[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“Whatever comes,” O’Donohue reminds us, “the great sacrament of life will remain faithful to us, blessing us always with visible signs of invisible grace. We merely need to trust.” You may not see it, smell it, or taste it yet. You may not be ready to walk on. But right here, where you stand between two realities, there is the Presence of God. [/perfectpullquote]
You know it well, don’t you? That feeling of inhabiting two worlds, not fully in either.
One foot is still firmly planted in the place you are leaving, while another is itching to propel you forward. You are at the threshold and somehow you are stuck.
These days I feel it in a lot of places, this ache of transition. We feel it now as spring dangles its delights before us for hours at a time only to plunge us back into winter. A friend said to me the other day that we are on the off-ramp of Covid, and I suddenly had the desire to shout, “Shh, don’t jinx us!” From New Years to changing seasons, growing children to aging parents, diagnoses to treatments, we are constantly visiting these places of transition. Very rarely do our lives sit still for long before launching us into the unknown again.
I long ago accepted that these liminal spaces between seasons are wonderful teaching moments. That doesn’t mean I’m always a willing student. Sometimes I would really love some boredom for once. And yet, the world keeps spinning—and with it our lives that are very rarely linear paths to a clear destination.
God gave us clear markers of change with the seasons. The rituals that come with the constantly shifting world can give us beautiful ways to move from one place in the year to the next. Right now, those of us in the southern United States are filing up garden beds and spreading weed preventer on our still-stubbly grass. We’re dusting off feeders in the garage and boiling sugar water to lure the hummingbirds back to our porches. My friends in northern states dread my photos of freshly potted daffodils as they send back photos of freshly fallen snow. We ache in the in-between spaces, longing for the warmer days to come.
The church can give us clear markers of change as well. We have rituals for just about every turning point. In liturgical churches, we switch the colors on the altar to reflect the season. Right now Lenten purple adorns our pulpits, reminding us of that period of repentance that leads to Easter. We create ceremonies for other important life transitions: dedications and baptisms for new life, parties to mark the entry into adulthood upon graduation, vows to mark the creation of a new family created by marriage, remembrances for those passing into eternity.
Yet we most often stand at thresholds without ceremony—stuck and unsure how to pass through. Where is the fanfare that leads us into that next season of spiritual growth when we feel God is doing something new? Who is walking with us in long stretches of dryness when we need a push? When the grief is no longer fresh or the diagnosis is old news—how do we mark forward movement?
In To Bless the Space Between Us, John O’Donohue says:
At any time you can ask yourself: 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? A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms and atmospheres…This is one of the reasons such vital crossing were always clothed in ritual. 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.
I miss the grandeur that marked the passage of time that I experienced while living in South Asia. Now, Bangladeshi people know how to mark a transition! There is a folk song or a poem, a color, and traditional food for every rhythm of the year, it seems. There are holidays aplenty. One of my favorites was Pohela Falgun. On February 13 to mark the coming of spring, color would explode everywhere. After the long stretch of gloomy skies during the tropical winter, girls would emerge wearing yellow saris and crowns of marigolds. Street vendors lined up to sell flowers to all the men passing by in their colorful Punjabi suits. Thousands of students would gather at dawn at Dhaka University to recite poetry and perform dances, welcoming new life.
In Bangladesh, you could see, smell, and taste a threshold. The New Year was marked in April with flavorful fried fish, fermented rice, and various kinds of mashed vegetables. Carnivals exploded across the city with color and sound. We would all put on our best new red and white clothes for Pohela Boishakh and experience it all. These rituals created vital touchpoints in our years, ways to mark what we were leaving behind and putting on.
Every week in my church we have a ritual, a remembrance. We kneel around the altar and hold out our hungry hands. I need more of God’s presence, we say. I need to be reminded that in all of the changes of life, I don’t walk alone. Help me to remember. The Celebrant looks us each in the eyes and presses the wine-soaked bread into our hands and tells us this is for you. Here, Jesus—for you. This sacrament marks the juncture of another week in which we do not go alone.
“Whatever comes,” O’Donohue reminds us, “the great sacrament of life will remain faithful to us, blessing us always with visible signs of invisible grace. We merely need to trust.” You may not see it, smell it, or taste it yet. You may not be ready to walk on. But right here, where you stand between two realities, there is the Presence of God.
It’s there whether you recognize it or not. Be still.
See if you can listen for God there. With you. For you. Always.
Take some time and think about how you can mark this moment. Take all the time you need. God will not move on without you.
Make the sign of the cross or pick up a dandelion and watch its seeds scatter to the wind.
Call a friend to cry or savor that piece of cake and celebrate your commitment to keep on walking.
Light that incense and let the aroma of sandalwood fill your senses.
Whatever you need to do to pay attention, be all there. Then, walk on.
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