Crossing Thresholds

“Whether we arrive at these between-places by design, by accident, or by the choices that others have made for us, the threshold can be a place of wonders. It can also be chaotic, discombobulating, and even terrifying. Yet a threshold, chosen or otherwise, is a place of wild possibility. ” 

Jan Richardson, from Illuminating the Threshold  – A Retreat for Women’s Christmas 2015

The day after their honeymoon ended, my brand new son–in-law left our daughter on our doorstep and departed for a city five hours away. 

They had planned it that way.

He had to get back to a job that was waiting for him, and she needed to finish packing before she could join him.

So a few days later, my daughter and I packed up my SUV and headed south. I left her on her husband’s doorstep, then turned around and headed for home. Another five-hour drive, and I cried all the way. Got a speeding ticket at abut hour three and cried some more.  The Texas Highway Patrol trooper was singularly unmoved by my tears. 

I was at a threshold – the one titled “Last child leaves home.”

Thresholds, says John O’Donohue in To Bless the Space Between Us, come with “a great complexity” of emotions: confusion, fear, excitement, sadness, hope. And tears.

It is wise, says O’Donohue, “to be able to recognize and acknowledge the key thresholds: to take our time, to feel all the varieties of presence that accrue there.” 

The ancient Celts considered thresholds to be particularly potent times in the moving from one space to another: dawn, dusk, the changing of the seasons, births and deaths. They were considered “thin places,” when the veil between heaven and earth becomes more permeable and we are more able to sense the presence of God. In the endings and the beginnings, something new is revealed.  They are, says Christine Valters Paintner in her book The Soul’s Slow Ripening, times when “old structures start to fall away and we begin to build something new,” 

Some thresholds are predictable and even chosen; others are thrust upon us – retirement, end of a marriage, loss of a relationship – invite us to stop and consider rather than rush through the time of change. Sometimes a threshold appears as dreams or intentions we have ignored too long. Sometimes we just know it is time to cross. 

Thresholds invite discernment and offer us the opportunity to release everything to which we cling too tightly, says Paintner: our need to be right, our need to feel secure, our wanting to be in control.

At any time, adds O’Donohue, we can ask ourselves: “At which threshold am I now standing? At this time in my life, what am I leaving? Where am I about to enter? What is preventing me from crossing my next threshold? What gift would enable me to do it?”

At every threshold, safe passage will require “courage and a sense of trust in whatever is emerging.” Whatever comes, says O’Donohue, “the great sacrament of life will remain faithful. to us, blessing us always with visible signs of invisible grace.”

I can report that my daughter and her husband will soon celebrate 25 years of marriage.  This fall, their only child leaves home. Such is the journey. 

– Marjorie George

Thresholds – Questions for reflection

What thresholds am I now facing? Am I discerning something? Is God calling me to a new place or new thing?

What wisdom have I learned in past times of threshold-crossings that I can call upon now?

What is preventing me from crossing my next threshold?

What gift would enable me to do it?

Related Resources

Thresholds by John O’Donohue

“It is wise in your own life to be able to recognize and acknowledge the key thresholds; to take your time; to feel all the varieties of presence that accrue there; to listen inward with complete attention until you hear the inner voice calling you forward. The time has come to cross.” Read the essay.

Crossing Thresholds from Spirituality and Practice, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

Ways you can acknowledge transition moments and places as a spiritual practice. Read the reflection.

More articles, poems, and prayers at the site. Visit the page.

Celtic Christianity and the gift of Thresholds by Jessica Brown from Faith and Leadership, Duke Divinity School

In the Celtic Christian tradition, there are prayers for literally crossing a threshold, but also prayers for the metaphorical crossings in our lives: for dawn and dusk, for the start of a new task, for the beginning of a journey. The threshold is a designated space or time to open to God. Read the essay.

Threshold Practices & Doorknob Prayers by Kaisa Stenberg-Lee

Rituals, prayers, and blessings to incorporate into daily life. Read the article.

On the Threshold by the Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern, from Quest for Meaning website.

Thresholds are about change: “shedding one identity and taking up another. In other words, they are about being and becoming, that great balance of our lives.” Read the essay.

For more resources, see our reading list.

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