Fallen leaves skittered across Sixth Avenue North, adding a tinkling of sound to subdued voices drifting through the screened-in porch at Bethany House.
This particular Saturday brought 17 women to the house of prayer for retreat, a day for introspection, a day to check the what ifs.
Some women attend retreats to intensify their belief, to dig deep inside and work with what they find there. Others attend because it's something new and inviting.
-Messenger photo by Sandy Mickelson
Looking through cards brought by speaker Mary Swander are, from left, Shirley Bowman, of Webster City; Sandy Henricks, Fort Dodge; and Kathy Prebeck, Fort Dodge. The three were among a dozen women at a recent retreat at Bethany House, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this fall.
"I came with the idea of doing something for a day and not going shopping," said Kathy Prebeck, of Fort Dodge. "It's a way to share some time with a friend."
She and Sandy Henrichs strolled through Bethany House, admiring the woodwork, the decor. There was a softness in their movement, as if not to disturb years of prayer and study.
Bethany House will mark its 20th anniversary as a house of prayer with an open house Nov. 9 at Corpus Christi center. But that coming celebration took a back seat recently to Mary Swander's retreat, "Spirit in Season," where women gathered to study mystery, transience and gratitude.
"Life is such a strange and wonderful mystery," said Swander, of Ames, a teacher, author and retreat leader. "It's a complete mystery how healing happens, except through grace. In each stage of our journey, healing takes place."
Henrichs said she had no idea of what she was in for when Prebeck told her about the retreat. "I was surprised and so pleased. I think more people should get involved."
Mary Sadler, of Eagle Grove, used the retreat to help her through her journey.
"I'm in a transition in my life, Sadler . "I'm moving on. I'm becoming more relaxed and I'm going to have more fun."
Under the guidance of Swander, those attending the retreat were learning to live a spiritual, centered life.
"Transience is the most obvious concept of our lives, but the one we grasp the least," Swander said. "Things are continuously moving. Nothing's going to remain the same. Things are continually changing, and part of our stress is we're trying to keep them from changing."
She told about a professor she had who was shocked to see how stressed Swander was before taking a test. "You already know the material," he told her. "Where's all this anxiety coming from?"
And that, she said, is true for life - you already know the material. "That's a way to embrace transience. You know the material."
Gratitude, Swander said, is an easy concept. It's appreciation, joy, entering into the moment.
While some folks refuse to talk about death, Swander calls it "the very thing we're all walking toward. It's a transience."
Patty Croonquist, of Fort Dodge, said life is a series of transient happenings.
"Life is full of small dyings," she said. "People move away, bodies change, aging takes place. But we should look at the good things - wasn't it wonderful? Whatever happened, we learn from it."
And, Swander said, what's learned could be as simple as the saying "What you think of me is none of my business."
Prebeck nodded, adding, "it's all in the attitude."
Contact Sandy Mickelson at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org