Holiness in our Midst

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.

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.