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Ecology

Green Prairie Garden

Metro Catholic Outreach (MCO) is a Cedar Rapids–area nonprofit that provides groceries to about 400 local families each month. Like most food pantries, they realized they were supplying their families with lots of canned and boxed goods, but very few fresh, healthy foods. In 2014, they began partnering with Prairiewoods to cultivate the vegetable garden at Prairiewoods, which we call Green Prairie Garden.

Through this partnership, Prairiewoods gets tons of volunteer help tending the garden, MCO is able to nourish a huge plot of land and the families who rely on MCO for some of their food get veggies straight from a local garden. It’s a match made in heaven!

Next time you’re at Prairiewoods, you’re invited to wander through the giant Green Prairie Garden, sampling the fresh produce as you go. Perhaps you can also say a little prayer for those who are nourished by the garden and for those at MCO who so graciously tend it!

—Andi Lewis, Prairiewoods marketing coordinator

Posted Sept. 26, 2017

Garden of Eat’n

Have you noticed the many changes happening around the Prairiewoods Center? We’re working with Backyard Abundance to create new permaculture landscaping that features edible landscapes (with lots of veggies and herbs for snacking), a Healing Garden, a mushroom growing area and Outdoor Classrooms. These are all part of the Garden of Eat’n that began this spring.

Edible landscapes surround the Center with fruit, vegetable and herb plants. You can eat your way through the walk—look for signs that explain what you’re eat’n!

A Healing Garden between the Center and Guest House features a sitting bench, St. Francis statue and willow angel, as well as edible herbs and fruit.

A mushroom growing area just outside the kitchen is complete with inoculated logs that will soon produce shiitake and chicken of the woods mushrooms.

Outdoor Classrooms allow facilitators to lead hands-on workshops on everything from holistic gardening practices to container gardening. Come learn in this fun environment!

—Emy Sautter, Prairiewoods staff

Posted Aug. 3, 2017

 

 

Lilies Rising

Lilies Rising
The Milky Way is overflowing
With mother’s milk that keeps pouring
Down, upon the earth.
Droplets rooting as lilies.

I woke up the day
A lily brushed my cheek.
Strong stalk and fleshy petals
Trumpeted out a mother’s fierce cry-

Love the earth and all who dwell upon it!
Oh, drink freely from
Her wisdom
And live!

—Jean Elliott Junis, Prairiewoods retreatant

Posted July 18, 2017

Interning at Prairiewoods

My name is Taryn Freilinger. I am a student at Mount Mercy University and graduated in May with a Bachelor’s of Biology and a Bachelor’s of Outdoor Conservation. I am currently interning at Prairiewoods, helping create the Garden of Eat’n in order to fulfill requirements for my Outdoor Conservation degree. When I heard of this opportunity I was excited at the possibility to be a part of it. The garden is not only a place for beauty but also a place for learning and sustainability. Also it offers food for both humans and animals, creating an ecofriendly habitat. There are various aspects to the garden at Prairiewoods. These include a healing garden, mushroom classroom, veggies and herbs, and more. To go along with the beautiful space, Prairiewoods hopes to utilize the garden walk to help teach others the importance of sustainability and how they can implement similar aspects into their own gardens.

My journey started in October. My first day, I spent two hours shoveling rock. You would be safe in guessing I had a sore back the next day! In the weeks that followed I began removing and transplanting some plants that were a part of the original landscape. I removed wheel barrows and wheel barrows of lilies! I began wondering if the lilies were ever going to end!? Once we had gotten all the plants that needed to be removed from the area, cardboard was put down and covered with a thick layer of mulch. This “sheet mulching” inhibits the growth of weeds (plants we don’t want in this area). Eventually the cardboard and mulch break down, adding nutrients to the soil. We got this done just in time before the cold weather was too bad.

This winter, I researched information that was used to create an educational sign in the Center about the new Garden of Eat’n project. To keep myself busy and learning through the winter, I also found informational videos to watch and learn from. The videos that I have watched so far include Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective and Forks over Knives, two documentary films. I also watched numerous YouTube videos, including New Earth Living; Grow Your Own Food, Permaculture Design and Simplicity; and Why I Live a Zero Waste Life. Each video offered useful information. The two films were informational and eye opening. They provided information that could be life changing. Inhabit went through various homes around the United States and talked to people about how they utilize permaculture. There were back yards and even entire farms! Forks over Knives discussed the effects of animal-product foods versus plant-based or whole-food diets. There were many interesting facts provided in the film. The videos were more informational with the exception of the Zero Waste Life. Lauren Singer shared how and why she lives a zero waste life and it is truly amazing. I would recommend watching all of these videos/films.

As spring hit, I began working outside again. I worked a full day on Wednesdays and a half day in the mornings on Friday. I helped with whatever needed to be done to create this wonderful edible garden walk. So if you have any free time don’t be afraid to stop on out and lend a hand!

—Taryn Freilinger, Prairiewoods intern (Oct. 2016–June 2017)

Posted July 4, 2017

A Reflection on God’s Grandeur

This was written as my reflection following the lecture by Wendy M. Wright and her reading of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem God’s Grandeur. As I pondered these things, the Canticle of the Sun came to mind, as did the book my Companion group People of the Earth is reading, Ilia Delio’s Care for Creation: a Franciscan spirituality of the earth.

 

Realizing the glorious beauty of the world is almost beyond comprehension
Coming to terms with the ways we have trod, have trod, have trod
is our greatest hope to regain our awe
for the grandest of God’s work on our behalf.
There are shards of light in people rising up (Standing Rock, Flint; Michigan; Paris Accord)
standing up for this grandeur that is your work, O God,
getting in touch with the shining beauty.

We cannot and must not keep trodding, trodding,
trodding on this shook foil.

We cannot and must not tarnish any further the creation or her creatures great and small. They are as brother and sister to us—

Brother Sun, Sister Moon
Brother Wind and Air, Sister Water
Brother Fire, Sister, Mother Earth

And yet we trod, we pillage, we burn
we plow fence row to fence row—oh my, we
even remove the fences and take down the
habitat that houses brother and sister creatures
leaving them without shelter.

Forgive us, Holy One, Holy Three,
for our consumption, for lack of courage
to join in standing alongside our Brothers and Sisters,
human and creaturely and even the plants and minerals that
give beauty to your world.
May you, Holy Spirit, bend over us
with warm breast and ah! bright wings
to teach us anew the connections you
invite us to see—to taste—to smell
—hear and touch in all your creation—
Your Glorious Grandeur we call home. May it be so—

—Rose M. Blank, Prairiewoods friend

Posted June 6, 2017

 

Solar Love

On March 31, Iowa Interfaith Power & Light organized a solar tour in Eastern Iowa, inviting local elected officials to learn about solar and why organizations in the area choose solar power. Here at Prairiewoods, we choose solar for a number of reasons:

1) Solar (renewable energy) fits deeply with our missions and core values of caring for creation

2) Solar power helps us be a place where people can come and learn about many ways that individuals and businesses can incorporate eco-friendly practices and systems into their lives—whether it be installing a photovoltaic solar array or making a rain barrel

3) Benefits are three-fold: environmental, financial and educational

Prairiewoods has a 100-unit photovoltaic (PV) array that is tied into the Alliant Energy utility system. (We have other solar units on site that are off-grid and store energy in batteries.) This 17.5-kilowatt system provides about half of our electricity needs. It was installed in 2009 and 2010.

I loved sharing our solar story with some of our elected officials at the city and state level. Renewable energy is on the rise, but people are still largely unaware of how these systems work and opportunities to see them in operation are still fairly uncommon. Thankfully Prairiewoods is a great place to come and learn more, as well as see renewable energy systems and eco-friendly practices in person! Do you have a group that wants a tour of our many eco-features? If so, get in touch with me here at Prairiewoods!

We love solar here at Prairiewoods, and thankfully the sun loves us too … and I am reminded of that great love when I read this short poem:

The Sun Never Says
by Hafiz

Even
After
All this time
The Sun never says to Earth,

“You Owe Me.”

Look
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.

—Emelia Sautter, Prairiewoods ecospirituality coordinator

Posted April 11, 2017

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

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

 

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

The Spiritual Dimension of Climate Change

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.

 

Although Prairiewoods is a Catholic organization founded on Franciscan principles, it is open to people on any spiritual path. Recently, we critters learned a lot about some of these other spirtualities through a program focused on the problems of climate change from various religious perspectives. What an eye opener! Here are some thoughts on the day from Daishin McCabe, one of the program organizers and facilitators …

On Aug. 28, Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center hosted The Spiritual Dimension of Climate Change, a retreat that looked at the changing composition of our Earth and atmosphere from the perspectives of some of the great Religions of the world—Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Native American, and Christianity—as well as Humanism. Representatives of these traditions—Imam Hassan, Patrick Courtney, Rev. Zuiko Redding, Nancy Rhoades, Rev. Joan Fumetti, and Alan Diehl—offered insights and action points to the on-going dialogue around climate change. Noteworthy of the event was the coming together of multiple worldviews around a single topic, implying that not one of us has all the answers.

Climate change is a problem like no other that humanity has grappled with. Until recently, humanity’s concerns have mostly been limited to specific geographical regions—not taking into account the whole of Earth and how the actions in one place affect the actions in another. Our vision has been mostly limited to perhaps a few generations beyond the present. Climate change is forcing people to look beyond the activities of local bioregions and beyond the present moment, for it is a problem that affects everyone on the planet for the next several hundred if not thousand years. We are dealing with a long-term emergency, which we are not only ill-prepared to meet, but linguistically challenged to articulate. This linguistic challenge is reminiscent of the numinous experience—that which cannot be comprehended with words or rational thought alone.

Daishin McCabeThe Spiritual Dimension of Climate Change provided a safe space for people of faith or no faith to wrestle with and make meaning of our changing planet. It also provided action points to consider, with the recognition of the need for a long-term commitment to the issue. Special thanks to the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County and Iowa Interfaith Power and Light for sponsoring and promoting this event.

—Daishin McCabe, program facilitator