Eco-friendly spiritual living at Holy Wisdom Monastery

March 3, 2020 by  
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A basket of bread comes around, and the person next to me removes a chunk, holds it up and says, “Bread of life.” I accept it and do the same for the person on my other side. It’s the first time I’ve ever attended a religious service so egalitarian that all participants are assumed qualified to give each other communion. Earlier, the part of the service where folks exchanged the sign of peace seemed to go on forever; instead of a restrained handshake with their nearest neighbors, people were walking all over the room hugging their friends. This is a Sunday morning gathering at the  Holy Wisdom Monastery  in Middleton, Wisconsin. The unconventional group of Benedictine nuns who run the monastery oversee a whole host of enterprises, from managing a retreat center to restoring the surrounding prairie. While church attendance has declined rapidly in the US, with a Pew Research Center study reporting that more than half the population attends church between zero and a few times a year, Holy Wisdom has a robust turnout even during a Sunday morning snowstorm. What is it about this non-denominational Christian monastery that draws people from the progressive area around  Madison ? The welcoming attitude of the congregation, the relatability of the presiders, the gender-neutral language when speaking of divinity and the eco-spirituality of Holy Wisdom attract many people who are looking for a deeper connection with others and with the earth. An eco-retreat center In the 1950s, three Benedictine nuns from  Iowa  arrived in Madison to start a girls’ high school. They purchased 43 acres of pasture land overlooking Lake Mendota that would eventually become Holy Wisdom. But big changes were happening in the Catholic Church in the early 1960s. In 1966, the sisters closed the high school and re-opened as the Saint Benedict Center. The retreat center was ecumenical, meaning it was open to all denominations. As more retreatants attended events at the center, the sisters felt very connected to people they met from other faiths. “Praying with people from different denominations changed our hearts to be ecumenical hearts,” Sister Mary David Walgenbach said as she showed me around on a snowy February morning. Eventually, the sisters began a long, slow process to become an ecumenical order of nuns open to Protestant women as well as  Catholics . Nowadays, all kinds of people go on  retreat  at the monastery, either as individuals or in groups. The retreat house accommodates 19 people, plus the monastery has two more isolated hermitages for people seeking solitude. “There are more and more people who want to get away from everything because our world is more and more connected in every way,” said Sister Denise West. Buddhists are frequent visitors. “The Dalai Lama was here in ’79, so Buddhist groups like to come,” said Walgenbach. Sometimes they’ll do 10-day retreats, using the monastery’s nature trails for walking meditation and taking meals in silence. Nonprofit organizations also rent the monastery’s meeting facilities, plus breakout rooms. The sisters replaced their original Benedictine House — which was deconstructed and 99.75% recycled or reused — with a new, eco-friendlier monastery, which opened in 2009. The 30,000 square foot, two-story structure is “right-sized” at half the size of its predecessor. The sisters worked with Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction, Inc. to envision one of the country’s greenest  buildings . In 2010, the U.S. Green Building Council awarded Holy Wisdom Monastery a  LEED  Platinum rating. Four years later, the monastery became Madison Gas and Electric’s largest solar customer. The monastery building generates 60% of its energy needs. The sisters are aiming for 100% eventually. “For us, sustainability is not a trend,” Sister Joanne Kollasch said on the monastery website, “but a commitment to the earth—a 21st century expression of 1500 years of Benedictine tradition.” The designers carefully planned the location of windows based on the orientation of the sun to reduce glare and minimize unwanted solar heat gain. The new building also uses geothermal heating and cooling. Friends of Wisdom Prairie The monastery’s grounds cover more than 130 acres, including woodlands, Lost Lake, gardens, orchards, nature  trails  and restored prairie. Lots of animals live on the property, too, with whom the sisters try to live with in harmony. As Sister Mary David Walgenbach showed me around the monastery, we stopped in a room downstairs that the sisters use for prayer. She told me about a  turkey  that would often catch sight of his reflection in the room’s windows while they were praying. “He’d puff up, turn around,” she said. “And we would split laughing.” When somebody suggested setting bow and arrow hunters on him, the sisters leapt to his defense. “We said, ‘You can’t harm Brother Tom!’” Walgenbach remembered. They fed him from the back door of their house to help him through a harsh winter. Come spring, he flapped off with a roving band of hens. The five sisters couldn’t take care of the monastery’s land without a lot of help. “We depend on  volunteers  all over the place,” said Walgenbach. While they’ve been relying on volunteers to help restore prairie lands since the 1990s, the more formal  Friends of Wisdom Prairie  was established in 2014. The sisters are thrilled to have Greg Armstrong, who directed the University of Wisconsin Arboretum for twenty years, as their director of land management and environmental education. The Friends raise funds for caring for the land, including reducing runoff into the lake and constructing a bike trail. Environmental volunteers join in work parties while learning about ecological land management. Sometimes the Friends host special events, like moonlight snowshoeing on the monastery’s trails or lectures on subjects like owls of Wisconsin or climate change and eco-spirituality. Life among the sisters Times have changed and religious life holds less allure to most people than it did 60 years ago. “Not a lot of  women  are flocking to become sisters,” said Walgenbach. “But we have a niche.” Holy Wisdom attracts women looking for a more contemplative life, who share Benedictine values like listening, respect and silence. The five sisters live together across the lake from the monastery. Walgenbach and Kollasch entered religious life as Catholic nuns in the 1950s. Sister Lynne Smith, a Presbyterian pastor, became the first Protestant sister in 2000. Sister Paz Vital, a lifelong Catholic, and Sister Denise West, who comes from a secular background, both joined the order in the last few years. The sisters often have a sixth woman staying with them who is going through the six-month Sojourner program for spiritual seekers. That’s what originally brought West to Holy Wisdom. “I came here to learn spiritual life with zero intent of becoming a sister,” she said. But once she was back home in New York City, the former  schoolteacher  felt an undeniable pull back to the monastery. It’s a pull that many progressive Christians around Madison feel, judging from the Sunday morning turnout when I visited, or the 100 people who showed up the day before to help the sisters devise a ten-year plan. People are hungry for connection with the divine, each other and the land , and Holy Wisdom fills this void for folks in Madison and further afield. Images via Teresa Bergen and Kent Sweitzer

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Eco-friendly spiritual living at Holy Wisdom Monastery

Larch-clad extension breathes new life into an old hunting lodge in Canada

November 15, 2017 by  
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This quaint hunting lodge in Canada  has had several different lives before being turned into a cozy family home nestled in the woods. The new owners commissioned architect Anik Péloquin to design an extension that would echo the architecture of the original building, while blending in with the stunning surroundings. The resulting two-volume structure is clad in larch wood fits in perfectly and breathes new life into the lodge. The small house, located on a secluded lakeside lot in La Malbaie, Canada, was used as a hunting lodge for the first three decades, before becoming the summer home for the Sisters of Charity. Instead of renovating the house, the new owners decided to build an additional space and use the existing structure as a guesthouse . Related: Extraordinary treehouse is a climber’s dream with its own indoor climbing wall The two volumes as referred to as siblings, with the new house–“the little sister”–housing two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen and lounge areas. Modest in size, the structure keeps with the general look of its “big sister”. It is clad in larch and features a steep shed roof that harmonizes with the existing structure and the landscape. The roof overhang on the west and south sides keep the outside walls low and consistent with the scale of the old house. The steep roof pitch rises on the east and north side and reminds of a church steeple, thus evoking the history of the site. + Anik Péloquin architecte Via V2com Photos by Louis Prud’homme

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Larch-clad extension breathes new life into an old hunting lodge in Canada

DIY This Healthy ‘Three Sisters’ Soup Recipe To Fill Your Belly In Chilly Weather

January 25, 2014 by  
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Do you know the Three Sisters ? No, we’re not talking about a new musical group. The Three Sisters are corn, beans, and squash–three staples of the Native American diet that have actually been shown to be the perfect companion plants. Growing them in close proximity to each other helps ward off pests and replenish the soil. Much of the U.S. is experiencing Polar Vortex Part II right now. If you’re struggling to stay warm in single digit temperatures, a hot meal is the perfect pick me up. Mix up a big pot of this healthy, hearty soup tonight! Follow the link for the easy recipe. READ MORE> Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: healthy soup recipes , Inhabitots , seasonal soup recipes , soup recipes , three sisters , three sisters soup , three sisters soup recipe , winter soup recipes        

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DIY This Healthy ‘Three Sisters’ Soup Recipe To Fill Your Belly In Chilly Weather

Picker Sisters Show True Decorating Resourcefullness

August 3, 2011 by  
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Photo courtesy of Lifetime Post via CasaSugar Last night, Lifetime premiered Picker Sisters , a show that proves that one man’s trash is another’s treasure. The show follows Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’s Tracy Hutson and Tanya McQueen as the two friends drive across the country in search of unique “junk” that they can turn into beautiful decorative pieces. … Read the full story on TreeHugger

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Picker Sisters Show True Decorating Resourcefullness

Inexpensive Truck Aero-Tweak Could Save 1.5 Billion Gallons of Diesel Each Year

August 3, 2011 by  
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Photo: Flickr , CC It’s all about low-pressure areas… Most long-haul freight should be transported on trains rather than trucks, since rail shipping is more fuel-efficient, doesn’t add to road congestion, and reduces infrastructure maintenance costs (70,000lbs trucks can be very damaging to roads). But sadly, the reality in the U.S. is that over the past few decades, the number of long-haul trucks has only gone up. There is now about 1.3 million semi trucks transporting goods over long distances, each tra… Read the full story on TreeHugger

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Inexpensive Truck Aero-Tweak Could Save 1.5 Billion Gallons of Diesel Each Year

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