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Spirituality

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

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

 

What can I do to make today a little easier for you?

I am not comfortable with the phrase “beggars can’t be choosers.” Why can’t they be choosers? Someone who has to ask for help is no longer entitled to preferences?

A few months ago, I saw a woman standing on the side of the road, asking those who passed by in a little Prius or a huge Durango for some spare change and a little compassion. I took a break and sat down with her, this kind, well-worn woman named Dawn. I learned that Dawn loves chocolate donuts, red Gatorade and hot chocolate on cold Iowa days.

So instead of simply handing a few dollars out my car window and driving on, I began asking, “Dawn, what can I do to make today a little easier for you?” Some days, she just wanted something cold to drink; once, she needed a full meal, as she hadn’t eaten in over 24 hours. No matter what sustenance she needs on a particular day, Dawn seems to crave companionship as much as anything. I try to give her both.

Over the last few months, she has gone through several major life changes, including leaving an abusive boyfriend who bruised her skin and her spirit. I just listened, and brought her a few extra chocolate donuts.

Pope Francis recently said that, when we encounter panhandlers, we should give them money and not worry about where it will go or what it will be used for. Whether it is used for diapers or drugs, food or liquor, we should give. The pope says that if “a glass of wine is the only happiness he has in life, that’s O.K. Instead, ask yourself, what do you do on the sly? What ‘happiness’ do you seek in secret?”

When Pope Francis says that giving to someone in need is “always right,” I think of Dawn and all she has given to me. I can only imagine how much better life would be if we approached everyone with the question, “What can I do to make today a little easier for you?”

—Andi Lewis, Prairiewoods marketing coordinator

Posted April 25, 2017

Echoing a Song is Somewhere to Begin

A song is a gardener
It picks up a shovel and starts to dig.
Tenderly tips the blade into the burnt and brazed,
Crusted, cranky, depleted, impenetrable soil
at the surface of the heart

Tosses and turns over and around all the scraps, remnants, remains,
All the crap, cruelty, and craziness
Amending, softening, sifting
Activating, aerating, enlivening

A song is a seed
It is not derailed, discouraged, deterred by gated, guarded hearts
It finds every shortcut, crack and crevice
It flits, floats, meanders, winds, works its way in
Wakes us up to what is and what can be

It will knock down the wall and fashion a bridge from sundered stone
Enter the soul’s secret garden
Subtly scatter seed

A song will not change a policy, re-write the laws, topple dictators,
End discrimination, stop deforestation
House the homeless, feed the hungry, heal the land

The singing of songs, the piping of poems,
The drumming, dancing, delving, digging, delighting, daring,
Beautiful boldness of art
Will merely crack open the hard shell
of the dormant heart

And hearts awakened
are unstoppable.

May a song, a story, a poem, a painting, a puppet
Tap you on the shoulder
Trickle to your heart
Invite you to Dance
Ripple, rhyme, resound
a pebble tossed
an echo of peace

—poem by Sara Thomsen, Prairiewoods facilitator

 

Sara Thomsen will be the musician for Consciousness & Christogenesis, Prairiewoods’ annual Spirituality in the 21st Century event May 5–6, 2017. Learn more about this chance to find hope for emerging wholeness here. Also be sure to check out Sara on her website or listen to her song Somewhere to Begin on YouTube!

 

Posted March 14, 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

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

O Little Town of Bethlehem

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

This Christmas, the critters and I would like to bless all of you with the words of the traditional hymn O Little Town of Bethlehem. May you and your loved ones find peace and all good this holiday!

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth

2016 Christmas Blessing for websiteHow silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel

Travel with Us to Assisi

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

Guess what, everyone, this squirrel doesn’t just hang around one tree, he travels when he has a hankern’ for Italian acorns … and boy, oh, boy are they tasty! Humans aren’t the only ones with ancestors from across the pond — this squirrel is half I-talian!!

My friend Emy Sautter and I recently traveled as pilgrims to Rome, Greccio and Assisi — what an adventure! We visited many beautiful places that had special meaning to my beloved friends, St. Francis and St. Clare. We stopped by the Vatican to say hello to Pope Francesco (love that guy!), kissed the Holy Door at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, and admired the faces of the putti, the cherub angels that adorn the great cathedrals.

Then we stopped in the cutest little town of Greccio and had a Christmas pranza (lunch) … goodness was I stuffed after that! St. Francis popularized the Christmas crèche after visiting the town of Greccio. After that we traveled to the beautiful medieval holy city of Assisi where St. Francis and St. Clare lived. The olive trees, the oak trees … bella vita … I was in squirrel heaven!

While in Assisi we traveled to the caves that Francis and the brothers spent time in for prayer and solitude, the Carceri Hermitage. There were some beautiful trees there that I asked Emy to take a picture of. That afternoon we had a day of silence and solitude and we walked along many steep, narrow streets in Assisi, eventually making our way to Rocca, the arsenal above Assisi. There I visited with a small lizard and we became fast friends. He opened his home to me (such Franciscan hospitality!), and as I sat in silence he shared his thoughts with me … the importance of being hospitable and facing our fears in life. (He was a teeny lizard after all, and I, a mighty squirrel.) And I do believe I saw God in those lovely eyes of his.

Emy and I and our fellow pilgrims celebrated mass each day, and we visited a most tiny chapel, the Porziuncola (meaning little portion), a favorite meeting spot for Clare and Francis. We visited the resting places and basilicas of Francis and Clare as well.

What a pilgrimage — praying with your feet is what one of our leaders called it, and it sure was! This little squirrel’s mind is packed full of wonderful history about St. Francis, St. Clare and so many holy places that they visited, and my body is fit for climbing the tallest trees after hiking up those hilly streets! My belly is full from all that pistachio gelato too! Most importantly my spirit and my heart are full of the Goodness of God, goodness that was so beautifully reflected in the lives of Sister Clare and Brother Francis who gave us Franciscan values to live by … in loving relationship with God, our fellow squirrels (and humans) and the whole of creation.

Pax et Bonum! Ciao!
Otis and Emy

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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

 

Sweet Memories of Sweetgrass

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.

Today I want to tell you about a lively party that recently took place right here in my home, the 70 acres that make up Prairiewoods …

The second annual Sweetgrass Flute & Nature Festival (and the flute school that preceded it) recently rocked the Prairiewoods grounds with the sounds of the Native American style flute and experiences that connected us to nature. Even though the Cedar River was cresting, about 1,000 guests came to Prairiewoods Sept. 23–25 to hear — and BE — the voice of the land!

Here are a few pictorial highlights of the festivities, as shared by our friends on social media. If you have others you’d like to share, feel free to use the comments section below. (If you don’t see “Add a Comment,” click on the green “Sweet Memories of Sweetgrass” above and then scroll to the bottom.)

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