Holiness in our Midst

Holiness in our Midst: Session 48

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION XLVIII: ON MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS

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

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

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

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

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

 

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1.   Read aloud Session XLVIII.   

2.   Ask each person to answer the Story Circle Prompt.

[View Past Sessions Here]

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

Holiness in our Midst: Session 45

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION XLV: ON TREES

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

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

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

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

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

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

 

FOR GROUP STUDY:

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

[View Past Sessions Here]

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

Holiness in our Midst: Session 43

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION XLIII: ON ARTWORKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        #10 Debra

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

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

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

FOR GROUP STUDY:

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

[View Past Sessions Here]

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

Holiness in our Midst: Session 42

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION XLII: ON HYMNS

Confession: I am a hummer. I can’t help it. While driving my car along Iowa’s country roads, caring for persons with disabilities at work or walking along local streets, humming is an unconscious habit. To take note of the current playlist on my hummer is to gauge the barometer of my well-being.  Especially hymns. The hymn demanding the most air time and the one that has brought me the most comfort in recent months is Be Still, My Soul. Written by Kathrina von Schlegel and translated by Jane L. Borthwick, this hymn has brought peace to me during work upheavals, family deaths, and national political mayhem. (Did I mention that my rent was just raised?)

The first verse reminds me: Leave to thy God to order and provide/In every change, He faithful will remain.

Other lines that still my fears: Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know/His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still my soul: thy Jesus can repay/From his own fullness all He takes away.

Be, still my soul: when change and tears are past/All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine/Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.

Is there a hymn that that has brought comfort, hope or healing to you lately?

STORY CIRCLE PROMPT: What hymn speaks to you today and why?

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection.
  2. Consider journal entries on the following topics: What was my favorite hymn as a child and why? What hymn do I hum most often today and why?
  3. I remember a studious young pastoral intern at Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago who encouraged us in the powerful experience of praying hymns as prayers. Is there a hymn that falls into that category for you? Reflect on your choice in a journal entry.

FOR GROUP STUDY:

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

[View Past Sessions Here]

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

Holiness in our Midst: Session 41

 

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION XLI: ON JESUS’ QUESTIONS

Jesus was a question-asker supreme. His first questions were directed to his parents at the Temple: “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

(Luke 2:49 NIV). He cried out the last one from the Cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mat. 27:46 NIV). Throughout his ministry, his everyday questions stirred those along his path to think more deeply, consciously and reverently.  The estimates of the number of questions Jesus asked in the New Testament differ; some say as high as 307. What we do know is that he asked thought-provoking (even enemy-provoking) questions at every turn. Here is a sampling:

“Who do you say I am?” (Mat. 16:15 NIV).
“How many loaves do you have?” (Mark 6:38 NIV)
“Do you love me?” (John 21:17 NIV)
“What are you discussing together as you walk along?” (Luke 24: 17 NIV)
“Who touched me?” (Luke 8:45 NIV)
“Does any man condemn you? Neither do I, condemn thee. Go, and sin no more.” (John 8:10 KJV)

The question that currently speaks to me in the midst of a season when politics, weather, and world events seem to have gone wild is: “Why are you so afraid?” (Mat. 8:26 NIV). Jesus asked this question before he stilled the storm. I hold the scene on the Sea of Galilee in my mind as I entrust my storms to the One who calmed the waves so long ago.

STORY CIRCLE PROMPT: Which of Jesus’ questions currently speaks to your heart?

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection.
  2. A faithful Bible class at a Church of the Brethren in North Carolina kept track every week of what prayers the class members shared and how each prayer was answered. The class even tracked a category of prayers that they called “Unspokens.” That latter category reminded me that there are prayers that we do not wish to share with a whole group. For journal reflection, call forth your deepest prayer needs by picturing Jesus asking you the question that he asked the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51 NIV).

FOR GROUP STUDY:

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

[View Past Sessions Here]

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

Holiness in our midst: Session 40

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION XL: ON FIRST STEPS

What is your dream for the coming year? What is the first step toward realizing it?

In lieu of resolutions, I’ve challenged myself to name a dream and do the first step towards achieving it. New Year’s dream is to go back to graduate school and complete my Master’s Degree in English at Iowa State University. I plan to call my contacts there by Jan. 15. There it is, my dream in writing!

Dreams die for many reasons, not the least is failure to take the first step. Nevertheless, dreams are worth stating and working toward. Here are some helpful notes about what we may face along the way and some suggestions to aid in those dreams coming true:

 

  • Expect early roadblocks.
  • Deal head on with unrealistic expectations of yourself and others.  
  • Make it doable.
  • Team with others.
  • Pray to the One “who makes all things new.”

 

STORY CIRCLE PROMPT: What is your dream for the New Year? What is a first step (with a concrete deadline) you can take today toward making it come true?

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection.
  2. Write a journal reflection on dreams that have come true in your life. What is your latest dream? What is a first step?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

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

[View Past Sessions Here]

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