Holiness in our Midst

Holiness in our Midst: Session 102

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CII: ON FOOTPRINTS II

Where have you figuratively left your footprint(s), that is, made your mark on the world?

Last month we explored leaving footprints and the stories along the way. (Story Circle Prompt: Where have you literally left footprints? A story or two from your travels?) For the personal/journal reflection, I advanced the following exercise: “On a map of the United States or world, first mark with an x all the places you have lived. Then draw footprints between those places, connecting them in chronological order. Then draw dotted lines from each of the places you have lived to the places where you visited or vacationed. Reflect about the exercise in your journal: Where were the turning points in your life? Who influenced those changes? What continuities do you see in your life journey? What changes would you like to make?”

First, I drew my map and answered the questions toward naming what I have already done. I saw that I come alive when I am sharing stories, taking photos, interpreting mission work, planning community events, furthering hunger and homelessness causes and giving direct care in residential settings. Now this overall life review has proved helpful in discerning a direction for the final phase of my life. Where can I build on these interests? Should I commit to further schooling? What activities complete what I have begun?

Even as I have been actively engaged in life-planning, I have become deeply aware that, ultimately, my influence will be determined by others. This week a conversation reminded me that, consciously or not, I was already leaving a spiritual legacy every day. I was at work in the kitchen of the assisted living center where I work. I told a young co-worker that I read in the paper that one of our residents who had been in hospice had passed away. She teared up and we agreed that this person was very dear to us. Then, she turned to me suddenly and said, “Don’t die! Please don’t die! I don’t think I could handle it!” I assured her that, though I would pass away sometime, I wasn’t planning on it anytime soon. I realized that all of us are leaving our mark every day, wherever we are. Others count on us, sometimes more than we are aware. 

On that day, a quote attributed to Maya Angelou, came to mind (and remains as I do planning): “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” 

 

 FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. How have you made your mark on your daily rounds? Try living a whole day being conscious of how you make others feel. Is there a difference in how you treat those you would choose to have along your path and those you wouldn’t? Write about your experiences. 

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1.   Read aloud Session CII.
  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 101

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CI: ON FOOTPRINTS – I

 

Story Circle Prompt: Where have you literally left footprints? A story or two from your travels?

The subject of footprints entered my contemplative consciousness in January 2021, right after a heavy snowstorm. I was in Covid hibernation, with time on my hands. Looking out the window at the park-like front lawn of my apartment complex, a line of children’s footprints etched in the snow caught my attention. A question emerged: Where have I left footprints?

I began to trace my steps by sketching a map of the world, marking my homes, then connecting the places in chronological order with little footprints. I was astonished that the places I had lived and traveled encompassed 34 states and 5 continents. (If you are interested, the exercise is explained below under “For Personal/Journal Reflection.”) 

As I re-lived my adventures, two stories about footprints came back:

  • In January of 2002, I was on a Faith Expedition near Yei in southern Sudan (now South Sudan) in my role as coordinator for mission connections for the Church of the Brethren.  We were welcomed with songs of joy! Our delegation, we were told, was the first one from North America to visit the compound. This fact impressed me. In a free moment, I even walked around the perimeter of the site and tromped around, so I would further be the only North American who stepped foot on that very piece of ground. We were there to deliver kits that U.S. congregations had created, based on what Sudanese leaders said were their greatest needs: Salt, Soap and Towels. The village gathered in solemn ceremony to receive these gifts. I watched in awe as the leaders, in triage fashion, distributed the precious items. The towels went to elderly women to use as blankets and to mothers for wrapping their babies. I might have left my footprints on the place, but it left a more lasting imprint on me. Whenever I wake up cold in the night, I remember that there are those who graciously give to those who have greater need, even if they themselves must suffer the night chill of the grasslands.

 

 

  • In February of 2004, I was in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Vietnam, to report about the ministry of Grace Mishler. She was a professor on the Faculty of Social Work at Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities. She was my guide on a week-long tour through the Mekong Delta Region sharing her projects which promoted social awareness of persons with disabilities. On a day when we weren’t traveling, Grace arranged for a student to give me a walking tour of Ho Chi Minh City. This lovely young woman took me to exquisitely beautiful open-air markets, fancy restaurants, luxurious high-end department stores and shops where fine artworks were created by artisans in back rooms. She even took me to places of worship. At one point, she stopped at a Buddhist statue and bowed, saying, “This is where my God lives.” Then she took me to a Catholic cathedral and said, “This is where your God lives.” She also said, “Please, can we be friends even though we have different Gods?” “Yes,” I said. Later that evening, my guide gave me a thoughtful gift to seal the friendship. It was a map of the city, with our itinerary highlighted in yellow marker. I have a record of the day when our footprints were side by side! 

 

Next Month’s Story Circle Prompt: Where have you figurately left your footprint(s), that is, made your mark on the world?

 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. On a map of the United States or world, first mark with an x all the places you have lived. Then draw footprints between those places, connecting them in chronological order. Then draw dotted lines from each of the places you have lived to the places where you visited or vacationed. Reflect about the exercise in your journal: Where were the turning points in your life? Who influenced those changes? What continuities do you see in your life journey? What changes would you like to make?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1.   Read aloud Session CI.
  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 100

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION C: ON OPEN SPACES

1: Story Circle Prompt: Do you have an open space or prairie you visit for renewal? Where is it? What does it mean to you?

2: Going deeper: What New Year’s Resolution can you make for the coming year related to climate action? 

Even as the Covid pandemic has forced us to stay at home more, it has also propelled us to intentionally seek get-away places where we can rediscover nature. Friends, near and far, their Christmas letters affirm, have been exploring the “open spaces” of state and national parks and local nature preserves. 

As an example, my former colleague, Howard Royer, and his wife Gene from Elgin, IL, wrote this about their “discombobulating” year: “…we attest to alternate measures of enrichment and joy. One is a deepening appreciation of nature, of sunsets and moon rises, of tending growing things in yard and garden. Of achieving a longtime goal of summer outings, 30 in all, to surrounding forest preserves and parks, most within a half hour of home.” 

My friends, retired librarians David and Mary Gregory, wrote on their Christmas card: “…we took great delight in visiting as many of Iowa’s state parks as we could, hiking around lakes and along rivers, and enjoying quiet picnic lunches in all kind of weather, right into December. What a joy to discover all this natural beauty, within a day’s drive of Ames. So far, we have visited 42 of Iowa 64 state parks, and learned, incidentally, that this is the 100th anniversary of the founding of Iowa’s state park system.”

My “open space” is on the north side of Ames, IA. Ada Hayden Heritage Park is a 430-acre local treasure named for the first woman to earn a doctorate from Iowa State. It features hiking trails, two lakes for fishing and boating, scenic overlooks, picnic areas and seasonal gardens. Where better to maintain social distance, breathe in fresh air and behold pristine prairie land!

Tying my New Year’s Resolution with preservation of my favorite outdoor spot, I plan to become a member of Friends of Ada Hayden Heritage Park this year. I want to undergird this organization’s mission to expand “public awareness, educational programs and research efforts” connected to the park. How can you support the spaces and places that sustain you in these times?

 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, explore how you can better care for creation this year. As a starting point, reflect on this quote by Aldo Leopold (highlighted in David and Mary Gregory’s Christmas card): “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” 

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1. Read aloud Session C. 
  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 99

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION XCIX: ON CHRISTMAS TOYS

Share about a memorable Christmas toy or game you found under the tree. 

Is there a Christmas present you remember even now? 

Mine was a shiny saucer snow sled made of aluminum or steel, given to me when I was 9. Its debut was on the steep and slippery slopes of the Wakonda Club, a golf course just off Fleur Drive in Des Moines. The park-like grounds of the private club were opened to the public for sledding. I hung on tight to the straps on the sled as I soared down the hill time after time. My rides were made more fun (and risky) because my father spun me like a top before pushing me in a direction that steered me away from danger. 

I did not want to go home after adventurous Saturday afternoons in the snow, those winters when I was a human whirligig!! On each run down the hill, I entered another dimension, like being closer to God! On my sled rides, I experienced my first 360-degree, panoramic view of the world. There was a hushed holiness on those hillsides! Anything seemed possible before I crashed into reality at the bottom, that is, other sledders or (once) a tree. Those slick little rides made me feel like I was flying, something I would not feel again until my early twenties, when I jumped out of an airplane and went into freefall before my parachute opened. 

Even though my Christmas saucer sled disappeared on one of our family’s many moves, its lesson has followed me through the years: there is madcap joy in taking risks and gaining new perspectives. No small gift!

 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. Is there a Christmas toy or game that influenced your career choice or jump-started a hobby? Write about the gift in your journal. 

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1.   Read aloud Session XCIX.
  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 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.