Holiness in our Midst

Holiness in our Midst: Session 98

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION XCVIII: ON “SNOW DAYS”

Story Circle Prompt: Share about a special “snow day,” a day when an unexpected event (perhaps an actual snowstorm) interrupted your routine. Where were you? What did you do with this gift of time?

I was reminded of the wonder of “snow days” on a recent morning in late October. The light dusting of snow on treetops and grassy areas was not enough to keep me home all day, like those blessed blizzards in elementary school that signaled time away from school. But the unexpected sight of a world turned white recalled the freedom of unplanned hours away from routines. Because this snow was accompanied by a dangerous coating of ice on the sidewalks and parking lot, I did enjoy a “snow morning” while everything melted. 

During that morning’s reflection time, my thoughts kept turning back to “snow days.” First, I remembered actual snowstorms, ones that miraculously granted me time to complete junior high English papers or study a bit more for tests. Then I remembered times when, out of nowhere, I had a whole day away from my routine. “Found time,” my friend Tammy calls such experiences. My most dramatic “snow day” memory came floating back. I was on a layover in Thailand in February 2004: 

I had traveled in Vietnam nonstop for a week in my role as coordinator for mission connections for the Church of the Brethren denomination. Finally, I was on my way back to Elgin, Il. I had spent the night on the outskirts of Bangkok and gotten up in the wee hours. But I was not early enough, as it turned out, to catch a catch a 6 a.m. flight back to Chicago O’Hare. Why? Perhaps I misjudged the amount of time to go through the line; the hotel, after all, was connected to the airport. Perhaps I was still trying to comprehend the contrasts I had witnessed in Vietnam: the exquisitely beautiful sights with the horror of war museums. Perhaps I had not factored in time changes.

Nevertheless, there I was at the ticket counter, hearing that I could not rebook until the next day. I had checked out of my hotel, suitcase in hand. What to do next? Fortunately, a well-travelled American couple saw my plight and took me under their wing. Within minutes, I rode with them to downtown Bangkok, checked into the cheaper hotel where they were staying and planned my day. I chose “River Ride” over “Temples and Shopping” and other, less savory, guided tour options. In no uncertain terms, my travelling companions had asked the hotel desk clerk to make sure I was not ripped off by the tour operators ready to show me the city sights.

My “snow day” included several hours cruising the Chao Phraya River in a longtail boat with my own boat driver. (He stopped whenever I declared a “photo emergency,” a picture I wanted to take!) Alongside other river craft, we glided through floating markets, with goods delivered to boats via pulley systems; the boats did not even have to dock. Along the shore were temples and pagodas, all landscaped with tropical flowers. The rhythm of the waves and the everyday sounds of life on the water quieted my heart. Back on shore, lunch was traditional Thai street food. I rested in the afternoon and ate a wonderfully seasoned pasta dish and a decadent dessert in the hotel restaurant for my late dinner. The next morning I was ready to resume my breakneck pace and deadline schedule with a better sense of balance from a perfect day away under the Southeast Asian sun.

 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, recall a “snow day” or “found day,” where you ventured outside your usual routines. Where were you? What did you do differently? What did you learn?

 

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1.   Read aloud Session XCVIII.
  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 97

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION XCVII: ON THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

Story Circle Prompt: Reflect on one of the Ten Commandments and its meaning in your life.

One Sunday morning several years ago, my pastor, Rev. Mary Jane Button-Harrison of First Christian Church in Ames, engaged the congregation in a spirited dialogue about our “favorite” and “least favorite” of the Ten Commandments. The answers were wide-ranging and revealing, sometimes humorous. In one exchange, I silent agreed with several persons that my favorite was the Sixth Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” because, as they said, they could keep this one. At least, they hadn’t shot any one…

Just then, Don Withers, a fellow parishioner, spoke up from his seat in the choir and said that he used to think this way too, until he realized the impact of the “little murders” we commit each day. It was a sermon in a sentence. He named some of the ways we “kill off” the spirits and self-confidence of each other. It was an eye-opening moment.

In researching the origin of phrase “little murders,” I found this exchange, illustrating how the concept can be lived out. It references the movie “Little Murders,” a 1971 black comedy film by Jules Feiffer. The interview, “Oprah Talks to Maya Angelou,” was in the December 2000 issue of The Oprah Magazine:

Oprah: Earlier you were telling me that your life is defined by principles. And one principle you have taught me is that we can’t allow ourselves to be “pecked to death by ducks.”

Maya: That’s true. Some people don’t have the nerve to just reach up and grab your throat, so they just take….

Oprah: Little pieces of you—with their rude comments…They try to demean you.

Maya: Reduce your humanity through what Jules Feiffer called little murders. The minute I hear [someone trying to demean me], I know that that person means to have my life. And I will not give it to them.

Oprah: It’s an assassination attempt by a coward.

Maya: Yes. Some people don’t have the courage to just walk up to you and pull the trigger. If somebody just walked up and said “Boom!”—well, there you go. Bye. But when a person commits these little murders, and then you catch him or her at it, he or she might say, “Oh, I didn’t mean it.” But make no mistake: It is an assassination attempt.

Oprah: What about when a person makes a mistake and says, “I need a second chance?” Do you give them a second chance?

Maya: Well, I have to say yes.

Oprah: But when people show you who they are, believe them!… Because you see rudeness as a little murder.

Maya: Yes.

Oprah: And you also don’t allow anybody to say anything negative about anybody while in your home.

Maya: That’s right.

Oprah: I’ve seen you put people out of your house for telling a racist joke! And you are not the least bit embarrassed about disrupting the whole room.

Maya: I believe that a negative statement is poison…I’m convinced that the negative has power. It lives. And if you allow it to perch in your house, in your mind, in your life, it can take you over. So when the rude or cruel thing is said—the lambasting, the gay bashing, the hate—I say, “Take it all out of my house!” Those negative words climb into the woodwork and into the furniture, and the next thing you know they’ll be on my skin.

Oprah: The same is true with the positive spirit.

Maya: I believe so.

Since I was introduced to the idea of “little murders,” whenever I am tempted to talk down to, gossip about, raise my voice at, blatantly ignore, demean, exclude, put down, or otherwise dismiss another as “the other,” I am conscious of my actions having potential to do grave harm. There are laws with penalties against the killing of physical bodies, but there are also spiritual consequences we do not see for the “little murders” we commit in our daily life. Thanks to Don, the Sixth Commandment now has the most meaning of all the Ten Commandments; it is a useful guide in these Days of Great Divides. 

 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, write a reflection on one of the Ten Commandments. Which one would you choose? Why? 

 

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1.   Read aloud Session XCVII.
  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 96

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION XCVI: ON WALKING PATHS

Story Circle Prompt: Share about your most memorable daily walking path? Is it your current one or one from the past? What makes it come to mind?

In this Time of Covid, I walk. More than I have in recent months and years. My daily walking path is a pretty, tree-lined residential street. It serves its purpose well. Its seasonal flowers, blooming bushes and old growth trees soften the impact of things on my mind: politics, the pandemic and racial unrest. (I must mention that this street, Shagbark Drive by name, has somewhat fewer trees than a month ago. The tree-trimming derecho swept through my town of Nevada.) 

But, in thinking about my most memorable daily walking path, I travel back in time to my 14 years in downtown Chicago. I would begin my trek at my apartment building at State and Elm Street in the Near North area, a block from Lake Michigan. I headed east toward the lake to Michigan Avenue. On Sundays, I would go south a few blocks to the Magnificent Mile, destination Fourth Presbyterian Church, directly across from the John Hancock Tower (now known as 875 Michigan Avenue). On weekdays, I would go north, past the palatial residences with stunning lake views. Traversing this stretch, I would often feel underdressed by humans, yes, but also by poodles in little sailor suits and babies who appeared to have their own couturiers.

Twelve blocks later, I would reach lovely-in-every-season Lincoln Park. Meandering through this spacious landscaped public treasure, my cares would disappear. I walked, taking care for bicyclists, until I was ready to cross the lagoon and head for the shore. Sometimes I would detour and walk the length of Navy Pier (pre- Ferris wheel) before I strolled along the lakefront to Oak Street beach, where I took the tunnel that connected to the street that took me back home.

I have never listened to real music while I walk, now or then. But most every walk in Chicago was accompanied by what I call the “music of the moment,” the current words in my head: song lyrics, lines of poetry or quotations. 

Examples: 

After I heard Don McLean sing “Bye, Bye Miss American Pie” one summer night on Navy Pier, I often sang it out loud it when I revisited the scene:

A long long time ago
I can still remember how
That music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while…

The year that I turned 30, several times during October, I walked in rhythm to “Poem in October” by Dylan Thomas:

It was my thirtieth year to heaven 

Woke my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
   And the mussel pooled and the heron
           Priested shore
       The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall
       Myself to set foot
           That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth…

One quotation I would ponder on my walks was the inscription on a plaque near the entrance to Fourth Presbyterian Church: “The Master is here and calleth for Thee.” I would wonder on my initial walks: Could that be true? Is God real? Over time, my experiences at my church were as advertised. Come to think about it, as I grew in faith, I would find that same Master calling for me, accompanying me, on my walks in my latter years in Chicago. Since then, too.

 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, answer the question: Remember in words your favorite daily walking path. If it your present one, describe what you experienced on a recent walk. Did you encounter God on your walk? How did God speak to you?

 

  1. FOR GROUP STUDY:
  1.   Read aloud Session XCVI.
  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 95

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION XCV: ON MIRACLES

Story Circle Prompt: When did God resolve an issue or make “a way” in the wilderness for you? Remember the circumstances of that miracle…
This question about miracles has origins in a story…

One morning in early April of 2002, I was awakened suddenly in a guest house on the outskirts of Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria. The day before, our traveling group had experienced one of the city’s famous “worst traffic jams in the world.” Yes, I was glad to be alive, but also dead tired when I went to bed that night. I was accompanying then Church of the Brethren Annual Conference Moderator Paul Grout and his wife Dorothy as they bore witness to denominational mission sites. I remember three things about that morning: 1) I woke up to giggling children peeking around the curtains in my open-air windows, a whole neighborhood of them greeting me warmly. Quite a surprise! 2) The shower was very, very makeshift. 3) Most memorable, though, was a plaque on the wall that read, simply: He will make a way where there is no way.

The sign recalled Isaiah 43:18-20:

18 “Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
20 The wild animals honor me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen… (New International Version)

Every day on that trip, we witnessed our way being smoothed through small miracles. Since then, whenever I have encountered seemingly dead end situations, I have asked God to make a way.

To the question of a personal miracle:

As many around me are losing their jobs, I remember back to September of 2009. My position as coordinator of mission connections for the denomination in Elgin, IL had been eliminated in February of that year. Even with the aid of a headhunter, neither local positions nor similar ones with other denominations or agencies were available to me. Other denominational and ecumenical colleagues were in similar circumstances in the Great Recession. My online search for jobs back in Iowa came up empty. (I had expected to stay in Illinois.) That month I had exhausted my financial resources. My weekly Centering Prayer group surrounded me with love, prayers, and song— even providing food and essentials when I did not know where to turn. They kept hope alive and prayed for God’s will, even laying hands on me, as I sought my next place in the world. Together we trusted through tears (theirs and mine) that God would make a way.

My miracle came on the morning of Sept. 10 with an audible insistent voice saying, “Call Martha…now!” Martha Kash and her husband Norb owned a bed-and-breakfast in Colo, IA; I had over-wintered at their place during a previous season of transition. Martha answered immediately when I called. I explained my desperate plight. She said: “Oh, we’re getting ready to go Arizona for the winter. Why don’t you move back to Iowa and house sit till April? That would solve a lot of problems for us!” She said she had to go and get ready for Garden Club that morning. “Just call back this afternoon and let us know when you will be here.” The rest is history.

Caring for their home came with so much that I needed for a clean transition:

A showcase farmstead, a photographer’s dream, with plenty of time to heal and space to entertain.
A sunroom, which they designed after a visit to a Frank Lloyd Wright home, that overlooked perennial gardens in the distance and bird feeders placed mere feet from the windows.
No rent or utility payments for five months.
Phone and internet access.
A garage and access to their car.
Free food: A full refrigerator, freezer, kitchen cupboard, snack drawer and basement pantry (including home-canned jams, jellies, pickles, garden vegetables and fruits).
Free storage space, in their barn and spare rooms.
Access to this fine couple’s neighbors and community connections.
Birthday flowers and frequent calls and notes of encouragement.

Folks from my church community in Illinois moved my belongings to Colo. “We have a “ministry of moving,” they said. Within days of arriving in Colo, I got my previous job back working in a residential care facility with profoundly disabled adults. In short, loving friends helped me leave my old place well. New ones invited me to join their church and re-establish district connections that continue to this day. Through a single phone call, miraculous in its timing, He provided a way where there was no way.

 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:
Read the above reflection. In your journal, answer the question: When did you experience a miracle? Describe the events surrounding it.

FOR GROUP STUDY:
1. Read aloud Session XCV.
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 94

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION XCIV: ON LETTING GO

Story Circle Prompt: What may you need to let go of to grow holistically? 

This question is one of several suggested for reflection as part of the Compelling Vision process, a time of intentional discernment happening on congregational, district and denominational levels in the Church of the Brethren. The guiding statement for the process reads, in part: “Join us in reclaiming a new passion for Christ and helping set a course for our future as the Church of the Brethren serving Him in our communities and in the world!” The goal for the process, according to the Vision Statement, is to “…develop a culture of calling and equipping disciples who are innovative, adaptable, and fearless.” The denomination is calling us to a new level of holistic peace and inclusivity. 

Before adding my voice to the larger Compelling Vision conversation at institutional levels, I am exploring the “letting go of” question on a personal level. In the enforced quiet of the Covid-19 crisis, the crying need for a more just world plays out on the daily news. I want to respond to the times, but only after a period of personal discernment. 

What do I need to let go of to be an effective disciple in the coming world? My list so far:

  • I need to let go of fear, so I have more room for faith.
  • I need to let go of idealizing the past, so I can embrace the imperfect present.
  • I need to let go of my passive contentment with my privileged status, so I can act on my holy discontent about inequalities locally and nationally.
  • I need to let go of demonizing (however subtly) persons who think differently from me, so I can welcome all as brothers and sisters in Christ.

What stands between you and deeper commitment? What patterns do you need to shed?

 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, answer the question: What may you need to let go of to grow holistically as a renewed passionate disciple of Christ? What may we need to let go of as a district to be more innovative, adaptable, and fearless? What may we need to let go of as a denomination to better serve our communities?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

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

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1.   Read aloud Session XCIII.
  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 93

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION XCIII: ON ‘ABSENT PARTICIPANTS’

Story Circle Prompt: Who is an ‘absent participant’ in your life right now?

First, the story behind this turn of phrase:

In my scrapbook (I call it my “Life Book”), is a write-up of my baby shower from the Nevada (IA) Journal. The headline reads: Pink Shower Courtesy for Janis Ellen Pyle. The event was held on the farm I grew up on, and hosted by our landlady, Innie Handsaker. The article goes into astonishing detail, like the favors being little dolls in cradle nut cups. The entertainment was baby contests, with winners named. I also learned the pink color scheme was carried out in the refreshments. This, too: “The gifts were wheeled in by the aunt Martha Wise, R.N., from Des Moines, dressed in uniform. The antique baby buggy, about 60 yeas old, was wrapped in pink tissue paper…” Of course, all 27 persons present were listed. 

And there is more! The article also listed the “absent participants,” those who were there “in spirit,” those who were invited and really, really wanted to be there, I presume, but who weren’t able to make it that day. “The buggy displayed many nice gifts for Baby Janis,” the article asserts, but the lasting gift from my baby shower has been the concept of “absent participants.” 

Through the years, when I have felt lonely or confused, I have tried to name the “absent participants” for that time and place. For example, my mother, who died of cancer when I was seven, was an “absent participant” while I faced the disease. I felt her comfort and spirit with me.

During this time of Covid, I draw upon the strength of my late maternal grandmother Bessie Albright (who was present at my baby shower!). She is an “absent participant,” not only because she herself survived the 1918 flu, but because she carried on so faithfully and thoughtfully through many life trials. She would be with me today, if she only could! Her example of hope and perseverance reminds me to live balanced days. On rainy days, she would say: “Today we have to make our own sunshine.”  In this time of uncertainty, she is with me in Spirit!

Who is an “absent participant” in your life?

 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, write about an “absent participant,” whose presence or memory was helpful in an uncertain or painful situation, even though the person was not physically present. 

 

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1.   Read aloud Session XCIII.
  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 92

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION XCII: ON COMMUNION

Story Circle Prompt: Recall a memorable Communion service.

The Coronavirus has so upended my daily life that there is a clear dividing line (MSNBC Anchor Brian Williams calls it “a fence”) between life before the virus and life thereafter. Hence, I have a pre-virus answer in recalling a memorable Communion service and an after-virus one.

My B.V. (Before the Virus) answer might be titled The Milk of Human Kindness. It was a Sunday morning at LaSalle Street Church in downtown Chicago in the mid-Eighties. The church staff, known for living out its social justice mission, frequently invited national leaders. That morning, Pastor Bill Leslie had just introduced our guest, Christian author Walt Wangerin, one of my favorite storytellers. Suddenly, the door to the sanctuary opened and a disheveled woman carrying a brown paper shopping bag came down the center aisle, headed straight for the altar and placed a carton of milk next to the bread and “wine” (grape juice) set out for Communion. I was sitting on a pew next to the pulpit, having led a litany based on one of his stories. Being on the worship committee there had its perks: I had an unimpeded view of the congregants, who were looking around wildly and wondering how our speaker would handle the unusual situation. Rev. Wangerin, without missing a beat, lovingly welcomed the woman and wove the phrase, “the milk of human kindness and compassion,” into his talk several times. When Dr. Leslie blessed the elements for Communion that day, he also lifted the carton of milk to be blessed by God. During that Holy Communion, we all felt the barriers broken down between race, class and creed.   

My A.V. (After the Virus) answer might be titled Zoom Room Communion. First Christian Church in Ames began meeting through Zoom technology on March 15. In one of the first Zoom Room worship services, Pastor Mary Jane Button-Harrison reminded us about securing Communion elements. I grabbed Diet Cherry 7-Up and Anderson Erickson Raspberry Yogurt from my refrigerator before the formal service began. I was “prepared” for Communion, but not for the strong connections I felt as we shared “the bread and the cup” together. During that Communion, former Pastor David Digby wrote these words in the online Chat Room:

Communion in Covid, 

O’er the Waves of the Web, 

Unhindered by Space or Wall

Community in Christ, 

Celebrate we All. 

(Used by permission)

In announcing the first online service, Pastor Mary Jane wrote: “Let’s think of (utilizing technology) as an adventure in faith. We’ll all learn something in the process.” What I have learned from gathering online is the visceral realization that our church is not the building. Our church is our unshakeable bonds solidified through ongoing community service, companionable friendship and deep faith.

 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, recall a communion service. What made it memorable? 

 

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1.   Read aloud Session XCII.
  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 90

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION XC: ON SMALL GROUPS

Story Circle Prompt: What small groups energize or enhance your current life?

Because this question comes to me as I’m taking inventory of my life, something I do every Ash Wednesday, it takes on more seriousness. Today happens to be the first day of Lent, Feb. 26, 2020. This year, as a Lenten focus, it seems a worthwhile endeavor to prayerfully name and reflect on the groups that enrich my life. 

First, I note that Jesus himself was an aficionado of small groups: calling together disciples; dining frequently with Mary, Martha and Lazarus; and hanging out with raucous and fun-loving bands of outcastes. Thus, the holy significance of small groups is reinforced in my mind.

Next, I pause to review my first experience with small groups. Circles of belonging have enriched and informed my days, ever since I was part of a cell group at LaSalle Street Church in downtown Chicago in the early Eighties. Several of us met every Tuesday evening for over three years. There I began a life-long friendship with my friend Linda. She and I have checked in with each other every Ash Wednesday for more than 30 years. (In fact, I contacted her this morning…) I remember other life-enhancing small groups, including hunger and housing coalitions and collaborations, spiritual growth gatherings and Sunday school classes, and college and special interest courses.

Today, I am energized and fed by less formal but still valuable small groups:

 

  • My work team is a source of quiet emotional support in a physically demanding environment. I am a culinary server at an assisted living center several evenings a week.
  • Beginning many mornings by reading my newspapers, eating my breakfast special, and conversing with the waitresses and the other patrons makes me a regular at Niland’s Café in Colo, IA.
  • I help create events as a co-leader of the Women’s Gathering at First Christian Church in Ames, IA.
  • A collaboration of faith groups bands together to provide emergency food, rent, and gas to those in need. I am on the Board of Directors of this non-profit called Good Neighbor in Ames.
  • As many Saturday mornings as possible, I am part of the neighborly Cambridge Coffee Club at the Cambridge (IA) Public Library. Community members of all political stripes gather to share about the books we’ve been reading. Like a book-centered adult show and tell!

 

In the naming, I realize I often take for granted these sweet sources of support and my circle of significant friends/family who also soften the bumps and bruises of everyday living. Instead of eating more leafy vegetables or consuming less chocolate this Lenten season, I believe I’ll concentrate on strengthening these ties the next 40 days. I think Jesus would be pleased. 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, explore the following: Remember a small group that enhanced your life. When were you involved? How did it energize you? Is it ongoing? 

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1.   Read aloud Session XC.
  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 89

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION LXXXIX: ON STEWARDSHIP

Story Circle Prompt: Who or what influenced your understanding of stewardship? How?

I can pinpoint the exact moment in my stewardship formation that I understood my Creator to be one of abundance rather than scarcity. The catalyst was a profound prayer about “enough-ness.” 

The scene was the dining area at the headquarters of the Church of the Brethren in Elgin, IL. (I was coordinator for mission connections for the denomination from 2001 to 2009.) The room looked out on a lovely courtyard filled with trees. A peace pole, with the words Peace on Earth printed on it in many languages, was visible just outside the wall of windows. A colleague, Ken Neher, director of stewardship and donor development, was asked to say the table grace.

Ken said: “Lord, it would have been enough if you had just given us bread…but you provided us with a banquet.” (A world-class caterer often prepared our meals.)

He continued: “It would have been enough if you had given us a cloudy day…but you provided us with blue skies and bountiful sunshine.”

In his prayer, he was also thankful for the special group gathered there to do the Lord’s work and expressed gratitude for the many other unique aspects of that moment. 

I had been familiar with the Passover song, the Dayenu (“It would have been enough.”) It is about being grateful to God for all the gifts given to the Jewish people: like taking them out of slavery, giving them the Torah and building the Temple, etc. If God gave only one of the gifts, it would have been enough.

But during Ken’s prayer, I realized that I had seldom paused to be grateful for my small daily bonus blessings, so abundantly given. Since then, I have appropriated his prayer pattern many times. As examples, I have prayed:

  • Lord, it would have been enough if I had gone into remission…but you cured me of cancer.
  • Lord, it would have been enough if you had just given me a job…but you gave me one that utilizes my strongest gifts.
  • It would have been enough if you had given me one good friend, but you have given me numbers of them, each encouraging growth in a different aspect of life.

Ordinary days are now infused with wonder, shot with grace when I prayerfully acknowledge that I am often given more than I ask.

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, explore the following: Trace the history of your understanding of stewardship.

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1.   Read aloud Session LXXXIX.
  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 86

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION LXXXVI: ON ‘SHOW AND TELL’

Story Circle Prompt: What would you bring to “Show and Tell” today? 

Sydni, the activities director at the assisted living center where I work, recently revived a kindergarten staple. She added “Show and Tell” to her schedule of events, much to the delight of the residents. Among the items shown, she said, were a 15-foot snakeskin; a birdhouse made of wood from an old building; an alligator head; a pin from Ireland; and a digital photo frame. Things created by the residents included a poem, painted home-grown gourds; and a rosemaling board. 

The excitement of the residents sharing their special items prompts me to consider what I would “Show and Tell” today. The item that comes to mind is a lapel pin given to me by my friend Tammy. It is about 1-1/2 inches square. The word hope is written in script on a sky-blue background; a pink butterfly rests on top of the word. I wore the pin the last two years during cancer treatments. Hope—in the form of friends and family; gifts large and small; and advanced medical science—saw me through 15 invasive diagnostic tests, 12 weeks of chemo, a major surgery, three outpatient procedures, 25 days straight days of radiation, two hospitalizations for side effects from chemo, and one hospitalization for radiation burns. And, did I mention, four blood transfusions? Thanks to that hope, I am currently diagnosed as N.E.D. (No Evidence of Disease.) I still wear my “hope pin” whenever I am facing an unresolved issue or unanswered question. Wearing it serves as a reminder that hope can win the day, no matter how dark the future looms.

 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, answer the question: What would you share at “Show and Tell” today? What is the story behind your offering?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1.   Read aloud Session LXXXVI.
  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.