Have you ever noticed that the first colors of Spring are mostly yellow. The palette of Spring is almost exclusively pastel, but it is buttery yellow which heralds Spring’s arrival. The daffodils; the forsythia; the buttercups; even the dandelions; arrive in waves of yellows, announcing Winter’s demise. The earth, like fresh popcorn, is left dripping in delicious sweet butter.
At this point in Lent, we know we are coming back to Life. We are returning to our God and to our very Selves. We are finishing up the long journey back home, and like a beacon of hope, these merry yellows will guide us.
Why yellow? Well, I suspect it has something to do with the sun, and that it is hard not to feel happier in a yellow room. Yellow is a day lightener and brightener. Yellow lifts the spirits. Yellow shakes off the cobwebs of Winter, and this most lovely color darts and dashes about like a butterfly. Yellow feels alive, like raw energy, even joy.
Take a long lazy drive or walk in early Spring, and count the yellows you see. You will be amazed. They are literally spread everywhere, as if the earth was smeared with a thick layer of buttery goodness. Savor it, and take it in slowly, and realize how spending is this Life now returning in all of its glory.
In Winter we behold the beauty of fresh snow, berries and blue skies so bright they can blind us. In Spring we smile at all these dabs of yellows that speckle the landscape. No matter what the season, God finds a way to grab our attention, to make us take notice, and to invite us to let the wonder coat our souls.
Lent is winding it up now. It is ready to climb to the top, and take in the vision we call Easter. Easter is a way of Life, and a new perspective, and a recommitment to all that is love and forgiveness. Easter is the event of Grace, the promise that eternity is ours anytime we seek it, or keep ourselves open to its presence.
Stuck inside for yet another solemn grey cold Winter’s day. This is indeed the bleak mid-winter. The air inside smells sour, stale, like socks; it makes us want to gag. It even makes breathing a chore. It shrouds the day in a sense of stagnation.
Just go outside, and then inhale deeply. The air out there will always be a bit fresher than the moldy attic scented air of the indoors in the midst of Winter. Inhale again, and the fresh air will tingle. It soon revives your spirit and offers inspiration to the soul. Somehow, there is a desire unleashed by a deep inhaling of fresh air.
Fresh air wakes us up. We need to be jarred awake. Winter has enabled us to grow quite sluggish and lazy. We often hibernate at this point of the year. We yearn only to sleep and nap and escape. It is not a period of time ripe for being alive. But the fresh air is just what we need, and reminds us each and every day is a gift. The fresh air points out the deep held longing for a full life, no matter the month or season.
Ultimately, Lent is like fresh air. It slaps us in the face and yells. “Snap out of it!” It isn’t a nasty slap or a real belt in the mug, but it still hard enough to jar us loose. Lent challenges us to put a little pep in our step. In the final days of the downward ascent of Lent, we are being cajoled into recognizing that each day demands are full present. Being fully present is the very foundation of a full Life.
Breathe in, and breathe out, and savor the sweetness of filling up on that which fresh. Let Lent win you over, and claim you to be upward bound. Just breathing fresh air and our attitude is altered, and our perspective has climbed up to higher ground – where all the goodness and beauty can be seen.
Lent is like CPR, offering us the chance to live again, to hear the rhythm and dance to the beat, and to move with the flow of the day.
O, Lord of Lent, open up our lungs and our very being to the freshness of the air, and letthis clean air ignite in us the wish to skip, or jump for joy, or to stride forward in the battle of maturation. Amen.
I still get quite a kick out of crocus. They remind me of little tykes sneaking around looking for the hiding places of Christmas presents. They pop up here and there, unexpectedly, and with such an impish grin on their faces.
I love the colors of crocus. The bright white, the buttery yellow, the pale purple, and they emerge from underneath brittle old leaves and out of moisturized gooey earth. Since they are always the unexpected guest, they catch us off guard, and give rise to a grin, and then we stoop to stare.
At some point Lent no longer needs to dig further down, and so the ascent begins. The crocus is nature’s herald of this climb to come. It is now time for us to consider not simply how we have erred in our ways, how we have failed to be the people God created to us be, but to make some concrete decisions about change.
Change, as Lent has taught us once again, provides us with a battle. We cling to our old ways, and resist becoming new with almost everything we have. However, Lent has unleashed the soul, uncovered it, recovered it, or in rare cases, discovered it. Once the soul is out of the box, so to speak, it is free to find “food”. Change is that food, and it comes with a side of maturation.
What would make your life happier, healthier, and more hope filled? What changes would you like to make in yourself? What do you suspect God would like to see you alter, or risk diving into whole hog and being transformed? Are they the same…these changes you seek, and what God wants?
Try making what God wants the number one priority, the resolution of greatest value. God has the knack of narrowing things down to the essential. Like taking all those religious rules and regulations, and simply asking us to love one another and our God. Our Higher Power sticks to the basics – like staying sober.
Make some plans. The ascent requires planning, and the imagining of the steps to be taken up to higher ground. No mountain climber decides the route spontaneously, but has a pretty good idea of where he or she can find rest or the needed support. These plans do not promise victory - standing atop the peak, but they do create the best chance to succeed.
O, Lord of Lent, the journey up to Easter begins with the clarion call of crocus, trumpeting our need to make plans and get prepared for this spiritual pilgrimage to higher ground. The crocus, dear Lord, will defy us to think back to Winter, and call us forward to Spring. Amen.
The temperature climbed to about 55 degrees, and the shock of mild was delicious. So many people were outside, attempting to look busy, but mainly just soaking in the baby blue sky and soft air. I decided it was great day for a walk.
I went down to the beach. It was slightly cooler there, but the water was so still it reflected each nook and cranny of the puppy clouds. I took off my shoes and socks, and decided I would go to the first jetty of rocks, take a little break, and then do the return trip at a quickened pace.
This is exactly what I did, except the break at the rocks lasted about two hours. I was suddenly swept by a lovely meringue of sadness, and settled into some curlicue memories whipped up on top. Sound delicious or sweet? Well, it wasn’t. It was simply one of those days I knew I could look back on my many mistakes, and genuinely ask to be forgiven.
We know when we've wronged others, or wasted our lives, or taken dead-end paths. We may try to stay so busy we need not bother with our flaws, but this was that kind of affectionate day which put its arm around me, and told me to let it all out.
I recalled the winced faces when my words had poked someone in the heart. I thought about my long held grudges, petty jealousies, or relationships destroyed by pride, indifference, or a whopper of a lie. A few nasty farts of deceit wafted on by, and I shuddered at the recollection of having betrayed someone I loved.
Asking God for forgiveness is easy. It is expecting any kind of response which is the tough part. My faith is thin and fragile when it comes to repentance. My mind taunts me with the notion I can do it myself, or to stop being so dramatic, or exaggerating my own importance. But on a day like this day, I felt like even I deserved mercy – just like the earth.
I walked back the whole way, and was only mildly short of breath – pretty good for my fat old frame. I got back to my car, and stood and took in the lake for a few more minutes. There was a family there, and they were all flying kites. The kites were performing like a chorus line, weaving in clever patterns, and never once tripping over the other. My heart leapt with joy!
O, Lord of Lent, thanks for being so stunningly soft and sweet at times. You make me feel like I deserved to be made whole again, and I am deeply grateful. I am shattered whole, and you alone can see the billions of cracks and crevices, even the signs of glue – the Grace of God. Amen.
What lies beyond this life? Truth be told, we'll never know. Just as we cannot possibly explain the before of Life, we have no real understanding of what lies beyond.
We may talk of Heaven like we’ve been there several times before, or that we know most of the inhabitants, and are quite sure we ourselves will be models citizens, but again, we haven’t a clue.
We have no knowledge of Heaven, even if we have some powerful hints, hunches, and beliefs. What lies beyond this Life is 100% a matter of faith. Nobody knows. Nobody can say who will be there, if anyone. Nobody can offer a map or the image of the landscape. What we now of Heaven is smaller than a grain of sand.
It is strange that we often talk of heaven with such authority. My own mother told me she would not die until someone came bac and told her exactly what it was like. I reminded her that after four full decades of ministry, nobody had ever returned to explain the event or experience to me.
My raw honesty only made her angry, and she looked at me with disgust, as if had I done my job better, someone would have most assuredly returned and filled me in on the details of heaven, so I might be able to do the very same for my beloved Mom. She asked me how many funerals I had performed, and when I said in excess of a thousand, she glared, and she been able to spit poisonous venom – well, I would have gotten an eye full.
Faith is surrender; it is a knowing that we do not and cannot know. It is embracing the mystery. It is accepting the limitations of our brains and our lives. It is letting go of any effort to be in control. It is absolute proof positive we are not in charge.
The best we can do when considering what lies beyond this Life of ours, is to consider what our lives have shown us and taught us. It would seem likely that what we have experienced in the here and now might well be echoed or foreshadowed in the beyond. Then again, this could be hopelessly and foolishly wrong.
My own conclusion on the subject is quite simple. Everything I have known and loved and experienced, promises me that the beyond will be at the very least, just as good, but I suspect probably better – much better ; a leap of faith better.
O, Lord of Lent, grant us a leaping faith, one which welcomes the chance to greet the beyond. Amen.
In the Spring of my Junior Year at St. Olaf College, I received an eerie and disturbing phone call. A British gentleman explained to me in a pained voice, that my uncle, William R. Grimbol, my namesake, had been murdered. I was stunned.
He went on to elaborate how my uncle hired a young chap to do deliveries, as Uncle Bill was the popular local butcher in Cheshunt, England. A 16-year old boy wanted to join the London chapter of the infamous “Hell’s Angels”, and membership required him to commit a serious crime. He clobbered my uncle over the head with a tire iron, then sprinted away, never thinking my uncle would bleed to death overnight.
After I got off the phone, I nervously pondered what I would say to my father. The detective from Scotland Yard with whom I spoke had told me he had been encouraged by Uncle Bill’s wife, Florrie, to call me before my Dad, as she knew it would be overwhelming for Lenny.
She was right. When I told him, he dropped the phone, and my mother then spoke with me briefly, and haltingly, before making him a cup of coffee, and then sitting in their respective rocking chairs on the front porch. I told her I would pack and head home immediately. I said it all felt so odd. I also expressed how much Dad had been looking forward to spending time with his brother following retirement.
I wish there was a happy ending to this story. There is not. My father became a very anxious and frightened man, and spent endless hours listening to the police radio. He would check to see all was locked before bed, sometimes as many as five or six times. Dad tried to be his old jolly Self, but the bitterness of raw evil had ruined his capacity for relaxation or joy.
A few years later, while on vacation from Seminary, I sat with him on the same front porch, in the same rockers, and asked if he still missed his brother Bill; he nodded and wept. He said nothing would ever be the same. I told him I agreed. I told him it was normal to feel this way – even if I did not have a clue. I even told him how I hoped he would find his way back to Life, as he had a leading role in my life’s play. He smiled and thanked me for saying so.
O, Lord of Lent, remind us that following a tragedy, not only does Life go on, but the clock continues to tick and count the moments. Give us the courage to hear that beat again, and rejoin the dance – even if we can barely recall the steps. Amen.
I am not a big fan of creeds. I can respect their historical relevance, appreciate their effort to express something of eternal value, and even trust some of their words. But, on the whole, I think creeds fail, and fail miserably. They simply do not lift us up to higher ground. They do not bring out our best. They inspire nothing but rote religion, and scalpel edged divisions.
On the whole the Church has spent extraordinary time, energy, funds and faith on battling out the meaning of the phrases of creeds. Any attempt to alter a creed, let alone compose a new one, is met with utter disdain. It seems, only old words, spoken or written by the faithful of the long ago, are thought to contain the Holy Spirit.
For me, the bottom line is that I much prefer deeds to creeds. There are many who talk a good line, but few who manage to walk it. Most of all, I think it unwise to try and get us to speak as clones, or pack our collective faith into a single suitcase. It may be impressive to hear a crowd chant a creed, but what power does it really unleash – primarily, I suspect, arrogance and self-righteousness.
I cannot express what I believe. I can point at it, like a child seeing a firefly. I can offer a glimpse or glance, or even tell a story which might contain a morsel of the essence of my faith. But…there is no way I can put into words what it is I find moving, transforming, or which animates my being.
The song, the poem, the work of art, the tenderly gardened flower, the harvesting of that which will feed us, may each reveal a facet of faith, but this puzzle will always have more than one missing piece.
I am comfortable with awe, being moved to tears, or left dumbstruck. I think the raw wonder or grief witnessed on a face says more than words could ever speak. We look down in humility. We look up in reverence. We gaze through a veil of tears. Our eyes speak for us, and the tears speak a sacred language – surprisingly well understood all around the world.
I think the Quakers have it right when it comes to quiet and silence. They speak only when and if they have something of substance or significance to say – moved by the Spirit. Even then, inspired by the Spirit, we never manage to fully capture our beliefs in mere words, nor can anyone else fully grasp what it is we each believe.
O, Lord of Lent, free us to shut our mouths and open our souls, and write creeds with our lives. Amen.
In the last year of his life, Forrest Church offered me the same advice on three separate occasions. He told me to forgive everyone everything, and that in the end I was responsible to “die well”. Those lessons, like the whole of Forrest’s life, ministry and writing -- stuck to my soul.
Dying well --what does this really mean, and how do we do it or be it, or attempt to experience it? My answers are slim, a bit skeptical, and enormously intrigued. Every day we are living we are also dying. This is the nature of being a human being.
Being human is the will of God, and we spend a lifetime trying to be anything but human. Humans have beginnings and endings. God alone is eternal, and yet, I suspect we get glimpses of eternity before, during and after our days on this earth.
The challenge of Life is to live well knowing fully we will die, and will never know when, where, or how. Our lives are built upon a ground which quakes. Our very foundations are prone to shake. There is the occasional fissure, or even the creation of a gaping canyon.
Life rolls along. There is a flow to it, and at times it feels like tubing down a lovely lazy river on a hot summer day. But then, as we age, we begin to hit the rapids. The water goes wild, and we can hear the roaring sound of the falls which lies ahead. We feel little control at all.
We know how to make a difference. We certainly know what matters. We are not stupid or foolish, unless we choose this charade as a way of coping. It is in loving extravagantly, void of conditions, that we change the world for the better. It is in letting our mercy swarm, that we become deeper, fuller, and saner individuals.
Success is irrelevant. Greatness is momentary and mostly artificial. Dying well calls upon us to lead significant and substantial lives; lives which serve and sacrifice and suffer; lives which jump for joy and weep with sorrow; and a life spent knowing we are enough, as is the thing called a Life. Both are loaded with point and purpose.
Lent is an intensive course on how to die well, which religious folks call the Passion.
O, Lord of Lent, dying well is to possess a faith which can conquer fear. It is being sad when it all must end. It is the gut wrenching grieving of our losses. It is wondering where we will go from here. Of course, there is no place else to go, but back to Life. Dying well is an ultimate trust, a holy hunch we will all one day melt into the heart of God. Amen.
A living faith must grow, doubt, question, seek, examine, explore, and be at home with change and transformation. A living faith can neither rest on its laurels, nor become stagnant in its hope. A living faith is what Lent is all about, and this means trying to breathe new life into the whole concept of resurrection.
So much of American faith has become nothing more than bumper sticker religion, offering easy answers and woefully simplistic platitudes, both of which fail miserably to address the complex issues of our times and world.
We seem to be a religious culture which believes we alone will dispense the winning ticket to Heaven; use the Bible for indoctrination, not inspiration; and treat the Holy Spirit as non-intellectual, challenging of the status, or forbidding deep questions.
When faith becomes rigid in its beliefs, void of graciousness and generosity, and promotes the notion that God is highly selective and harshly judgmental, then this is a dead-end faith. This is the same white washed religion of the biblical Pharisees, who Jesus stated were full of dead man’s bones.
Lent calls upon us to come alive; Lent demands that we notice and pay attention; Lent challenges us to address those issues which threaten our planet, our people, our safety, our sanity, our worth and our value.
Lent does not orbit our lives, but lands right smack dad in the midst of them. Lent does not have pretty soft clean hands, but hands that are barked and soiled and cut and bruised by the task of building the Kingdom.
This Lent, ask yourself in faith, if Jesus is American, white, southern, Republican, affluent, and, isn’t this akin to creating God in our own image? This Lent, ask if your experience of Jesus is as a hater of Muslims, Jews, gays, feminists, liberals, or cultural outcasts? Does Jesus expect our leaders and citizenry to espouse a cloned creedal faith, or was Jesus wise in choosing twelve disciples who could not agree on much?
A living faith is not afraid of entering the mystery of not knowing, or the intellectual striving so eager to understand, or the miracle of being speechless when we have the most to say.
O, Lord of Lent, let us think long and hard about it…and then pray even longer and harder. Amen.
It has always been true. One solo candle can light up the darkest night. A candle in a window welcomes us home. A sliver of moon can guide our way.
These are terrifying times we live in. Lying alone has devoured much of our belief in goodness and one another. The greed has gone viral, and has become a malignancy of the soul. The lack of compassion and care and concern is tragic, even traumatic.
I find in our young people, a genuine uncertainty about the future. They are cynical about most adults as so many grown-ups seem unwilling to behave maturely. Our youth wonder if they can make any difference at all, and quietly suspect we are like lemmings on the way to the sea -- maybe already off the cliff.
It is just not easy to create real hope. It is hard to be positive and productive. It is brutally tough to find our way back to building the Kingdom of God, and not erecting some crazy gated Camelot.
I would suggest three basic attitudes and perspectives that might help us create a more hopeful attitude and perspective.
First, do not make your values or ethics either/or. Make them both/and. Our black and white living in America has ground us to a spiritual and maturational halt, and left our nation hopelessly divided. Respect the greys, and choose the compromise or build consensus.
Second, we must dig in and get rid of the racism. Those who are white must recognize that historically we have long been the primary culprits. We whites are not superior. We never have been. We have stooped so low as to take human beings as slaves, and to stuff others in ovens for their beliefs, and now we will build walls to keep them out – no matter how real the need.
Third, and finally, we must face the facts of a future which will indeed test our depth and our mettle. Global warming is real. Resources are dwindling. The flight of refugees will only get larger and steadier. The promise of technology is clearly questionable, unless we apply morality, regulation, and adult wisdom to it. Our future demands courage and conviction and ample creativity – as well as a steadfast hope.
O, Lord of Lent, let our attitudes be generous and gracious, and may our lifestyles reflect genuine concern and compassion, so that we might create a saner and more livable tomorrow. Amen.
Reverend William R. Grimbol has spent the past 30+ years helping people create and develop strong spiritual connections with loved ones and God. He is also a published author, with over a dozen books to his credit.