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Everything I Need to Know I Learn from Otis

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

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

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

Marianne Abel-Lipschutz

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

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

—Marianne Abel-Lipschutz, program participant


Sounds of Silence

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

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

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

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

—Marj English, OSF, Coordinator of Spiritual Services

Prairiewoods and Iowa’s Creative Corridor

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

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

Prairiewoods has had a huge influence on my life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Chuck Peters, Board Vice Chair

2013-04-04 Spir in 21st Cent 1

Adult Self Renewal Summer Camp

Otis & Friends 3I’m Otis, Prairiewoods’ favorite squirrel, and I’ve taken over this blog for 2016 in honor of Prairiewoods’ 20th anniversary. You’ll hear from me or one of my friends each Friday.

One friend I have introduced you to several times here is Marianne Abel-Lipschutz, a program participant and planner here at Prairiewoods. She’s been working with several other volunteers and staff members to bring a whole new experience to the Prairiewoods community: summer camp for adults! Here’s a look at what you can expect at Adult Self Renewal Summer Camp …

New friends. Outdoor cooking. Adventures in groups. Campfires at night. Stories and songs. Shared devotions. Honest conversations. Freedom to wander in the prairie and woods, play a game, write a letter home, float in the sky chair for quiet time. Prairiewoods’ first-ever Adult Self Renewal Summer Camp, July 18–21, has these classic camp plans but adds an eco-spirituality boost. Essential oils and healing touch. Interactive arts and peaceful patterns of color and light. Songs of joy and laughter, cosmic rhythms and circular sound waves, deep silence in the presence of our Creator.

Adult Summer Camp_squareMany people trace some of their most significant spiritual growth to a camp experience as a child. For many of us, Bible camp, Girl or Boy Scout Camp, or Vacation Bible School provided communal encounters with our deepest selves that put our feet on the path of a lifelong learning process. Retreats—or adult camps—relight that spark inside by reconnecting us to the sense of awe and wonder that energizes the spiritual journey. Keeping that vital connection to the Source alive in our hearts, minds and bodies empowers us to live more fully in the world.

Join with the Prairiewoods community to celebrate life at Adult Summer Camp, which is just over a week away. Each day offers activities to learn and grow together with others in a festive atmosphere. (Monday focuses on holistic health, Tuesday on nature, Wednesday on music and Thursday on art. Come all four days or choose the days that speak to your soul!) We won’t blast Reveille from a loudspeaker at sunrise or listen to Taps played with a bugle at sunset. We will sing our hearts out into the Prairiewoods neighborhood and create memories that will last. Sign up on the Prairiewoods website. Give a gift of a day at camp to a friend or loved one. Spread the news and share the fun. Hope to see you at camp!

—Marianne Abel-Lipschut, program participant

 2016 Adult Summer Camp Schedule

20 Milkweeds for 20 Years

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.

Allow me to introduce you to Andi Lewis, who has served as Prairiewoods Marketing Coordinator for the last 5 years. She and her pup, Phineas, often walk the grounds at Prairiewoods and enjoy the presence of beautiful monarch butterflies. She wants to tell you about a new challenge she has for YOU …

Prairiewoods, which was founded in 1996, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. We are honoring this occasion by promoting the life and health of the planet, and we hope you will help us! Over the last two decades, we have been blessed to partner with a number of generous organizations, worship communities, civic entities, businesses and individuals. And we’re hoping you all will help us once again …

In honor of our 20th anniversary, Prairiewoods is planting milkweed, a plant that is necessary for the continued survival of monarch butterflies, which are necessary for the continued survival of all life! Will you help us celebrate by promoting the life and health of our Earth? Here’s the challenge:

20 Milkweeds•     We just planted milkweed in our new Healing Garden. (Check out the short video here or by clicking on the screenshot at right!)

•     Now we are inviting you—our friends and valued community partners—to also plant milkweed somewhere in the community in July. (If you don’t have land on which to plant the milkweed, feel free to plant it at Prairiewoods!)

•     Please take a photo or video of the planting and upload it to social media. (Include #20Milkweeds and #PrairiewoodsFSC so that we can track our progress!)

Will you help us plant 20 Milkweeds for 20 Years?

—Andi Lewis, Marketing Coordinator

A Dog’s Life

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.

You might think that squirrels and dogs can’t be friends. However, I’ve learned that some dogs are gentle and kind. Kaysen, a great big Yellow Lab, is a dog I’m happy to call my friend …

Hi, I’m Kaysen, and I LOVE Prairiewoods! I am Paula’s service dog, and we go to Prairiewoods every Tuesday for Visio Divina and Lectionary-Based Faith Study. Paula loves it. She loves the people who go to the groups, and she says Rodney is a great teacher. I think he gives great ear scratches.

We also have lunch there. Or, I should say Paula has lunch there. I get nothin’. She thinks their food is fabulous and so are the kitchen ladies. It sure smells good.

Paula Tomy and KaysenMy very favoritest thing about Prairiewoods is Sister Nancy. She is the nicest lady in the whole world! While Paula is eating lunch and talking, talking, talking, we go on adventures. She takes me places Paula can’t go because Paula is in a wheelchair. (That’s why she has me!) We go into the woods! I see really great trees and hear birds and I can sometimes smell the deer. I have seen something she called a Hermitage. Looked like a little house to me. I have seen a creek, too. Sister Nancy talks to me and I listen and walk and smell fresh air.

Prairiewoods is the best place in the whole world!

—Kaysen (with help from his human, Paula Tomy)

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

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

Grandmother tree, the elder soul of the forest

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.

Good morning from Otis! I’m sitting clear up high in one of the big oak trees here at Prairiewoods. Trees are my favorite place. I’m so happy that people at Prairiewoods have protected the little woods here so I have a place to live and play. From my favorite spot up here I can see the Prairiewoods entrance. Here comes a car I recognize from frequent visits. It belongs to Jan Griffith, my friend and a frequent program participant …

Hi, everyone! I’m Jan Griffith, a frequent visitor here at Prairiewoods. I love the little winding road in and all the beautiful trees. It’s hard to believe the interstate is nearby. The trees muffle all of the traffic noise so that I feel like I’ve gone to the forest to find a place of stillness. I’m fond of places that provide eco-spirituality, the sacredness of nature, where I can find a spiritual connection within the environment.

I’m here today for “Tuesday Church” where we study Visio Divina. At Visio Divina a circle of interfaith people study a scripture passage with an accompanying illustration from The Saint John’s Bible. This art work makes the scripture passage so much more meaningful for me. It is also great fun to share all of the interpretations from many faith communities.

That reminds me of another meaningful circle I attend at Prairiewoods, Women in Interfaith Dialogue. The sharing there is special too and empowers the Prairiewoods entrance sign, which says “All Are Welcome.”

Tree - Grandmother 2_smallDuring both circles my eyes are drawn outside the windows to the elder soul of the forest here … the Grandmother Tree. Deer peek out safely from behind her. Otis scrambles up her trunk. Though aged, she stands strong and tall, her roots linked with other trees encircling the forest edge … much like the strength and empowerment I feel from others in this special place.

—Jan Griffith, program participant

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