Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
In November and December we are releasing our brand new 7-day prayer cycle of morning and evening prayers on the theme of Soul of a Pilgrim. The audio podcasts for Day 3 morning and evening prayer are being released today on the theme of Crossing the Threshold! This is one of the many free resources we offer to our community to help support your contemplative practice and prayer. (If you are able to support this work financially in any way, we gratefully accept contributions at this link.)
A week from today we begin the sacred season of Advent and the start of a new liturgical year. This represents a threshold in the wheel of the year and is an opportunity for us to reflect on our own places of transition, endings, and new beginnings.
One of Mary’s titles is Gate of Heaven. A gate is a kind of portal or threshold. Thresholds are important symbols in the mythic imagination. They are places where the old has been released and the new has not yet come into being. In the Celtic imagination they are considered to be thin places, where the veil between heaven and earth is especially permeable. We are likely all familiar with particular places that feel especially holy, as if the sacred were somehow closer, more accessible. This might be a church, a forest, or even a garden bench where you love to sit and be present.
Of course, if we believe in the incarnation, then we also believe that all places are holy and all have the potential to open a doorway onto the sacred. As Thomas Merton wrote in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, “The gate of heaven is everywhere.”
Thresholds are the space between, when we move from one time to another as in the threshold of dawn to day or of dusk to dark; one space to another as in times of inner or outer journeying or pilgrimage; one awareness to another as in times when our old structures start to fall away and we begin to build something new.
We encounter thresholds each day through the movement across the hinges of time. Early morning and evening’s turning were thought to be especially graced times of day, when the otherworld was near.
Philip Sheldrake, in his book Living Between Worlds: Place and Journey in Celtic Spirituality, writes that the Celtic peoples had “a fascination for the spiritual quality of boundary places. Living on physical boundaries also symbolised a state of liminality – of living literally and spiritually on the margins or between worlds, the material one and the spiritual one.” The monks were drawn to edge places, inspired by the monks who had fled to the desert. They found their way to edge places.
Thresholds are liminal times when the past season has come to a close, but there is a profound unknowing of what will come next. Thresholds are challenging because they demand that we step into the “in-between” place of letting go of what has been, while awaiting what is still to come. This is very much the space of holy birthing. With Mary’s yes to the angel, she steps onto a threshold, welcoming in a pregnancy that brings with it many unknowns. When we are able to fully release our need to control the outcome, thresholds become rich and graced places of transformation. We can only become something new when we have released the old faces we have been wearing, even if it means not knowing quite who we are in the space between.
As spiritual seekers we are called to live with one foot in the world of earthy, everyday experience and the other foot is in the transcendent realm where the divine breaks through our ordinary consciousness. To hold this kind of imaginal awareness is to recognize heaven on earth and the kingdom breaking through in each moment.
It means keeping an eye attuned to the ways that the holy touches us through experience. We can cultivate the capacity to see another layer of reality at work. We can listen for symbols and encounters with this numinosity because it happens within the very deepest recesses of our souls. A gate is a passageway into a new life or new way of being, one that is marked by grace.
Please join us for our online Advent retreat exploring Mary’s wisdom for us during this time of threshold. Our 4-week Birthing the Holy journey begins Monday, November 28th. There will be weekly live Zoom sessions (always recorded for those who can’t make it), dance prayers from Betsey Beckman, creative ways to pray the rosary from Polly Paton-Brown, and wonderful explorations of the art in Chartres Cathedral from Jill Geoffrion who spends part of her year guiding pilgrims there.
Simon is leading his Taize-inspired sacred chant service tomorrow!
For our U.S.-based friends we wish you a most blessed Thanksgiving. We are so grateful for this community. (Here is a reflection from our archives on the practice of gratitude and contentment.)
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Image © Christine Valters Paintner