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Holistic Health

Great Blue Heron

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.

One friend I want to introduce you to is Jenifer Hanson, the director at Prairiewoods. Jenifer is often taken with the majestic beauty of the many creatures who call Prairiewoods home. Here is her story of meeting one such resident …

On a humid July afternoon, I decided to walk out on the trails here at Prairiewoods. I am still trying to learn the lay of the land on our 70 acres and when my schedule permits some outdoor time, I try to seize the opportunity!

As I walked, I was contemplating the deep sorrow I was feeling in response to the series of recent national events: the Orlando shootings, the death of Philando Castile in Minnesota, the attacks on police in Dallas and elsewhere. Also weighing on my heart was fear for our environment (as Earth experienced another year of record heat) and fear for our society in the midst of an alarming political season in the U.S. I felt powerless to do anything useful in the face of so many issues and concerns.

Suddenly, as I approached a shaded bench near the creek, I was startled by the sudden flight of a very large bird. Unbeknownst to me, a great blue heron had been standing in a shaded pool of water; I must have startled it first! The bird’s wings easily spanned more than five feet across, and I stood in awe of their powerful beating as they lifted the heron into the air. Almost as swiftly as it had appeared, the lovely creature had flown from view.

Jenifer HansonI sat down on the bench I had been moving toward when the heron’s flight stopped me in my tracks. As I caught my breath, and my heart rate returned to normal after spiking when I was startled, I was filled with very different emotions than the sad and fearful ones I carried into the woods with me. These lines of poetry came into my mind:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul …
—Emily Dickinson

I couldn’t help but compare Dickinson’s metaphorical bird with my direct experience of the great blue heron. In mere minutes, I felt hope had been reignited in me.

And that is one of the everyday miracles of Prairiewoods. When they chose to hold this land as sacred space, our foundresses and the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration held space for active hope. In such moments at this, that hope can be experienced as a living, breathing thing embodied in the profusion of life inhabiting both woods and prairies.

When I returned to the Center, I shared my sighting of the great heron with Sr. Nancy Hoffman. She smiled and nodded knowingly. “I’m not surprised,” she said. “We’re occasionally blessed with these beautiful visitors.” I nodded, thinking how my brush with this particularly lovely visitor had gifted me with renewed hope. Yes, indeed, we are blessed.

—Jenifer Hanson, Prairiewoods Director

20 Voices for 20 Years

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.

Today I’d like to introduce you to a whole scurry of them!

In honor of Prairiewoods’ 20th anniversary, we asked 20 friends, “Why are you grateful for Prairiewoods?” and “How have you been transformed?” As you can see in the quick YouTube video below, they are grateful for everything from the quiet serenity they find here to the natural playground created by our 70 acres. What has been your favorite thing about Prairiewoods over the last 20 years? What are you most looking forward to? #20Voices20Years


20 Voices for 20 Years

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


New Sacred Spaces 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.

Sister Marj English came to Prairiewoods almost a decade ago. In her role as Coordinator of Spiritual Services at Prairiewoods, she tends to the spiritual needs of humans and critters alike. Here are her thoughts on some of the new features at Prairiewoods …

Erlacher Fountain 2_Joe Young_small
Otis, have you noticed the increased traffic and population boom in a couple of your treasured hangouts? I have seen a number of people sitting reflectively, even peacefully, by the fountain just outside the Center’s north door. I’ve also seen some serious journaling being done there.


2016 Sacred Earth 1

What used to be the herb garden was expanded recently into a healing garden. This seems to be a very popular place as well for retreatants and visitors. (Recently you may have noticed the staff having its picture taken in the midst of this new healing garden in support of Sacred Earth.)

Since you seem to be fed quite often in these areas, I take for granted you have noticed. Don’t worry, Otis, I trust you will continue to be fed and to make some new friends. Thanks for looking out for our guests and sharing your space with them!

—Marj English, OSF, Coordinator of Spiritual Services

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 …

walker 1

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

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

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)

This Labyrinth

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

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

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

—Kathleen Mullin, BVM, retreatant

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

The Prayer Room

Otis & Friends 1I’m Otis, Prairiewoods’ favorite squirrel, and I’ve taken over this blog for 2016 in honor of Prairiewoods’ 20th anniversary. You’ll hear from me or one of my friends each Friday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Marianne Abel-Lipschutz, program participant

Prairiewoods and Life: Some Thoughts on The Guest House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Jenifer Hanson, Director