Originally published in the monthly Explorer, September 2013 edition.

Brian Doyle is an editor at the University of Portland who writes a weekly online column titled Epiphanies. Often it’s worth a read.

In a recent column he writes about a memory from his college days. Doyle shared a casual friendship with five other boys around a common love for basketball. The six played together every day, and the game was the common language they spoke, the glue that bound them fast.

They parted for Spring break, but one of the six, Stevie, never returned to campus. He died in a car accident while home.

Doyle writes that the five rode together in a car to Stevie’s fu- neral, shook hands with Stevie’s parents, sat in a row in the back of the church, then drove to the cemetery afterwards.

There, after their buddy’s casket was lowered into the earth, the boys dropped Stevie’s sneakers into the open grave. Then, one by one, each guy dropped his own sneakers into the grave. It was a small gesture of solidarity, a final, quiet moment of respect.

Small gestures acknowledge our common humanity, loyalty, respect, grief, compassion, defiance, hope. They are important, powerful. The three-year-old son of President John F. Kennedy rendering a salute at his father’s funeral. The ink-stained index finger of an Iraqi citizen signifying his vote cast in a post-Saddam election. Rosa Parks’ refusal to relinquish her seat on a bus. Some gestures of meaning are spontaneous, serendipitous events. They are not contrived, orchestrated, rehearsed for the benefit of an audience. Others, like the shoes for Stevie, require forethought, though they are not delivered for effect or praise.

Small gestures are a vital part of relationships in church. A hand offered in friendship, a wink or nod of recognition, a small gift of flowers or fruit, an invitation for dessert, an offer of a ride, a walk to the parking lot, a simple question: “would you like to sit with me in church?”

As he sent them out on their mission, Jesus said to His disci- ples: “Freely you have received, freely give.” He was not talking only about money. What gentle gestures have blessed your life, and how are you passing them on to others?