Holiness in our Midst

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.

Holiness in our Midst: Session 107

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CVII: ON HORIZON-EXPANDING EXPERIENCES

Story Circle Prompt: Do you have a horizon-expanding experience (or experiences) to share?

This question is inspired by an event that happened Tuesday, July 20, 2021. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and of spaceflight company Blue Origin, flew into suborbital space with other civilian passengers in a rocket named New Shepard. Upon landing, he was interviewed by NBC’s Stephanie Ruhle about the horizon-expanding experience. 

“It’s amazing. There are no words. I’m not talented enough to put this into words. When you look at the planet, there are no borders,” Bezos said. “It’s one planet, and we share it and it’s fragile.”

He added: “We have to build a road to space so that our kids and their kids can build a future. We live on this beautiful planet. You can’t imagine how thin the atmosphere is when you see it from space.” (Personal note to Mr. Bezos: Hopefully, you can use some of your resources to make our lovely Earth a cleaner, safer, more equitable place. Note to self: Same message.)

Bezos’ reactions to his flight touched me and prompted me to contemplate my own horizon-expanding experiences. Three came to mind:

  1. When I was in my early twenties, I was a reporter for the Canton (IL) Daily Ledger. A trainer at a skydiving center in Peoria offered to pay for my jump school if I would write about the experience. I went for it! I jumped out of a small aircraft. From 10,000 feet above an Illinois field, I could see a big X where I would land. But all my fears suddenly turned to joy. I hadn’t anticipated the life-changing impact of a minute of free-falling. I hummed “Up, Up and Away” by the group, The 5th Dimension:

Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon
Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon
We could float among the stars together, you and I
For we can fly, we can fly

Caught up in the flying part, I landed with quite a thud, but also with a wider perspective on adventuring through life.

  1. In my early twenties, I was on a vacation trip to the Everglades. I was awakened in my motel room well past midnight by some primal force. I sat on the floor and looked out the large plate glass window into another eon. I was made aware that the world was millions of years old and would be here long after I was gone. The deep, dark, mysterious jungle-y beauty of the Everglades was lit by moonlight. I felt connected to the Earth in a once-in-a-lifetime way. Past, present and future problems seemed insignificant. I stayed there, transported, for a long, long time.
  1. In 2002, I was on a night flight over the Sahara Desert from Amsterdam enroute to southern Sudan. For hours, I could see nothing but a few pinpoints of light. The vastness and darkness of the beautiful ancient land of Africa seeped into my soul and stayed. 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, answer the question: Have you ever received “postcards” from God? What were the images or messages?
  2. FOR GROUP STUDY:

      1.   Read aloud Session CVII.

      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 105

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CV: ON ‘HOME WORSHIP CENTERS’

Story Circle Prompt: Describe your Home Worship Center and its meaning to you. If you do not have such a center, imagine how you might create one.

My Home Worship Center has a perfect red maple leaf, two smooth stones and a copy of a letter to God written in red ink by Eileen Sambos, a fellow member of First Christian Church in Ames. They are artifacts from a Fall Women’s Retreat in September 2019 on Lake Koronis in Paynesville, MN. The event was sponsored by the Upper Midwest Region of the Disciples of Christ denomination. 

The letter has a story behind it. Eileen was scheduled to give the pray before Sunday breakfast at the retreat, but she was having trouble finding the right words. As she talked through what she wanted to say, I said, “It sounds like you’re writing a letter to God.” For her prayer that morning, she did present her thoughts as a letter God and later gave a copy to me. 

My worship center items remind me of a spectacular autumn get-away weekend, a time of innocence before COVID-19 complicated our lives. Collectively, they transport me to a time and space truly apart from my hectic daily life, immediately putting me in a worshipful frame of mind. My gift from Eileen reminds me to write my thoughts in a letter to God when I do not know what or how to pray. My small sacred space invites me to come closer to God, as I read my morning devotions and begin my day with prayer.

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

Read the above reflection. Describe your Home Worship Center. Why did you choose these elements? How does your center give meaning to your devotional life? If you do not have such a center, imagine on paper what yours might include.

FOR GROUP STUDY:

      1.   Read aloud Session CV.

      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 103

Holiness in our Midst

SESSION CIII: ON COVID ‘POSITIVES’

Story Circle Prompt: Are there “positive” outcomes in your life from the pandemic? Name some changes (or one) you would like to take into life after The Lockdown. 

Covid “Positives.” No, I have not tested positive for the virus. I coined the term Covid “Positives” to refer to the good things that have come out of this dark time. The deaths, economic and financial losses, and relationship setbacks are real enough. But I have also experienced shifts in perspective that have offered healing and hope for my future. Is this true for you, too?

Here are some Lessons from The Lockdown that I want to take into the coming era of eased restrictions:

Lesson 1: A Resolution to Limit Choices. Suddenly, a year ago, life as I knew it stopped cold. No more coffee shop breakfasts, in-person worship church services, or library hangout days. Rising prices meant fewer trips just for the fun of it, like going to the grocery store several times a week or cruising the Iowa countryside daily (joy-driving I call it). At first, I was wandering around like a lost puppy. But after a period of wrenching withdrawal, I discovered that some of these activities had been distractions from getting to the tasks at hand each day: cleaning house, advancing writing, completing volunteer assignments, focusing on relationships, being rested for work. Now, as opportunities open back up to resume my former free-wheeling lifestyle, I am vowing to stop and think about priorities, particularly before I spend money. As examples, my religious life must remain a focus, but restaurant visits can be reserved for special occasions. Above all, I no longer take any of these common places and meaningful activities for granted. They have, in fact, become sacred.

Lesson 2: A New Gratitude for Face-to-Face Gatherings. Creating events in both vocational and volunteer roles has brought me great joy. I have thrived on planning and actively participating in conferences, retreats, workshops, church programs, and book forums. For them to be relegated to “Zoom” formats is something I have experienced as extreme loss. I look forward to the day when the exchange of ideas and presentation of entertainment can happen in person again, complete with handshakes and hugs. I will no longer assume that we will always be able to look one another in the eye. It took a lockdown to name the indescribable value of “togetherness” and presence.

Lesson 3: A Heightened Appreciation for the Little Gifts Each Day. This unprecedented moment in time has offered a free crash course in seeing more acutely the little daily gifts outside my window —birds in flight, leaves changing with the season, children playing with abandon. I vow not to lose this ability to look for and celebrate the miracles along my path when life speeds up once more.

Lesson 4: A Conviction to Practice Discernment. Social media sites have become a substitute for real social life during this Covid year. We have come to rely on the Internet for shopping and entertainment. More channels are out there disseminating news. Unfortunately, with all our new choices, bad actors are exploiting the vulnerable with disinformation and misinformation. A new daily need has emerged to discern whether what we see and hear is truthful. What interests are represented by what we are being offered or told? I now ask myself that each hour. I simply trust that I can bring that discernment to life after The Lockdown.

Lesson 5: A Heightened Understanding of Earth’s and My Own Fragility. The pandemic has been like a long Sabbath rest for the Earth, my environment-conscious friends say. That is all to the good. But can I continue to keep our Planet in mind as my choices become more conscious? I hope so. Similarly, I am aware that my year has had a Sabbatical quality to it. I have survived, along with my immediate family members. In response, I trust that I will use my time remaining on Earth to treat the gift of life with the preciousness it deserves. 

 

FOR PERSONAL/JOURNAL REFLECTION:

  1. Read the above reflection. In your journal, write about both Covid “Positives’ and Covid “Negatives” for you. Which of the two wins out? Why?

FOR GROUP STUDY:

  1.   Read aloud Session CIII.
  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 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.