Crossing Borders

My beloved and I went up to Canada for a long weekend retreat together, a time to be still and reconnect.  On Thursday night we made the long trip to Vancouver Island, driving a little way past the village of Sooke.  We had been to Sooke a couple of years ago and I longed to return because of East Sooke Regional Park which for me is tied only with Ruckle Park on Saltspring Island as my two favorite places to hike in this region.  The reason I love these two parks so much is that they both have densely forested trails that run along the edge of the coast.  The forest is coated thick with moss and the air is filled with mist from the sea.  Walking along these paths is like walking along the edges where two wild places meet and in that space I encounter the wilderness within me.  This landscape of earth and sea pressed against each other, wild against wild, speaks to something deep within me — that place where God’s voice often whispers and sometimes roars.  It reflects the landscape of my soul in a way that no other place yet has and I somehow feel very much at home in this place of edges. 

To reach this physical place and then return home we must also cross another edge: the border into Canada and then back into the US.  In the almost four years we have lived in the Northwest I have spent many hours waiting at this border crossing in the long line of cars.  This trip was our first experience using our new Nexus passes which we finally decided to get because of our love of traveling up to British Columbia.  It felt almost magical being able to zip past all of the cars waiting, right up to the border guard who waved us through when entering Canada.  The guards coming into the US are always a bit gruffer, asking many more questions, an experience that feels a little truer to the other border experiences of my life. 

This Lent has been in part for me about dwelling in the border spaces of my life and recognizing those places and experiences that do not offer me easy answers, those fierce edges of life where things are not as clear-cut as I hope for them to be.  There is beauty in the border spaces, those places of ambiguity and mystery.  In Esther de Waal’s rich little book To Pause at the Threshold: Reflections on Living on the Border, she writes that the ability to live with uncertainty requires courage and the need to ask questions over finding answers.  I am called to hold the space for mystery within me, and also to have the courage to live into the choices I make for my life out of a desire for wholeness.

Spring is a season of transitions.  Like autumn, it is a time when nature is in full flux.  The world around us is constantly moving toward the fullness of bud and blossom.  We are surrounded by the signs of movement, growth, and the rising of newness into the world.  Spring moves between the borders of the starkness of winter and the fullness of summer in what feels like a never-ending cycle of movement toward life.

In William Countryman’s wonderful book Living on the Border of the Holy: Renewing the Priesthood of All, he writes that this border country is one we all carry within us.  There is a fault line running down the middle of our lives which connects our ordinary reality with its deeper roots.  The border country, he argues, is what gives our lives meaning:

“This border country is a place of intense vitality.  It does not so much draw us away from the everyday world as it plunges us deeper into a reality of which the everyday world is like the surface. . . To live there for a while is like having the veils pulled away.”

Threshold space opens us up to life that is vital, intense, and often filled with unknowns.  Borders and edges are the places of transformation, transformation that often makes demands of us.  Jesus’ journey in the desert was a willingness to dwell in the border space of that landscape and the walk toward Holy Week often fills me with more questions than answers.

What are the border spaces in your own life where you are invited to linger or dwell in these days of spring and Lent?  Will you respond to the call?

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

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