Holiness in our Midst

Holiness in our Midst: Session 123

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SESSION CXXIII: ON CHRISTMAS MOVIES

Story Circle Prompt: What is your favorite Christmas movie? Why?

My favorite Christmas movie is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The plot line is timeless. In the small town of Bedford Falls, George Bailey owns a savings and loan company that benefits the community. His nemesis, Henry Potter, is always looking for opportunities to take over George’s business and the town. When it appears to George that all is lost (including his livelihood and family), because of Mr. Potter, an angel named Clarence is sent from Heaven to show him what life in his town would have been like if he had never been born.

The spiritual question that the movie asks is a profound one: What would the world (or my family or communities) look like if I had never been born? Perhaps, I will make it my New Year’s Resolution for the coming year to answer it. 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, contemplate the spiritual question: What value have I added through the years to my little corner of the world?

FOR GROUP STUDY: 

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

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 122

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SESSION CXXII: ON SILENCE

Story Circle Prompt: What have you discovered about the value of silence from intentional disconnection from digital devices or during a retreat?

Here are some of my learnings from a three-day silent retreat at the Creighton University Retreat Center in Griswold, IA in late July 2022:

  1. Silence and time away from my routine clarified which commitments are healthy. Life went on (How could it???) when I detached and disconnected. The persons and groups who actually depend on and benefit from my “touch” became apparent. 
  1. Silence exposed my hidden addictions. My first day, I missed cable news and political commentary terribly. Withdrawal was harder than I had imagined. Also, the retreat center served healthier foods than the fast food I so easily access on my busy schedule. I became aware of the need to make healthier food choices.
  1. Silence brought me closer to my true self and to the Living Christ. I now “schedule” time to deepen my relationship with the Divine.

Such simple learnings, but what major changes they are prompting!

What have you learned from being away in silence? 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, respond to the following reflection: I have discovered that silence is not soundless. Is that true for you, too?                                     If so, what are some of the sounds that accompany your being alone with God? Sounds of nature? Sound of God’s voice?

FOR GROUP STUDY: 

        1.   Read aloud Session CXXXII.

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

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 121

SESSION CXXI: ON ‘GLAD SERVICE’

Story Circle Prompt: Where do you find examples of “glad service?”

More than a week later, I am still wearing black in honor of the way Queen Elizabeth II lived her life. In one news clip, she used the phrase “in glad service” for the way she sought to conduct herself as she executed her duties. In my eyes, she embodied Psalm 100:2: “Serve the Lord with gladness.” Her unwavering sense of being true to her calling, while also enjoying the tasks, touched me deeply. I, too, wish to serve “gladly,” all my days. 

I am always heartened when I see persons along my path serving without complaint or an ever-present behind-the-scenes snarkiness. I see many more examples of self-righteous, reluctant or disdainful service than “glad” service. I’m thinking now of my co-worker “Sandy,” who serves in the same assisted living center where I work. She works kindly and consistently, even when called in to work unexpectedly. She was a mail carrier most of her career, braving the elements without being grumpy about it. When her grandchildren needed a helping hand, she welcomed them into her home. “Sandy” lives with an enviable spirit of “gladness” that I can only hope to attain in the next life. But I am motivated by her to try and follow suit, here and now.

Who do you see, royalty or not, living life “gladly?”

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, answer the following: Do I serve “gladly” in my place and time?

    FOR GROUP STUDY: 

       1.   Read aloud Session CXXX.

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

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 120

SESSION CXX: ON PEACE IN OUR TIME

Story Circle Prompt: Where are your finding hope for peace in our divided world?

Just for a moment last month, I caught a vision for world peace. I was attending the morning worship service at First Christian Church in Ames (IA) on Aug. 14, 2022. Eric Brown, an elder, was offering the prayer before we partook of communion. I was struck by his words, “Let every meal, every shared time, be communion.”  Though he had written the prayer hastily on the back of a bulletin, it seemed to me that it carried eternal weight. He gave me permission to share it here for you:

Dear God,

We gather here in your presence. In our time in your amazing world, let us know the way to live here in your spirit. As we join in this meal together, let us re-imagine, let us re-see how our actions, words, and thoughts can be guided by Jesus’ teaching, not just in this time and place, but in all our time in your world. Let every meal, every shared time, be communion. Let us learn your ways from each other, let us share your ways with all we meet. Come now, all of us, to this time of sharing your spirit together. Let us partake. 

In His Name, Amen.

Where do you find hope, inspiration, or vision to heal our divided world?

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, answer the following: In what ways do you see God working in our time and place? 
  1. FOR GROUP STUDY: 

       1.   Read aloud Session CXIX.

       2.   Ask each person to answer the Story Circle Prompt

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 119

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CXIX: ON GOING OFF THE BEATEN PATH

Story Circle Prompt: Remember a time when you ventured off the beaten path. What did you learn by altering your routine?

It was the summer of 2004, right after the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference in Charleston, WV. I had several days to meander through the country roads of West Virginia, the first time I ventured on my own without minute-by-minute plans. I knew only that I needed to travel from the southwest corner to the northeast corner of the state by the following Sunday morning. (A church was eager to learn more about denominational missions, and I was coordinator for mission connections at the time.) I had booked cheap motels near national parks, that much I had done, but the daytime hours were left to chance. 

I do not remember the name of the town or the local woman who decided to take me on her self-described “West Virginia Adventure of a Lifetime.” I do recall that it was a Friday, and I had stopped at an all-inclusive general store in the mountains. In addition to the standard groceries, there was also a hardware aisle, and even a soda fountain/grill tucked in one corner. The proprietor befriended me as she made me a sandwich and gave me a free coke. She began telling me the history of the area and her personal history, which were one and the same. 

“Oh heck, why don’t I just show you my life,” she said. “Are you game?” she asked. I nodded, not sure if my life was a risk, but it sounded fun at the time. All that afternoon she immersed me in the culture of north central West Virginia. First, she gave me a private showing of her late husband’s museum-quality model railroad, set up in a large shed across the road from the store. The trains chugged through mountains, past authentic-looking local people and landmarks, and featured bells, whistles, and railroad crossings. The whole scene was a thing of wonder!

Then she drove me to the gravesites of her relatives, detailing their eccentricities, and showed me the cemetery, with a breathtaking mountain view, where she would be laid to rest. She took me by her family acreage turned B & B, where Charles Kuralt, the news commentator who loved Appalachia, had once vacationed. The place featured a large oak tree with a lovely swing. I wanted to stay there forever and do nothing but sing the John Denver song about the state’s country roads.

“And you need to see the caves,” she said after the family immersion. She drove me to some famous caves and guided me through underground caverns of unearthly beauty before whisking me over more mountain passes and past scenic farmlands on the way back to the store. We sat for a while, savoring the day before she packed my “food for the road.” She sent me on my way with a big West Virginia wave. I left determined to go off the beaten path more often. What had I missed? Who had I missed knowing more deeply?

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:
Read the above reflection. In your journal, answer the following: What adventure would you like to go on that would take you out of your routine? What is holding you back?
 
FOR GROUP STUDY: 
       1.   Read aloud Session CXV.
       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 118

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CXVIII: ON GLIMPSES OF GLORY

Story Circle Prompt: Where have you glimpsed the glory, majesty, and power of God?

On an ordinary Saturday morning late last summer in Nevada, IA I got a glimpse into the vastness of God’s glory and power. I was driving south on 11th Street, returning home from a cappuccino run at my local Casey’s convenience store. Near the Memorial Lutheran Church, but on the other side of the street, a mother, father, and young girl hailed me over to their lemonade stand with broad sweeping gestures. A whole family welcomed me! Not able to resist their sales techniques, I parked safely and approached the cute little stand. There were the usual paper cups, pitchers of lemonade, and plates of chocolate chip cookies. But strikingly, there was a donation jar with a sign that read “Mahlia’s Retirement Fund.” It made me chuckle because Mahlia appeared to be only 8 or 9. I dropped a 5-dollar bill in the jar, helped myself to two cookies and took the offered cup of lemonade. I paused for a moment, wished Mahlia a happy retirement and a wonderful life between now and then, and thanked the family for the treats. I wanted to offer life coaching to Mahlia with tips like “Watch out for scams” and “You’ll have it made after middle school,” but I didn’t think that fast. As I was walking back to the car, sending up a prayer to God for a happy life for this enterprising little girl with such a supportive family, I “heard” a thought message from “the world beyond” that went something like this: I know all of Mahlia’s grandparents and ancestors since the beginning of time. I am with her in the present and will be with her until the end of time. I know who her teachers and influences will be and who she will become. The thought was so clear and kind that I wanted to ponder it more before I went back to my hectic day. I drove around for a while, praying for Mahlia’s well-being throughout her life. The “God-thought” reminded me that all of us are tenderly known by God in this way, myself included. I vowed then to keep trying to stay in touch with that all-knowing Higher Power each day.

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, answer the following: When did I first get a glimpse of the glory, majesty, and power of God? Where was I?
  1. FOR GROUP STUDY: 

       1.   Read aloud Session CXVIII.

       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 117

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CXVII: ON LOVING YOUR ENEMIES

Story Circle Prompt: Share a story that sheds light on how to love your enemies.

Today, animosities abound between (and among) political parties, races, family members and ideological groups. Powerful forces even foment divisions, encouraging us to aggressively go after “the other” as an actual enemy. No wonder people are seeking examples of peacemaking in the face of incivility. Have you ever succeeded in really loving an enemy?

I’ve only been able to muster a respectful tolerance for those groups and persons with whom I disagree. I did, however, witness a model for loving enemies worthy of sharing. It is from my time as coordinator for mission connections for our Church of the Brethren denominational office. In 2002, I was on a Faith Expedition in southern Sudan. That Sunday morning our group worshipped in an Anglican church. Our contribution was forming ourselves into a choir and singing: “It is Well with Your Soul.” The truly unforgettable moment, though, was when a woman in a flowing white dress, the drummer in the praise band, rose and offered Prayers of the People. 

She prayed for the congregation, of course. But then, she offered prayers for their enemies: that those with who attacked them would know prosperity, that their crops would thrive, that their children and grandchildren would live in safety and that love would abound in their lives. It was a prayer of pure goodwill for those with whom her village was constantly at war. No mention that God should punish or inflict suffering upon the people who had killed their loved ones or for the Almighty to restore the enemies once they righted their wrongs. Hers was a true Prayer for Peace. 

I’ve carried the image of the Prayer of the Woman in White as a model for loving my enemies through the years. Perhaps the time has come to put it into action in my own life.

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, answer the following: Have I ever succeeded in loving an enemy? Seen love in action from those experiencing adversity?
  1. FOR GROUP STUDY: 

       1.   Read aloud Session CXVII.

       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 116

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CXVI: ON ‘WAILING WALL’ PRAYERS

Story Circle Prompt: What prayer note would you tuck into the Wailing Wall to address these times?

Historically, the Wailing Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem has been the holiest site in Judaism. For 2002 years, the cracks in the ancient stone wall have been the repository for the most fervent, heartfelt written prayers. Prayerfully, tearfully, pilgrims of all faiths bring their deepest, most desperate needs to this place. 

Since the start of the War in Ukraine, the Wailing Wall has become central to my prayer life. When I needed a visual image to address huge issues, like senseless war, I found myself writing “Wailing Wall” prayers. I read that people actually send their prayers to be placed in the wall, addressing them to “God, Jerusalem.” For myself, I established a section in my journal to preserve my outpourings about intractable situations, ones where the possibility of a healthy outcome eludes me. Mindful of the Wailing Wall, I feel connected to Peoples, Ancient and Modern, who find themselves in grievous circumstances.

One of my Wailing Wall prayers grew out of a news story I heard on Craig Melvin Reports on MSNBC on St. Patrick’s Day, 2022. An older woman named Katerina from Kyiv, Ukraine was standing outside her apartment building when it was hit with a missile. It blew off her leg and sent shrapnel in her back, piercing her lung. From a hospital on the outskirts of the city, she said, “Before, I had a house and work. Today I am disabled and homeless.” 

My prayer: 

Dear God,

Please take good care of Katerina. Keep her strong by day and help her sleep at night. Be with her and the other refugees of all wars as each seeks to find a safe place in the world. Show me ways that I can be an instrument of peace. 

Love always, Janis

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, answer the following: What is a personal prayer that you would like to place in the Wailing Wall? 

FOR GROUP STUDY: 

       1.   Read aloud Session CXVI.

       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 115

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CXV: ON ‘FRUIT(S) OF THE SPIRIT’

Story Circle Prompt: These are unprecedented times marked by pandemic and war. Which of the qualities named as fruit(s) of the spirit would you like to work on cultivating at this point in history? 

As my senses are assaulted daily with images of deadly conflict in Ukraine, examples of political incivility, lingering reminders of COVID-19 and reports of climate disasters, I have found an antidote to war. I am being drawn to studying, one at a time, the fruit (or “fruits,” as I like to call them) of the spirit listed in Galatians 5. The Apostle Paul exhorts the people to be free indeed, liberated from the yoke of slavery. After listing the temptations of the flesh, he urges them to walk by the spirit, writing: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (vs. 22, 23).  (NIV) 

The first quality I choose to work on is peace, that is, moving toward embodying it in my daily rounds. 

The peace I am seeking is not one that propels me outward in public activism as a response, though it may in time. I am being called inward to establish an “Island of Peace” in my soul. My guide is Howard Thurman (1899-1981), a black spiritualist and mystic. In his book Mediations of the Heart (Boston: Beacon Press, 1953) he wrote: “Each one has to deal with the evil aspects of life, with injustices inflicted upon him and injustices which he wittingly or unwittingly, inflicts upon others. We are all of us deeply involved in the throes of our own weaknesses and strengths, expressed often in the profoundest conflicts within our own souls. The only hope for surcease, the only possibility of stability for the person, is to establish an Island of Peace within one’s own soul (p. 17).” Quiet contemplation of my personal transgressions in the company of my Creator seems a worthy first step in my counter offensive to these times. The first question I will dare to ask: How am I contributing to the discord in the world? 

What fruit of the Spirit speaks to you in this hour? What can you do to cultivate this quality?

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, answer the following: What fruit of the Spirit speaks to me in this hour? What can I do to cultivate this quality? What changes might I have to make in my life to exhibit it?

FOR GROUP STUDY: 

       1.   Read aloud Session CXV.

       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 114

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CXIV: ON ‘OPEN DOORS’

Story Circle Prompt: Name an “open door” inviting you in. How can you prepare for this new opportunity during Lent?

Revelation 3:8; “I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut; I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word. (RSV)

This Lent, which begins on March 2, you can follow the traditional pattern of letting go of an old habit or taking up a new activity. Or you can allow the next 40 days to be a time of discernment about an “open door,” especially for you. Is there a new vocational (or volunteer) opportunity, stage of life, project, or relationship beckoning on the horizon? Jesus’ message about open doors in Revelation (see above) was directed to the church in Philadelphia, but it is also a universal call to persons and communities for renewal.

My call to growth is to sort through years of boxes. I simply need to let go of excess. My Lenten goal will be to discern the criteria for what to keep and how to organize what is left. What sounds so easy will be one of the hardest tasks of my life. 

What “open door” is inviting you to enter in?

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, answer the following: What “open door” is beckoning to you? What changes are necessary to fully enter a new vocational (or volunteer) opportunity, stage of life, project, or relationship? How can you prepare for this new opportunity during Lent?

FOR GROUP STUDY: 

 1.   Read aloud Session CXIV.

  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.