A first snow. The spirit the same. The impact of each -- unforgettable.
In recent months she liked waking me up. She would claim a need for ice water, or the remote had dropped to the floor. I knew she just needed company. We would sit together and chat. Mainly reminisce. She would recall our car trips to and from Racine, when my mother was still alive. 30 in all. 3 a year for all 10 years of our marriage.
The first giant flakes of memories begin to float from a pearl grey wet sky. She would state her dreams, knowing full well in her soul, that these were not to be. Places we might still see, and people with who we would reconnect. She would admonish me not to give up hope. She would instruct me on the basic tenets of her faith. God would not let her down.
The flakes grow faster now. They are smaller but more fierce, and the ground is coated in a crisp clean white sheet of snow. She would ask me if, in spite of “it” all, if I was happy we had married. I would offer her all the assurance I could muster, but it was never enough. She so wanted to be my perfect wife.
The snow outside is beginning to whip, and there are Carvel cone tops to many of the drifts. The sun is out. The light wincing bright. It will be gorgeous when it stops. The whole world like the hide of a zebra.
I tell her of her incredible presence. How many lives she touched with her gracious and grateful spirit. I recite the names of the youths she has showered with affirmation and affection. I affirm her impact on her grandchildren, and her own children, and mine. How much love they have known because of her, and what a magnificent mentor she has been in the art of loving. She smiles and she weeps.
The snow is settling. The flakes have grown large again. There is a pink glow flirting with the horizon. She says we need a hot cup of coffee, and toast. I fetch. We gaze out the window and wait. The light will bring this first snow to life. All is still. All is calm. An all is so very very bright.
She tells me I had better not forget to kiss her before heading for work. I tell her I will stay home for the morning. She is delighted. Like we are skipping school together. We both fantasize like children. Sledding. Snowballs. Skating. Hot chocolate. We enter the state of heaven.
I raise the blinds. Everything carries a wet load of snow. The trees and bushes droop. The sunlight sparkles and pirouettes along the crust of snow outside our window. It looks as though it will last forever. But, like Patty, its time will be short and sweet.
Patty says, “How on earth can anyone not believe, and behold all this beauty?”
I have no idea.
The sun has created drips and drops from the eaves, and soon it will be a tiny torrent. The magic will be over by noon. I savor my coffee, as I savor this moment with my wife. This woman who blanketed my life with such cozy warmth and fondness and love. My adoring fan. My advocate. My soul sharer. Patty.
A first snow. They have come and gone in my life. Too fast. Too brief. But, the feel of them. The awe inspired. That is etched upon my heart. That has entered a heaven of timelessness and beauty. When there was and is a peace which passes all understanding. A knowing the unknown. The embrace of the certainty of uncertainty. The march of days.
Once a year it comes. A first snow. Bringing healing hope to the mud cracked earth. The brownish grey all exit on command. There before us is a clean slate. A field of unconditional love. The promise of God. The hope of every tomorrow. Right there. Before our eyes.
We will choose not to walk across this crystalline plain. We shall not dare to mar its surface. We simply stand and stare. We are still. We know that God is indeed God. We are not. We are finally fine with that, and we wisely wave the white flag of surrender. All is ahhhhh.
A holy roller.
A holier than thou attitude.
Holy cow. Holy cats. The catch-all..... Holy crap!
It is hard to locate these days. Holiness. Its meaning. Its message. Is it even real anymore? Does it exist? Where do we find it? How? Why even bother? Looking -- that is. Even if we find a bit of holy, will we know it when we see it, or hear it, or touch it, or are touched by it? Will we even recognize the experience? Will holiness sneak up on us, and reveal itself to be true?
I recently asked a small group of adults gathered for a spirituality workshop -- on the topic of “HARVESTING THE HOLY” -- to offer their own definition of the term. They struggled. Squirmed. Showed discomfort. Giggled like young girls or horny boys. Admitted they had somehow lost or misplaced the meaning of holiness. They said they knew it once. They had grasped it for a time. But now it was gone. Vanished. Without a trace.
I then asked them to sit quietly for about twenty minutes. I invited them to picture HOLINESS. To imagine a moment that was holy. To flesh out what holiness might mean to their very own soul. They followed the lead, and soon came began to respond. Their musings went all over the place. There was no pattern. No singular direction. No real theme, except maybe Life itself, beautiful old everyday living.
One spoke of making love in grass as being holy.
One spoke of holding their child for the very first time.
One spoke of listening to their dying mother sing all the verses to “Amazing Grace”.
One spoke of watching an autumn leaf twirl to the ground. Seeming to descend so slow, and yet, it was but a few seconds until it arrived below. Like her life, she said. She just can’t catch it. Her days press the accelerator and speed away.
One spoke of an ice storm and a sunset which turned the sky and earth into a twinkling spectacle of pink and orange sherbet.
As each moment was shared, it was followed by ooohs and aaahs, as if we had gathered for a fireworks display. Which, in a sense, we were. Watching these explosions of holiness illuminate our spiritual sky.
It was contagious, as is most pure spirituality. The more we shared, the more we recalled or realized or imagined. This concept, holy, which we once believed to be quite scarce, was now in bountiful supply. It was everywhere. All of the time. Available now. To all. Just like the Kingdom of God. Holiness, it would seem, is in our midst.
We were stunned by the transformation. Baffled by why we ever thought all things holy were in retreat. Keenly aware that holiness is simply a matter of perspective. A way of seeing, and being seen. It is possessing eyes which believe and then see.
What started awkwardly, and with painful delay, soon became an avalanche of sharing. We swapped holiness stories all day long. Moments of holy swarmed about the workshop and its participants and the day itself.
As we left the retreat center, the sky had grown Payne’s grey. A sunset emerged from behind these dark clouds. All was gilded and glowed. And then, there it was, as if on cue – a vivid full arced rainbow. I know. Too good to be true. Too, well, almost corny. Hallmark-cardish. One of the participants gasped, and said, “Holy shit!” We all laughed out loud as we walked to our cars. One might say that holiness can be witnessed in just about anything – okay, that might be stretching the point a bit.
By the time we drove away, the rainbow and sunset were gone. I suspect our souls, however, were wide awake. Looking in and out and beyond. Listening hard. In touch. Ready to receive another shot of holiness. Life, when seen from the right angle, is holy. Every morsel of it. It is all capable of shimmering. Igniting. Serving as a burning bush.
It would take time to fall asleep this night. We were too full, or at least, too open to being filled. Rest only came in anticipation of the holy potential of dawn. A day. A divinity. A miracle awaiting us on the morn.
Before you go to bed tonight. Define holiness. Give examples. Let your soul soak in the sacredness for a time. Then rest. A holy rest. All weariness will vanish – again, without leaving a trace.
We are tired. Real tired. Weary. We Americans wear faces of spiritual exhaustion.
We are busy, but there is little joy. Our lists grow longer, but the rewards diminish. The fire in the hearth is just a few smoldering embers. We wonder most days – what has happened?
The irony is, we know. We know what happened, and we even know what is missing. We know that we have long lists of things to do, but sadly, we are not on them, and neither is God. We know that somehow we either sold our soul, or it got ripped off. Our hearts have been mugged. Our spirits sag. We droop through our days.
We know why? It is all the fear and worry. We dwell in a dark dank culture which seeks to swamp us in fear. Our worries swarm. We have been led to believe that we are never enough. We fall short all of the time. As for Time, well, we buy it, we kill it, we try futilely to make it, and we waste it. Oh, how we waste it.
We have reason to worry. Greed is accepted as the norm. Being mean is fashionable. The inability to compromise or change is witnessed as a sign of principle. We march in place in quicksand, and we call it progress. We claim happiness and look and act miserable. Even our faith feels a farce. Too rigid. Uptight. Exclusive. Judgmental. Grace less.
There is so much missing. True family or neighborhood. Genuine community or church. Creativity. The celebration of diversity or ordinary. Intimacy. Friendship. Depth. Questions and doubts and scintillating mystery.
Our children know no stories, and they are addicted to a technology which offers them the world, and delivers it to them in trivia and mind numbing data. They do not know how to play or pray. They seem so old, and act so childish. Their imaginations rust, and their wonder rots.
Most of all, what is missing is hope. I am not sure we believe we can change. We function like lemmings. We seem pretty battered and beaten. Like the long term badly abused wife, we simply gird for the next beating. Our faith is reduced to silly bumper stickers, and we make the wilderness our spiritual home. Heaven is not to be brought to earth, but to serve as the reward for having endured Life.
Still. It is there. The sparkle. The twinkle. The melting heart that moves us to tears. The lumps which swell in our throats, and the butterflies which flutter about our stomachs. We have our moments. Even whole days. We yearn to be lifted up to higher ground. We long to be the magnificent people we were created to be.
And there it is. To be. Not to do. Hope comes from a state of being. It is the blossom of a winter’s solitude and silence and stillness. Hope is formed from doing nothing, but being everything God would ask us to be.
Hope is the road less traveled. A road without a GPS. A road which wanders and has dead ends and closes for repairs. It is a way of seeing and thinking and feeling. It is a path which narrows at the end to a dirt trail. It does go over s steep cliff.
I am a minister. I am in the hope business. It is not a fun job these days. I envy the evangelical preachers who dismiss doubt and wrap up their easy answers with big biblical bows. I wish it could be so simple. But I believe it is not. Our faith must push beyond the Bible. The Bible is a catalyst for inspiration, not the Algebra book which gives the answers in the back.
All I seem able to do is point people toward Grace. Nothing more and nothing less. I have no time to spend on the foolishness of debating who has the truest truths. I have contempt for those who claim to have Christ in their personal back pockets. I just have a holy hunch that Grace can be found in every nook and cranny of this life of ours.
As for Jesus, well, I have never believed in Christ more fully or strongly. Strange. Ironic. But I do. The myth and the message and the ministry and the mystery, they all speak to my heart of hearts. They call me to joy. They invite me to forgive. They challenge me to love, even those I have a hard time stomaching. They beckon me to mature. Every day. Grow up!
These are the sacred stories which make sense out of the mayhem of my days. These are good stories with good people and good endings. This Jesus, I suspect, was and is the event of Grace. Brought Grace to Life. Made it real for us. Made us believe. Jesus spun a fine yarn with his life, and we get to nestle under its woven coziness. Hope must be dipped in a daily coat of goodness.
No, this is not a call to wear a faith cloak of excess calm. This is a call to a life with just enough calm, that our actions can finally be focused on building the Kingdom. Here. Now. In our time. Until the end of our days. It is my hope, a habit I seek to daily develop, that we become good builders on this good earth, of a Kingdom of peace and justice and equality and an enjoyment so deep, it too passes all understanding.
He told us we would be weary. He told us to come home. He ran down the road to greet us. He washed our feet and perfumed our hair. He fed us and clothed us. He washed away our tears and the scars of our sin. He shared story after story after story, about how we would find our hope at home. The humble dwelling of God is in Kansas not Oz, and we can find rest for our weary souls, only when we can be wise enough to shout with ET, “ET go home!”
October is a month for the eyes. The hillsides ablaze. Bright golds and oranges. Crimson and apple red. Cobalt and cerulean skies. Lemony suns.
November is much more about smells. Wood fires and smoke. The scent of the harvest. The aroma of football. Hot coffees and ciders and chocolate. Soups and stews and stuffing. Turkey. Nutmeg. Brandy. Merlot. It is a month of reaping the perfumes of giving thanks.
Life is sensual. Nature lies in wait to arouse us. Please stop and see. Notice. Pay attention. Listen up. Listen hard. Be a soul of good taste. Know when something stinks or smells like the Holy Spirit. Be in touch. Get in touch. Savor a touching moment or two or three.
The Prodigal Son came to his senses and headed home. So should we. Home to our Selves, our souls, and our God. Home -- where we belong and are accepted and where it is just fine to be ordinary. Home -- which overlooks the flaw, erases the mistake, and wipes the slate clean on a daily basis. Home -- where there is nothing to prove. Home – where Grace is easily found.
This holiday season will be scented with Grace. Every one of your five senses will explode with that good news. So, come to your senses. Come home to your life and to Life itself. Head home. For God’s sake. Come to your senses and hit the road. You know the way. There is a guide at your side. You won’t need a map. Just follow your nose.
These autumn days have been spectacular. The air so clean and crisp. The breeze brisk but not cutting. The clouds pillowy. The sky such a deep sea blue. The trees ablaze. The occasional maple looking Christmasey in dark red and green.
The gathering of pumpkins in piles and patches. The myriad houses made spooky by Halloween paraphernalia. Ghosts and goblins. Witches and spiders and cobwebs. Creaking doors and wide bloodshot eyes in windows. What fun. Childlike joy abounds.
I took a wondrous trip with Justin and Heather at the very peak of the foliage. We went up to the Upper Peninsula, and stayed in some funky little blue collar towns and motels. Our drives were breathtaking. Even in the rain, the colors radiated fire.
It was magical. The beauty quite healing. Beauty takes your breath and then gives it back again. Only the new breath is fresh. Fine. Filled with a gratitude for the blessings of just being alive.
Autumn is a time of memory. Remembrance is its theme. It is also a season which prepares us well to say good-bye. The glorious smells of leather and smoke and cider and cinnamon. The enchanted cool days, with a hint of summer. The haunted cold nights of being tucked in cozy.
Winter beckons from the horizon. A cold white and blue finger asking us to come home now. To sit at the hearth. To hibernate. To get ready for the drifting snows and icy winds.
This is again a time in my Life when I am being mandated to say a difficult farewell – to my beloved chuckling cheery wife, Patty. A combination of Edith Bunker and Aunt Bea and Sophia of the Golden Girls. A pal and companion and friend and partner and a soul mate par excellence. It has been an ache of an ending. Never dreamed I’d bid adieu to two great wives in my one lifetime. But I must. Feeling blessed and cursed simultaneously is an eerie and odd mix.
Autumn. The trees wave goodbye in streamers of flame. The air cools and welcomes in the cold. Life retreats, and the soil hardens. The browns come marching in. Only a few gold coins cling to the trees. We say our final good-byes to the whoops and glee of summer and blow a kiss to the fading festivities of Fall.
We are satisfied. We are at peace. We are content. Calm. At home with Life and God, and at last, with our very own Selves. Beloved and believing. An unbeatable combination.
The path by this river was moist, and on the verge of muddy. The leaves overhead looked like the insides of a pumpkin. It was dawn. I had not been able to sleep at The Wildwood Inn, and so decided to journey to the Quabbin Reservoir nearby. I knew it would be quiet, still and serene. I had seen this path by the river many times, but this was my first jaunt down its trail.
There was a morning mist. Not a fog. More like the white webbing we use to decorate for Halloween. The woods looked enchanted. As if each tree was whispering a scary or sacred story on the wind. The wind itself was eerie. It made everything moan and sway. It was also as mild as May. The smell was mildew, like a Grandma’s attic. The creaking sounds odd, as there certainly no stairs.
The river flowed in swirling patterns. It was brown and green and reflected the ghostly sky. Occasionally the sun would appear, and the water would suddenly burst blue, but then it would just as quickly vanish. The water made no sound. Only frogs could be heard. They chattered in large numbers.
I laughed at myself. Trying to act all big boy. As if I was not afraid. As if I regularly ventured forth into the wild. Trust me, this river bank was pretty damn wild for me. I walked forward until a yellow caped presence startled me on the other side of the river. I stopped and stared. I listened.
It was a woman. My age, or there about. She was seated on a mossy rock, and was gazing into the flow of the river. She was equally shocked by my presence. We looked at one another. Funny, but we waved without speaking. We each returned to our previous activity. Mine a morning walk in the mist. Hers a chance to ponder for a spell.
Think about what, I questioned. Due to the time and place, I felt a sadness swarming about her. I sensed that she was at a point of needing to feel some intimacy, or some purpose, or a point to her days. I imagined her not to be depressed, certainly not despairing, but seeking something. Yearning to sort out a puzzle or solve a riddle. Wanting desperately to find a rhyme or a reason. I felt bad for her. I felt raw mercy.
Then it hit me. She was me. I had transferred onto her, exactly what had kept me up most of the night. I was not lost, but I sure as hell was not found. I was not lonely, but I wanted a friend to share the day. I was not down, but I was way below up. I laughed out loud.
We are, all of us, one. One soul. One spirit. One infinite variety of humanity. When we let ourselves, we can identify intimately with our neighbor. We can feel so close, we can smell their breath. We can swap hearts and even minds. We can know one another inside out. We can be created equally in the image of God.
A middle aged woman in a yellow cape. Down by the river. Early morning. Both of us seeking refuge. Both wishing to be understood. Both praying that this day might reveal a bit of magic to delight us. Both of us pulsing with the beat of Life. Its eternal questions. Who am I? Where am I going? Why bother? Two separate souls united by gold autumn light and a meandering river. A paradox? Possibly. Siamese spiritual twins? Probably.
We had waved. It was a most gentle gesture, and it had spoken more than I had said in months, maybe years.
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.