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