Holiness in our Midst: Session 43

Holiness in our Midst


Do you have a favorite piece of art? On the surface, mine is nothing that would be hung in the Louvre. It is a simple print of a cute grey kitten poking its head out of an enamel coffeepot. Blue background, rustic Western setting, barn board framing. But there is a story and a powerful message behind “The Cat in the Coffeepot”; I recall both each time I view it.

On a weekday evening in the late Seventies, I was having supper at Bon Ton, a Hungarian restaurant at State and Elm in downtown Chicago, with my good friend Ann-Helen Anderson. I even remember what I was eating. She did not talk shop, although we both worked at The Quaker Oats Company and co-led a weekly noon hour Bible study. She was worn out from spending every spare hour caring for her aging mother and having no life of her own. And she needed to vent. I had finished my shish kabobs on lemon parsley rice and was starting on my dessert of French pastries, and she was still speaking of her mother as a burden. I turned to her with sudden inspiration and said: Have you ever thought of being grateful that you have a mother? (She knew the story of mother dying when I was seven.) She grew quiet…and began brainstorming ways she could make her mother’s last days one of grace and beauty…

Fast forward ten years. Ann-Helen and I had lost touch. She was leaving Chicago to spend a year on a mission assignment in Alaska. Her mother has passed away and she was selling and giving away a lifetime of accumulations. Would I like to choose an item? I look at thousands of items and my eye fell on “The Cat in the Coffeepot.” Ann-Helen told me that it rightfully belonged to me. The picture was a gift from her mother to thank her for all of their quality time together: drinking morning coffee, traveling together, telling stories. Ann-Helen said she had gone home from our supper and began showing daily gratitude and loving care for her mother in every possible way until she passed away.

The picture traveled with me in 1988 when I moved back to our family farm in Iowa to care for my aging grandmother Bessie and my grandparents’ lifelong companion Sadie. I put it away in a closet.

After a year of missing Chicago and growing tired and weary of living a life removed from the beat of downtown Chicago, I was just going through the motions of being present to my family. The day came when caregiving was becoming too much of a burden for me; I was more than ready to resume my exciting free-wheeling life. I did my duties, but without a joyful presence. One day, when I was secretly beginning to pack my things, I came across “The Cat in the Coffeepot.” A thought, almost like a voice, came into my head: Have you ever thought of being grateful that you have a grandmother?” Ann-Helen’s story had become my story. I renewed my efforts at small daily kindnesses and stayed the caregiving course for both my grandmother and her companion.

Now, whenever I see this piece of art, I am reminded to be very attentive to my words and actions in the company of others (and to the devastating effects of the deliberate absence of kind words and actions), because they may have profound unseen consequences down through the years.

AFTERWORD: As I was writing this, I was doing laundry in my apartment building. My neighbor’s clothes were in the dryer when mine were finished. I went ahead and folded them. Just received a note:

“Thank you for folding our clothes! That’s an unexpected kindness. Have a good weekend!”

        #10 Debra

STORY CIRCLE PROMPT: What is your favorite piece of art? Is there a story behind it?


  1. Read the above reflection.
  1.   Consider writing in your journal on the following topic: What piece of art that I created holds special meaning?


  1.   Read aloud Session XLIII.   
  2.   Ask each person to answer the Story Circle Prompt.

[View Past Sessions Here]

Note: Holiness in Our Midst: Sharing Our Stories to Encourage and Heal is a monthly on-line feature created by Janis Pyle to facilitate sharing of our personal experiences, thoughts, beliefs, and spiritual practices with one another, especially through stories. Barriers are broken down when we begin to see all persons, even those with whom we disagree ideologically, as sacred and constantly attended to by a loving Creator. Each column is accompanied by a “story circle” prompt and study guides for personal and group reflection. To share your stories, contact Hannah Button-Harrison at communications@nplains.org. Janis Pyle can be reached at janispyle@yahoo.com.

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