room window before dusk. On this calm night, there were perhaps 15 does and young ones, each sauntering slowly past and sometimes looking in the window at me. I was enjoying observing their individual personalities as they casually gathered to graze under the pines around the corner. Some would walk by slowly and confidently, some would be skittish and move quickly past me, and some would stop to peer at me through the window as if wondering what I was doing. It was a peaceful scene as I watched their slow, silent progression one by one.

Deer at Prairiewoods by Joni Reed CooleySuddenly there was a great commotion, and a large doe came flying out of the woods, running at full speed toward the group of deer. She frantically galloped around them twice in full circles, as if “buzzing” them or rounding them up. The group became very agitated and started closing into a circle formation. They were all clearly on alert, jittery and moving erratically. I stood watching in astonishment. After the doe’s second frantic run around them, she shot past my window again and back into the woods, where I could see her continuing to run in her panic, until she was out of my view.

The group of deer continued to be jumpy and alert, and they remained in that circular grouping. I could see them from the hall window, and wondered what in the world was going on. I wished I could understand what the doe had communicated to them. I moved back into my room a few minutes later, and was soon about to find out.

Read part two in next week’s blog to learn what happened next!

—by Joni Reed Cooley, Artist in Residence

 

Prayer and 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.

I would like to introduce you to my friend Steve Volesky, a volunteer who helps with event planning at Prairiewoods. Here are his thoughts on prayer …

Prayer comes in many forms. There are no guidelines or rules of decorum. One just needs to focus, meditate with thoughtfulness and purpose, and feel the connection with God. It does not have to be identified with a posture or word, a place or time, a religion or faith … just a presence and understanding that God is with us. It is not a once-a-day exercise to say it is done, but a continuous affirmation of a need; even with doubts at times, that if one lives in the moment they will seek to find some comfort and understanding of spirituality. A spirituality that is provided with a gratefulness to exist.

Traveling the world, experiencing diversity of cultures, learning of Earth’s living and non-living cycles and their interdependence, studying the complexities and commonalities of living things illustrates a master plan. Often times just being in awe of nature with its beauty and catastrophic events serves as an introduction to spirituality and a connection to God: a prayer with healing and gratefulness in a busy life and existence. It is being a partner and witness to an amazing planet Earth as a biosphere and a holy place. It is a home that elicits our love, thanks, support, reverence, healing, and humility. Our environmental understanding provides our spiritual uniqueness as a miracle in the universe: a place of contemplation as prayer.

Steve VoleskyPrairiewoods is a connection to God. It is a microcosm of our planet and a refuge with a past, present, and future to continue to learn and grow. It provides a symbiotic connection and rediscovery with nature and God. Volunteering has provided this self-fulfillment. It has helped me live a grateful life in the present moment with positive emotions that connect with the goodness around me. This fulfillment is dwarfed by the authentic and collective purpose and mission of the Prairiewoods staff. They impart a spiritual awakening with the love of the earth. It is this authenticity that projects and models ecological sustainability of the planet and conservation efforts in its preservation: our preservation with a look to the future. Rachel Carson writes:

“Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life. Whatever the vexations or concerns of their personal lives, their thoughts can find paths that lead to inner contentment and to renewed excitement in living. The human race is challenged more than ever before to demonstrate our mastery, not over nature but of ourselves.”

Beginning in the 1990s to the present, volunteering has provided me an eco-spirituality and gratefulness in living and sharing at Prairiewoods. Rachel Carson would be pleased.

—Steve Volesky, volunteer

 

How Prairiewoods became a larger part of my life than I could’ve imagined

Otis & Friends 2

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.

Last month, I introduced you to Katie Gerhart, a student at Coe College and an AmeriCorps intern at Prairiewoods. I told Katie about how I came to be associated with Prairiewoods. (I begged for food at the kitchen door, the cooks fed me their delicious food and I became quite recognizable by my ever-growing belly.) Then Katie told me about how she got connected with this place of peace and transformation …

I became associated with Prairiewoods because I was interested in getting connected with the community while going to school in Cedar Rapids. After inquiring about becoming a part of the Iowa College AmeriCorps (ICAP) program at Coe College, a college counselor suggested that I meet with Jenifer Hanson, Director of Prairiewoods, to determine if Prairiewoods was the right place for me. Since the ICAP program requires a student to work a minimum of 300 service hours over the course of an academic year, it was important for me to find a place where I felt my skills and interests would be highlighted. After viewing the grounds and meeting with Jenifer, I decided on the spot that Prairiewoods would be an ideal place to volunteer long-term.

Katie GerhartMy ultimate decision was based on two outstanding principles of Prairiewoods that I experienced directly: a welcoming atmosphere and an unprecedented commitment to environmental sustainability.

Upon first entering the center, I immediately felt welcomed by the physicality of the space. The wide, open layout and ample sunlight made me feel warm, while the quiet work of others lent the space to an air of calm commitment. Prairiewoods showed itself to be contrary of the hectic hustle and bustle of a regular office setting; it seemed to me that this place of business really wasn’t a business at all, but a somewhat sacred place created with the primary intention of providing relaxation, reflection, and peace.

My initial feelings were affirmed as Jenifer began to tell me about the mission of Prairiewoods as it relates to fostering a close-knit, ecumenical community with sustainable programs and practices at the core.

I was quite impressed by Prairiewoods’ apparent commitment to environmental sustainability, as evidenced by its proud LEED Gold Standard plaque and frequent use of suntubes. However, in my meeting with Jenifer I came to understand that it’s the behind-the-scenes work of Prairiewoods that makes its environmental commitment so meaningful. I learned about the composting system, the use of reusable towels and napkins, the I-Renew Education Center, and the solar panels. The attention to detail—from using eco-friendly cleaning products to repurposing recyclables—was astounding. As an Environmental Studies student at college, I was awed and inspired to be better about not only the way I act in response to environmental issues, but to be more wholesome in the way I think about issues as well.

Prairiewoods made an amazing first impression on me and as I continue to work with the wonderful people involved in making Prairiewoods great, I am excited to continue to grow as an environmentally-conscious, thoughtful, and reflective individual.

—Katie Gerhart, Prairiewoods’ 2015–2016 Intern

Alone 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.

One friend I want to introduce you to is Marianne Abel-Lipschutz. She and I spend a lot of time together at Prairiewoods … on the trails, around the Labyrinth and in programs like Seeing IS Believing (although I usually just peer in through the window). Marianne is a writer, and I love when she reads to me and to the other animals in the woods. Here she tells us about solitude, a topic we critters know a lot about …

I’m not complaining, but it’s really hard to be alone at Prairiewoods. Cars in the parking lot, tracks in the snow, a movement in the sky chair under the big oak trees, everywhere I look or go, something reminds me, “You are not alone.” Billions of years ago a sign appeared on one of the trees in the forest across from the community center, marking time even then. Signs are for people to read. The proverbial babbling brook communicates its story of the day, loud and rushing if rain overflows, or nearly silent in the dog days of summer.

Marianne Abel-LipschutzPrairie grasses whistle with the wind. The coverings for the sweat lodge are drying off or wrapped up, evidence of people coming from or going to the inipi ceremony. Footprints on the sand path around the labyrinth tell me who has recently walked the spiral, whether human or not, inward, outward, or beyond. They are so present. I wonder if they received the answer to their spiritual quest and, of course, what their question was. Otis the squirrel waits to say hello near the patio door.

Prairiewoods cultivates a heightened awareness of “other.” Other is not the foreigner we can never meet on our own terms but the community at large—past, present, and future; animal, vegetable, mineral; spiritual, cosmic, and whole. The Presence, drawn in as if through the solar panels, infuses the place with inescapable Love. Relentless community. Even the hermitages are a community of two.

—Marianne Abel-Lipschutz, program participant

Otis’ view of a weekend retreat

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.

Hungry! I come hungry to the place where I know I’ll be fed: Prairiewoods. Overwhelmed with the burdens of caring for my family, scrambling for the few scraps tossed my way, and learning how to live peaceably with all my relations on the good Earth, coming here is like coming home. The peace washes over me when I reach the front doorway. It’s a lot less daunting when I know I’m surrounded by these beautiful trees, fresh water, and clean, breathable air. And here I’ll find the stillness. This is an oasis.”

Whether it’s me (Otis the squirrel) or Delilah the deer, Taproot the turkey, or a human-merely-being, the swaying prairie grasses and the gorgeous pines, oaks, and maples welcome everyone to the sacred stillness! We all come hungry. We all come weary from the labors that bend our backs and weaken our knees.

One brisk weekend in December, the Earth paused in the middle of a day’s rotation to welcome guests to the Stillness Retreat: “SSSH!” the trees said. “Hush!” the grasses whispered. “The humans are coming!” And our human guests arrived to candlelight and mystery, poetry and music, and breakfast at nightfall. The chill December shroud blanketed us all, and we heard the poetess Mary Oliver speak:

Otis relaxing with a cookie and some quiet

Otis relaxing with a cookie and some quiet

Today
Today I’m flying low and I’m not saying a word.
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep. 
The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.
But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.
Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.

It feels so wonderful to rest! We all come hungry for stillness. We leave realizing we traveled a terrific distance, only to find the temple was inside us all the time. We just entered through the Prairiewoods doorway!

—Otis (as dictated to Laura A. Weber, Associate Director and Retreat Coordinator)

Finding God in darkness

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 Kathy Petsche, who volunteers in the office and helps plan and facilitate some programs at Prairiewoods. Kathy and I have become close after many late nights spent outside together …

I have spent countless nights sitting on the back deck waiting for the full moon to come up over the trees. Becoming intimate in terms with the moon in all of her seasons, as Barbara Brown Taylor shares in her book Learning to Walk in the Dark. I crave the shine; I crave the shadows; I crave the “light” in the darkness. Prayers have been answered, problems and challenges have been resolved, stress of the day has been lifted.

How many of you have woken up in the middle of the night at 1:13, 2:18 or 3:12 a.m.? Your eyes pop open and you look at the digital clock and see those lighted numbers staring back at you. You lie there and start to think about things—you allow thoughts to come into your mind—even though you try not to, they still do. Work, children, parents, relationships, things you need to get done but are behind on.

You lie there, perhaps tossing and turning, throwing the covers off. You try to lie on your back, arms to your side, to gain back some mind, body, and spirit peace. You just might get lucky enough that it works and you fall back to sleep. Or perhaps you don’t and can’t, so now what?

Did you ever think that the reason you woke up is because God is calling upon you?

I am 61 years old, and if I had known back then when it was happening to me I could have maybe saved myself from some rough nights. I would sometimes just give in and get up and let the dogs out. They were awake too! Many nights my neighbor lady who lived up the hill from us—I could see her back porch light on and she was up as well, letting their dog out. She could see our front porch light on and we figured out that those dogs had this all planned out so they could meet up in the still of the night and run around in the field between our houses. Now that I think of it, they knew best how to manage those hours of awakeness filled with darkness.

What do you associate the word darkness to? For me it was the absence of faith and God in my life, and I just could not summon the courage within myself to honestly seek Him out.

Kathy Petsche, volunteer and facilitator

Kathy Petsche

I wasn’t living a life of piety. It separated the beautiful sunny days where I found comfort, where I was safe in my prayers and my thoughts. Those hours from sunset to darkness, before any slice of the moon and the stars in the sky appeared, was troubling. I felt alone. Many of my close friends who were willing to talk about this time transition, especially in the fall where it is noticeably known and would say almost in a whisper, “The days are getting shorter!” I had to prepare for those shorter days, fearing so much darkness would surround me and I would be without grace in my life. Somewhere along the way many of us have been taught to be afraid of the dark.

Quoting from Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Learning to Walk in the Dark: “Our comfort or discomfort with the outer dark is a good barometer of how we feel about the inner kind.”

Darkness turns out to be as essential to our physical well-being as light. Eruptions are good news and the signal that darkness will not stay buried. If you can stand the upsetting energy, you may be allowed to watch while dark and light come back into balance. Barbara calls it Lunar Spirituality. If we can stay with the moment in which God seems most absent, the night will do the rest.

And as I learned from reading her book, I do now what she did. Nights when I can’t sleep I summon the courage to put my bathrobe on and go outside. The sky will heal me and remind me of my place in the universe.

God is calling me for some reason and I certainly don’t want to miss his presence.

—Kathy Petsche, volunteer and facilitator