Holiness in our Midst

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.

Holiness in our Midst: Session 113

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CXIII: ON MAKING A ‘DONE LIST’

Story Circle Prompt: What is on your “done list” for today? Last week? Last year?

Lately, I’ve been under the influence of the book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021). Its premise, stated on the jacket flap, is clear: “The average human lifespan is absurdly, insultingly brief. Assuming you live to be eighty, you have just over four thousand weeks.”

The above question is inspired by one of the “Ten Tools to Embrace Your Finitude” explained in the final chapter. Tool Number Four reads: “Focus on what you have already completed, not just on what’s left to complete.” Burkeman suggests keeping a “done list” rather than a “to do” list (p. 239). That idea of tracking accomplishments has caught hold in my life. The “to do” list is not a thing of my past, but its tyrannical hold has lessened. A newfound consciousness of my days being numbered has even infiltrated my prayer life. I now ask God how I can approach each day with more reverence.

To answer the Story Circle Prompt: On my “done list” for this day (Jan. 27, 2022) is the note: “Kept up by phone with sisters Janet and Jill.” Last week I cleaned my house, served almost 300 meals to residents in assisted living and finally wrote my Christmas thank you notes. Last year, I entered a three-year spiritual formation course of study called Prairiefire, offered through the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center; wrote a series for the Ames (IA) Tribune, which I informally call my Coronavirus Chronicles; and savored significant friendships.  

What is on your “done list?”

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, answer the following: What is on my done list” for last year? How can I build on these accomplishments as I plan this year? How can I approach my days with more reverence?

FOR GROUP STUDY: 

 1.   Read aloud Session CXIII.

  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 111

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CXI: ON SCENT MEMORY

Story Circle Prompt: What fragrance do you associate with Christmas? Why? 

As the holidays near, I think about the scent of fresh oranges, the fragrance that instantly transports me back to opening my first Christmas stockings. Our Santa knocked on the front door and hand-delivered those stockings to us kids— Janet, Janis (me), Jerry and Jill, aka the Pyle stairsteps— early on Christmas mornings. Our names were on the long red stockings that were filled with pungent oranges and ripe apples along with new “colors” (as we called Crayons), rolled up coloring books, and small wind-up toys. There was also a single candy cane. (Back then, I was equal parts greed and politeness. I would take my father aside several times a year and ask him if he had any sway with Santa, and could he persuade him to do something, PLEEZ, about the ratio of fruit to candy.) I learned later that Santa was Innie Handsaker, our land lady from the big farmhouse next door; she tucked a pillow in the suit she kept hidden in the attic. For our family, she would help keep the magic and mystery of the Christmas Spirit alive (at least until the fateful day the Big Kids on the Bus would burst my bubble about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy all in one afternoon). More than pine boughs, peppermint candy, or cinnamon cookies, the smell of citrus, which clung to my stocking even during the offseason, is my direct link to memories of Christmases past. 

What fragrance recalls Christmas for you?

NOTE: It was French author Marcel Proust who most beautifully brought to the world’s attention the fact that smells can trigger memories. In Remembrance of Things Past, his character, while nibbling on a madeleine, recalled that “the whole of Combray and of its surroundings… sprang into being, all from my cup of tea.”

Long before it was studied by scientists and named the “Proust Phenomenon,” the link between odors and memories was a real thing. Perhaps, even back at the first Christmas ever. I wonder every year if Mary, Mother of Jesus, kept a Box of Precious Things to recall the night that Christ was born. Maybe the box that the wise men brought with the scent of frankincense still lingering? Or a satchel with a swatch of swaddling clothes still smelling of hay? Did she sometimes duck into a stable to breathe in again the remembrance of the Holy Night? Some things to ponder….

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, answer the following: What scent evokes the holidays for you? Is there a story behind the memories?

FOR GROUP STUDY: 

 1.   Read aloud Session CXI.

  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 110

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CX: ON A TRIP-OF-A-LIFETIME

Story Circle Prompt: What was your trip-of-a-lifetime? Where did you go? Who were you with? What made it memorable?

Our trip-of-a-lifetime, which I recall as the “Summer of ’66,” even has a theme song: “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson. For several weeks, we were like a band of gypsies going down the highway, my father Lloyd, stepmother Evelyn, younger brother Jerry, younger sister Jill and me. (Free as a bird between high school and college, I was able to savor a rare interlude without obligations or pressures.) Our starting point was the Denver suburb of Lakewood, where we lived. Dad, also an aficionado of frequently traded, brightly colored Volkswagen beetles, had rented a show stopping Rolite camper, collapsible for easy hauling on mountain roads. Packed tightly, music on the radio, our family set out to “see the sights.” Some vignettes from the open road, in chronological order: 

  • Watching the sun rise over multi-colored rock formations in Utah.
  • Breathing in the pine-scented air as we camped at Lake Tahoe.
  • Holding my nephew John for the first time when we visited my sister Janet in Napa Valley, CA. 
  • Looking out at the ocean, and later seeing the seals playing on the rocks below, when we dined at the Cliff House in San Francisco. (My parents had saved up for this occasion, and my dad convinced the staff to give us prime seats, even though we were dreadfully underdressed.) 
  • Feeling like I was in a cathedral when I walked in a redwood forest for the first time.
  • Smelling the roses in the Jackson & Perkins Gardens in Medford, OR. 
  • Nibbling on freshly picked Bing cherries in the car riding along the coast in Washington state.
  • Boarding the ferry in Seattle to cross over to Canada.
  • Beholding the lovely manicured Butchart Gardens in Vancouver. 
  • Viewing the scenery along the beautiful Trans-Canada Highway. 
  •  Riding a horse through the mountains in the early morning at the Kicking Horse ranch in British Columbia.
  • Sticking my head out the car window, not wanting to miss any scenic vista in the spectacular Grand Teton National Park. 
  • Stopping to photograph a weathered roadside chapel in Jackson Hole, WY. 
  • Pausing with gratitude back in our driveway at being able to take in so much natural beauty before resuming a fast-paced family life. 

Also, lingering still, is the magical memory of rolling into a different campground each night. Other campers gathered ‘round as we popped up the walls of the trailer and walked into a phenomenal furnished space, now twice its traveling size. On our last big family vacation together, we ourselves were a “road show” to remember.

What was your trip-of-a-lifetime?

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, answer the following: Capture in words your trip-of-a-lifetime. Where did you go? Who were you with? What made it memorable?

FOR GROUP STUDY: 

 1.   Read aloud Session CX.

  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 109

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CIX: ON ‘HOLY BURDENS’

Story Circle Prompt: Is God giving you a “Holy Burden’ to help address these times of national and international turmoil? What are you being called to do?

In a taped sermon on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, Rev. April G. Johnson, Minister of Reconciliation for the Christian church (Disciples of Christ), empowered all Ames First Christian Church members to be leaders and implored us to name our individual “holy burdens” from God to address these tumultuous times.

Because my attention has been focused recently on the lingering damage from the derecho of Aug. 10, 2020, my “holy burden” has become the planting of trees. I figure that each of us Iowans, all 3.2 million of us, will have to plant at least two trees just to replace the trees destroyed by what has been deemed “the costliest thunderstorm in U.S. history” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

The destruction is immense. In a Des Moines Register article on Sept. 17, 2021, reporter Donnelle Eller detailed an Iowa Natural Resources report on the extent of the derecho damage. “Iowa lost an estimated 7.2 million trees in cities and farms when last year’s hurricane-force derecho swept across the state,” she wrote. Daniel Perrault of TV station KWWL in Cedar Rapids interviewed Iowa DNR Disaster Recovery Coordinator Nick McGrath on Sept. 15, 2021, about recovery from the effects of the derecho. McGrath estimated that “it will take 30 to 60 years to get the ecosystem back to something close to what it was before the storm.” 

McGrath gave some direction to those of us who wish to plant trees. He said the DNR encourages all Iowans to plant new native trees to help the ecosystem recover. (The DNR state forest nursery gives out seedlings.)  He also said that “utility companies Alliant, Black Hills Energy, and Mid-American are funding some grants, and Trees Forever has held several tree adoption events.” In my research, I read that the Iowa Arboretum and Gardens in Madrid lost about 40 per cent of its collection and launched a “ReLeaf campaign this year. 

These are some starting points for those who also feel called to replace the trees that the winds destroyed. (Let me know about your tree-planting efforts!) If your focus is elsewhere, what is your call to action? 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, answer the following: What am I being called to do to make this world a more peaceful place for all?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

      1.   Read aloud Session CIX.

      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 108

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CVIII: ON LIFE-CHANGING WORDS

Story Circle Prompt: Share some words that were life-changing for you. Who spoke them? Where were you at the time? What happened because of them?

It was only a two-minute happening 14 or 15 years ago, yet it has had lifelong instructive value. The scene was a parking lot outside of a guest house in Daytona Beach, FL. I was attending a National Council of Churches event, a meeting of the Education and Leadership Ministries Commission. My role was to represent mission educators among leaders of other interest areas. Gathered with a group that was going out to eat, I was catching up with an ecumenical colleague and continuing the conversation as we got into a car. The person driving, who was representing community churches, asked me a question: “Janis, do you mind reframing your conversation so that all of us can participate?” I was quietly called out for conducting a side conversation in a group setting. All during the meeting, participants were asked to be conscious of others when we were around tables. We were encouraged to sit with people we did not know well and were given thoughtful questions that everyone could participate fully in.  (Perhaps, this column was born in those hours.) New friendships all around were formed during that weekend. 

The parking lot encounter in Florida also awakened me to the toxicity of exclusion, no matter how commonplace, innocently conducted or socially acceptable the practice of engaging in private conversations in public. (Spaces for closed conversations can be easily arranged.) Especially now, when the pandemic carries with it inherent isolation, I find myself thinking about including others at work, community gatherings and even in grocery lines. On one hand, the consequences of unchecked deliberate exclusion can be devastating, ranging from hurt feelings to covert bullying if there in a power differential between the persons. On the other, the results of intentional inclusion can be awakening, enlightening and life changing.

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, answer the following: Share the story behind words that changed your life. 
  1. FOR GROUP STUDY:

      1.   Read aloud Session CVIII.

      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.