Holiness in our Midst

Holiness in our Midst: Session 84

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION LXXXIV: ON LIFE-CHANGING SERMONS

Story Circle Prompt: What was the message in a life-changing sermon? Describe your transformation.

Wonder of wonders, I was on the worship team at LaSalle Street Church in downtown Chicago in the mid-Eighties! Sixty members were employed in the arts, many of whom volunteered their design, dance, writing, photography and music skills to enhance our worship services. We painted backdrops, wrote original litanies, choreographed liturgical dance numbers, designed bulletin covers and performed original music. At the same time, I was part of a LaSalle cell group that met every Tuesday evening in homes. It was a heady time to be a churchgoer!
The pastor was Dr. William “Bill” Leslie, a social justice advocate and deep thinker. He was fond of pointing out God’s preferential heart for the poor and often quoted the exact number of times the poor were referenced in the Bible (more than 400, as I remember).

The sermon text the morning that he preached a life-changing sermon was Mark 10:17-27. He reviewed the story of the rich young ruler:
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[a]”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is[b] to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” New International Version (NIV)
Pastor Bill asserted that most of us weren’t rich enough to relate to the story of the rich young ruler, then asked this question: What is the equivalent of great wealth in your life? What is Jesus asking you to give up in order to follow him completely?

The answer for me was” RECOGNITION. The minute Pastor Bill asked this question, it was like the word was written in red letters across the sanctuary in front of me. I had only wanted to be involved in projects or work where I was in a lead role or received credit and accolades. From that moment on, I vowed to listen for the Lord’s guidance each day, regardless of whether the project or assignment was big or small. I began doing tasks for the sake of others’ glory, instead of volunteering only where I was in a lead role. I became satisfied to “go about doing good,” whether it was licking stamps, photocopying reams of paper, making cookies or leading campaigns. That small change made a huge difference. Not only did I learn new skills, I gained appreciation for the richness of authentic team efforts. I would discover that I cannot exist without affirmation, but if no feedback comes to me, I am satisfied that God sees my efforts. That has been enough “recognition” to happily carry on each day.

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:
1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, remember a life-altering sermon. Who was the pastor? Where were you? How was your life changed by the message?

FOR GROUP STUDY:
1. Read aloud Session LXXXIV.
2. Ask each person to answer the Story Circle Prompt.

[View Past Sessions Here]

Note: Holiness in Our MidstSharing 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.

Holiness in our Midst: Session 75

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION LXXV: ON PREPARING YOUR HEART

How are you preparing your heart to receive the Christ Child during Advent this year?

Dr. John Buchanan, pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago from 1985 to 2012, shared this story from a nursery school teacher in the Chicago suburbs. She asked her class if they knew what the season before Christmas was called. One child raised his hand and answered “Advil!”

The season of holy hub-hub, which begins with Black Friday and ends with Christmas services (and/or bargain-hunting), begs us to pause long enough to experience the wonder of Jesus’ birth. For myself, I am adding an exercise this year to my morning devotions from December 1 to December 25, that of writing a thank you note to God each day. No other rules or format, whatever come to mind that day. I hope by doing so I can slow down, so that I may experience the Miracle of Advent rather than the Season of Advil.

Story Circle Question: How will you welcome the Christ Child into your heart this year?

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1.  Read the above reflection. Begin each day from Dec. 1 to Dec. 25 writing a thank you note to God. The content can be from that day or the past month or year. On Christmas Day, review what you have written.

FOR GROUP STUDY:

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

[View Past Sessions Here]

Note: Holiness in Our MidstSharing 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.

Holiness in our Midst: Session 68

 

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION LXVIII: ON HITTING THE ‘PAUSE BUTTON’

In a series of Lenten sermons, my pastor, Mary Jane Button-Harrison from First Christian Church in Ames, IA, explored the subject of personal renewal and growth during these trying times. With her permission, I share one of the questions from a series of “take home” exercises she handed out in a bulletin insert:

How do you renew, hit the “pause button?”

My answer is to take out my trusty yellow legal pad and do some journaling. The entries are functionally letters to God. They serve the purpose of anchoring whatever thoughts are preventing me from focusing on the tasks at hand. The act of writing down my real thoughts and feelings calms me down before I head back into my daily routine. (The “letters” can be divided into four categories: wonderment, gratitude, questionings, and desperate pleas for mercy.)

Pausing with pen in hand is the main way that I pray. I view the events, experiences, and encounters that come my way each day as God’s answers to these written prayers. In that way, my journal/letters are a form of dialogue with God, a constant source of renewal.  Sometimes I wonder: What if Jesus had a pen and paper when He went off by himself for “alone” time? How would His Record read?

STORY CIRCLE PROMPT: How do you hit the “pause button,” renew?

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection.
  2. Write about renewal in your journal, using the Story Circle Prompt. Also, try re-creating Jesus’ journal from His time in the wilderness, or moments away from His disciples, or His last hours on Earth as he waited alone in the Garden.

FOR GROUP STUDY:

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

[View Past Sessions Here]

Note: Holiness in Our MidstSharing 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.

Holiness in our Midst: Session 61

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION LXI: ON COLLECTIONS

What do you collect? Why?

I collect Midwest art, mostly original watercolor paintings of Iowa fields, fences, barns, and windmills. Decorating my home with them is my way of preserving the Forties and Fifties way of life. Setting the mood in my living room are prints of a red one room schoolhouse and a little white church as well as a tapestry of a country home. My small town/rural theme happens to extend out my windows. My bedroom overlooks a field and forest. My office window features the road out of town. The living room view is of a parklike setting with three large trees and a quiet subdivision. My daily surroundings are all of one piece.

To describe some of my artworks:

  • Two paintings by Ankeny, IA artist Pat Hykes depict gas stations from my past. They were done from photographs. One is of the Handsaker gas station on Highway 65 between Colo and Zearing. I’m glad for the visual reminder of the landmark place where we filled up on our way to visit my paternal grandparents down the road Geneva. Only an overgrown stone marker and an abandoned farmhouse are currently on the site. Another painting is of a long-gone gas station/grocery store in Panora. A family friend, Naomi Beal, lived above the store growing up.
  • A panoramic watercolor depicts the rolling Iowa countryside in spring. The rows of corn are just visible in spring, magnifying the contours of the land. It is a study in greens.
  • A Midwest storm is brewing in black and deep blues and purples in another watercolor.
  • My favorite is called “Wash Day in May.” Clothes blowing on the line stretch from a farmhouse to a barn. In the foreground in a lush garden.

Rounding out my décor and colorful calendars and sayings that give me pause, like the plaque over the stove that reads: Gardens and families must be tended daily. My home helps me remember a time when people talked to each other face to face, families gathered for reunions, and churches were the social centers of the community. I can’t turn back time, but my collection reminds me to extend the spirit of civility that was the overlay of a vanishing way of life.

STORY CIRCLE PROMPT: What do you collect and why?

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection.
  2. Write about a special collection. What was your first piece? Do others add to it? What special feelings do your things evoke?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

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

[View Past Sessions Here]

Note: Holiness in Our MidstSharing 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.

Holiness in our Midst: Session 53

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION LIII: ON PICTURING HEAVEN

STORY CIRCLE PROMPT: What would Heaven look like to you?

Heaven for me would need to have all the elements of a warm coffee shop on a frigid morning. I know that now. Last week, I experienced good food, good background music, and good company, all at the same time. At Niland’s Café in Colo, IA, I was savoring a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs (with cheese), hash browns (extra crispy), white toast (golden brown), and heavily-caffeinated coffee (with cream). Oldies were playing on the radio; I was humming along. Something Simon and Garfunkel. In walks a group of local coffee shop “regulars.” I have been an ad hoc member of their group for 25 years. Our topic of the day was about Heaven, about our fervent wish that Wherever We Go After We Die, that there should be a place where we could replicate the togetherness and understanding we have known for hundreds of mornings. When we are together, political differences dissolve. We all love stories about funny dogs and life’s daily ironies. We debrief. We sometimes cry. We laugh a lot. We like it that we are aware of each other’s strengths and interests. Mary says to me, “There would have to be pencils and paper for you.” Yes! I often sit and write after I have finished my paper. I add that I would hope for daily newspapers to read, ones I could hold in my hand. We conclude that, until We Know For Sure, we will just keep enjoying our little Heaven on Earth, with a side of biscuits and gravy.  

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection.
  2. Write about what Heaven would look like to you. Do you have a place that is a slice of “Heaven on Earth?”

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1.   Read aloud Session LIII.  
  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.

Holiness in our Midst: Session 52

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION LII: ON KEEPING CHRISTMAS

STORY CIRCLE PROMPT: How will keep you Christmas alive in the coming year?

This holiday season has already held memories of good times with co-workers, clients, family and friends. My fervent wish is to keep this spirit of peace and goodwill alive in the New Year, especially the upcoming one that holds so much local, national and global turmoil. As I ponder how I will keep Christmas alive, a poem by Howard Thurman comes to mind. He reminds us that after the “song of the angels is stilled…the work of Christmas begins.” He urges us “to find the lost, heal the broken, feed the hungry…and to make music in the heart.” His message invites me to keep advocating for the hunger and homelessness causes in my community. Perhaps, instead of throwing up my hands and speaking of hopelessness, I can identify my circles of influence and vow to always speak positively about those with whom I disagree and to keep on “doing good” in my own neighborhood. How will you keep the holiday spirit alive?

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection.
  2. Write about your plan to “Keep Christmas.”

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1.   Read aloud Session LII.    
  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.

Holiness in Our Midst: Session 50

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION L: HOME PLACES

STORY CIRCLE PROMPT: Where is your “home place?” Is it the house you grew up in? Can you still visit it? What makes it meaningful?

Early last month, October 2016, I would have said that my “home place,” of course, was the house I grew up in. It could be found east of Nevada, IA, by turning north off Lincoln Highway onto Story County Road S27. First you looked for the third farmstead on the east side of the road. Tucked next to a big white home was my place, a small two-story frame house with a brown faux brick exterior and a stone foundation. I always thought of it as a cottage.

I reference past tense because I came across it on Oct. 18 in the middle of a controlled burn. On a random mid-day drive through the countryside, I was stunned to see smoke rising from my childhood home. The next day, I drove by again; the smoldering ruins and what was left of the foundation were being bulldozed and buried. The following day, fresh dirt covered the area. I could see the milk house through the trees. My landmark, my touchstone to my early years, was simply gone. It held memories of birthdays, Christmases, my first day of school, happy hours roaming the barns and fields. To see it was to be instantly connected to my past.

Lately, “my” house had been used for storage, the owners had said the last time I stopped by to walk the farm. I should have read the signs that its life span was limited. The reality is that I’m left pondering new questions about the whereabouts of my “home place?” Is it the farmstead that still surrounds the empty spot? Is it the farm where my grandparents had lived? Where is “home” when the house I grew up in is gone? It seems my new answers will take some time…

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection.
  2. Write about the place that you refer to as your “Home Place.” Is it still standing? What are your most vivid memories of life there? Do you still visit it, or does it only exist in your imagination? Is your “home place” a multitude of locations?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1.   Read aloud Session L.   

      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.

Holiness in our Midst: Session 49

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION XLVIV:ON AUTUMN MEMORIES

STORY CIRCLE PROMPT: Share an autumn memory.

In my early teens, we lived in Urbandale, IA. As a family, we did lots of fun outings. An autumn memory stands out. One September Saturday morning we picked up black walnuts at Walnut Woods State Park in West Des Moines, a wooded bottomland along the Raccoon River. It was holy ground: The family togetherness, the leafy canopies of red, yellow and gold, the chilly weather that made us huddle closer. It was a time before my sisters Jean and Janet went off to college The rest of us (my father, stepmother, brother Jerry, sister Jill, and me) hopscotched from Iowa to Minnesota and on to Colorado by the time I graduated from high school. But that beautiful day, time stood still as we stooped to fill bushel baskets full of black walnuts, some with and others without hulls. Our bright sweaters blended with the colors in the trees. We were a contented bunch, laughing and calling to each other, “Over here. Over here.” On the way home, we stopped at an orchard to buy several boxes of Golden Delicious apples. The distinctive odors of walnuts and apples permeated the car, even though the harvest bounty was in the trunk.

That evening my brother and father sorted the walnuts for drying in the basement. In time, they would take off the hulls and crack the shells. I remember that a vice and a hammer were involved. The rest of us were assigned to pick “the meats” with nut picks, careful to toss any shells. The walnuts were stored in plastic bags in the freezer in the basement (the “deep freeze,” we called it), ready to be added to cakes and cookies.

Later in the season, we reaped the rewards of our outing. Mom made baked apples with walnuts; I don’t remember the exact recipe, but cinnamon, brown sugar, and butter were among the ingredients. My parents made applesauce. During the holidays, Dad made his caramels and fudge, some batches with walnuts, using his mother’s recipes. The apples were kept in boxes in the garage, fair game for snacking anytime throughout the long winter months. Our bounty lasted through the winter and the memories a lifetime.

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection.
  2. Write a journal entry about an autumn memory. Recall where you were, who you were with, and the sights, sounds and aromas of the day. Why does it stand out?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1.   Read aloud Session XLVIV.
  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.

Holiness in our Midst: Session 48

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION XLVIII: ON MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS

STORY CIRCLE PROMPT: What is your favorite musical instrument? Why? What is your favorite song featuring it?

My heartstrings happen to be tuned to guitar strings. A fervent hope is that Heaven’s music is not limited to harps, with all due respect to those fine instruments. If my life were a melody, there would be guitar licks as accompaniment. Different chords transport me instantly back to places where the guitar reigned supreme. Suddenly, I am back in the 1960s listening to Joan Baez sing Bob Dylan’s“Forever Young.” Or I’m sitting around the fire at campsites singing along to “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying.” Or I’m at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, hearing original Midwest musicians sharing their tunes. Or I’m back in Brazil at a restaurant overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the sensuality of Spanish-inspired guitar music completing the experience.

A grace in my life is that my church, First Christian Church Disciples of Christ in Ames, IA, frequently features the guitar rather than piano or organ. My favorite music composed for guitar is Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” When I sing it (with revised, gentler lyrics) to persons with disabilities, they get a celestical light in their eyes. Such is the effect of great guitar music!

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection.
  1.   Write about your favorite musical instrument. What memories do you have of learning to play it or first hearing it? What is your favorite song featuring it?

 

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1.   Read aloud Session XLVIII.   

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.

Holiness in our Midst: Session 45

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION XLV: ON TREES

A tree with meaning to me is a white oak growing near the shelter house and overlooking the lake at McFarland Park in Ames, IA. It honors the memory of fellow Nevada (IA) native Bill Horine, nature writer/photographer and outdoorsman. He passed away in 2014 at the age of 99.

I met Bill in 1994 at a master’s graduation party for his daughter Ruth Book. I asked him:” Do you think you can tell me how to respect the land?”  He said, “Well, I don’t think I can tell you, but I think I can show you.” He showed up in my driveway a week later, asking if I wanted to visit an ailing friend of his, an ash tree. For the next seven years, until I moved out of town, he imparted his wisdom as we drove around the area hunting for the geographical center of Iowa or visiting local parks.  He loved to point out eagles. He felt that I “needed” to see a half million birds at the same time and arranged for me to travel with his family to Desoto National Refuge near Missouri Valley. At 5 a.m., we crouched silently along the water’s edge and gazed in awe of the geese landing at sunrise. “We are only guests here on earth,” he was fond of saying.

Once I asked how I could thank him for all that he “showed” me. He said, “That’s easy. Plant a tree and think of me.” Remembering these words, his family and I planted the tree last year just in time to mark the first anniversary of his death (which, coincidentally, was on Thanksgiving Day!) A living legacy to a person who was mentor to many! This spring a rock will be placed next to the tree commemorating his life and work as an “Outdoor Photographer, Writer, Storyteller, and Conservationist…Inspiring generations to enjoy, value and care for the outdoors.”

STORY CIRCLE PROMPT: Share about a tree that has meaning for you.

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection.
  1.   Write about a tree that has meaning for you. Where is it? When and why was it planted? How are you connected to it? Do you visit it?

 

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1.   Read aloud Session XLV.   
  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.