Crossing the Threshold

The Soul of A Pilgrim. Chapter 3.

Reading and Reflecting

In the opening words of chapter 3, John O’Donohue urges us to 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?” 

Reflect: Take some time to think about these questions for yourself. (The full text of O’Donohue’s essay is on the Wisdom Years website here.) 

The movement of going into the desert came in reaction to the increasing secularization of Christianity once Constantine declared it to be legal. The Desert Mothers and Fathers were choosing a sacrificial life in order to  “experience God in each moment and activity” (pg 49) by giving up the material goods that drew them away from God.

Reflect. Few of us will actually sell all we have to follow Jesus (Matt 19:21). But all of us can identify those possessions that draw us away from God because we invest so much of ourselves in them. What in your life interferes with you fully experiencing God? What are you able and willing to do about that?

The journey of the Desert Mothers and Fathers into the desert was the crossing of a threshold towards an intentional awareness of God’s presence and recognition that worldly pleasures bring little long-term satisfaction. 

Reflect: In these later years of your life, what have you discovered failed to bring you the long-term satisfaction you thought it would?

We are familiar with the story of the Exodus and the crossing of the Red Sea (the Sea of Reeds) in Israelite history. The author says that crossing this threshold marks the transition between the Israelites as Egyptian slaves and the Israelites as God’s freely Chosen People. It is the point of no return. The Israelites are safe, but there is no going back. 

Reflect: Can you recall a time in your life when you crossed a threshold knowing there would be no going back? What were your feelings at the time? What are your thoughts in retrospect?

The author says that crossing a threshold is not about figuring things out. It is about “resting into mystery” (pg 51). It is a liminal time, when the old is “released” but the new “hasn’t come into being” (pg 51). It is a time of unknowing. It may be a time when we don’t know what the new will be or what it will look like. It is also a time of possibility, when brand new opportunities may present themselves. 

Reflect: What are your feelings about liminal time? Do you see it as a time of possibility, or does it scare you?

The Celtic tradition “believed that heaven and earth often came together in the ‘thin places.’ These are times when we feel that we can see through the veil, and threshold is near. The thin places are a gift for us to dwell in and feel the presence of the holy through stepping out of the ordinary awareness of our days” (pg 53).

Reflect: Have you experienced “thin places” when you had a particular sense of God’s presence? Recall that and sit with it for awhile.

To practice this week

Put yourself in the scene of the Israelites successfully crossing the Red Sea. You have left behind the home you knew. And yes you were a slave at the mercy of the Pharaoh, but at least you knew what to expect. You had adjusted to it. Now you have no possessions, no home, no idea what is ahead. You have been promised milk and honey in a land that will belong to your people. But what does that really mean for you? What are your thoughts and feelings?

Closing poem

From Bonnie Thurston 

He was seventy-five years old
and God’s first word to him
was “Go.”

I think of Abram
when my plans go awry,
when happenstance 

pries my fingers loose
from the grasping illusion
of control over life. 

“Go,” God said to Abram,
giving no address,
disclosing no destination. 

Taking an unruly family,
trusting God to show the way,
Abram went.

On that wild journey
he, too, had fingers pried loose,
heard Sarai laugh, learned

the blessing comes
in the going
and the letting go.  

Notes on the Bonnie Thurston poem.

This poem is found in Esther De Waal’s book Lost in Wonder: Rediscovering the Spiritual Art of Attentiveness in the chapter on “Change.”

Bonnie Thurston resigned a Chair and Professorship in New Testament to live quietly in her home state of West Virginia.  Author or editor of 22 theological books, she contributes to scholarly and popular periodicals. [An internationally known Merton Scholar, her doctoral dissertation was one of the first on Merton.] She began writing poetry as a child, published her first poems in college, and is now widely published in the U.S.A. and U.K. Of her six collections of poetry the following are available [from Amazon or directly] from the publishers.

Esther de Waal is a foremost scholar in the Benedictine and Celtic traditions and has published extensively in both fields. Her interest in Celtic spirituality began at Cambridge University where she studied history and lived with Celtic scholar Nora Chadwick.

While her husband served as rector of Canterbury, she became fascinated with the architecture of the cathedral (a former Benedictine foundation) and it was there that a deep appreciation for the Rule of St. Benedict began. In Canterbury, while raising four sons, she studied and wrote on the Benedictine way of life. She now resides in the Welsh-English Borderlands where she lived as a child, continuing to lead retreats and write.

Read the poem out loud to yourself, and circle or underline words or phrases that leap out at you.

Use these as meditation and/or journaling prompts….this is a way to go deeper into this kind of material, to “see” how Spirit is speaking to you at this time in your life.