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