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Grace, peace, and love to you, friends ~
It’s good to be back. I’ve been anticipating returning to Monday Manna all month, but let me say, it’s been. a. month. Within a week’s span, I discovered someone had created fraudulent mail forwarding of all my mail (I hope they’re enjoying my mail-order deodorant) and opened numerous credit cards under my name. I couldn’t receive the phone calls from the credit card company fraud departments because my freshly-minted two-year-old experimented with cooking my iPhone in the microwave (it did not survive). All five members of our household succumbed to the same end of summer sickness with coughs that, as Eddie from Christmas Vacation says, “are the gift that keep on giving.”
But here I am, and here you are, and there is so much to mark, celebrate, and grieve. Life remains fragile and tender. The theme continually rising to the surface for me this summer is thresholds. Everywhere I turn, I’m witnessing people I love experiencing major change. There are moves to new places and the start of new jobs. Marriages beginning and others being released. There are hellos to fresh friendships alongside goodbyes to relationships whose season has ended. Babies are being birthed into our arms and hearts. Pillar people in our lives died, making us relearn our worlds. Diagnoses are still being grappled with, leading us into foreign territory. Discernment and decisions are at the forefront of our minds. Important anniversaries are being felt in our bodies and souls. Yesterday marked eight years since my own dad’s heavenly birthday, and I am still learning to hold and feel this really weighty day with gentleness. Someone I dearly love just finished their prison sentence and is free for the first time in many years. We are sensing homecomings to our own selves which have been in the works for a long, long time.
I’m experiencing so many thresholds in my own life, too. The start of school this past week was a significant one. As I sat on the small chair next to my son in a cheerful kindergarten room at the teacher meet n’ greet that first day, I felt overcome with emotion. Last year, parents couldn’t even step into the classroom at school’s start, and this week, the room was flooded with smiling parents and maskless children. They get to eat in the cafeteria this year. I wondered if the redemptive promises of God could be true, even here, even now. I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten….(Joel 2:25). What was lost will never come back. But across this threshold is great goodness.
For me, framing change as a threshold is both healing and empowering. In the literal sense, a threshold is the strip of ground within a doorway. It’s the place between two places. A leaving and an entering.
I learned threshold comes from the old English word, “threscan,” or “thresh,” which refer to separating seed from a plant. It’s a harvesting time as well as the first step in creating something new—preparing that seed for its planting. The earth is embodying this very thing right now as it will soon turn to autumn.
Some of the most profound and helpful reading I’ve done on thresholds has come from John O’Donohue (which could be said of almost anything, now that I think about it). In his book, To Bless the Space Between Us, he has a whole chapter about thresholds which will lift and lighten your entire being.
He speaks about thresholds being not just a boundary, but a frontier, and how the great challenge and invitation is to “cross worthily.” When we are curling our toes over that edge, we will feel a lot of emotions, some which feel paradoxical to each other. 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?…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…to listen inward with complete attention until you hear the inner voice calling you forward. The time has come to cross.”
This summer, we helped my mom sell my childhood home of almost three decades. My littlest child weaned. My partner and I made some big decisions. And as I sat in a session with my clergy coach, pouring out and processing all of this, she paused, looked me in the eye, and said, “I think you need a symbol or a ritual for all of this letting go, Arianne.”
For this crossing.
As the weeks went on, the image/practice the Spirit gifted to me was that of open hands. And not just thinking about open hands, but physically opening my hands. There were moments when a flood of fear or grief or excitement would wash over me, and I would stretch my hands in front of me and unfurl my fingers.
I wonder if this is what John O’Donohue means. That the most beautiful way we can cross our thresholds is to do so with trust, not seeing what’s ahead as a threat, but as a place of rich promise.
We open our hands knowing God will fill them. Lavishly.
“That we are here is a huge affirmation; somehow life needed us and wanted us to be,” O’Donohue writes. “Whatever comes, the great sacrament of life will remain faithful to us, blessing us always with visible signs of invisible grace. We merely need to trust.”
Blessings of trust and open hands to each of you, friends, in the thresholds you are crossing.
Sometimes, thresholds come to us with startling surprise. Other times, they are in quiet germination for a long, long, long time. This prayer from my book, Ash and Starlight, reminds me of this. And of our friend, John O’Donohue’s, calling to trust.
When I’m breaking free
Spirit of grace and grit,
You are the Giver of freedom.
I’ve been asking for it.
For that strength, courage,
and discipline to break free.
But I’m now realizing
that while freedom
sometimes comes in
one, glorious breakthrough
where I burst through the
bramble into a fresh clearing,
never to turn back or tread the old path,
ready to leave the darkness
of the forest behind me…
Well, that’s just not been my experience.
More often, freedom comes
through a muddy trail run where I’m
weaving and winding,
not always moving forward,
but continually progressing.
The dirt sticking to the crevices of my shoes,
the roots I knead with the soles of my feet,
the pine needles collecting in my hair,
teach me what I so wanted to leave behind
actually becomes my story.
And how with you,
there are no dead ends or pointless loops.
They are part of the journey…the story….
And I need them.
When I can take in
what dim light I find
within the trees and
keep making each step
on the uneven trail,
I learn to trust.
To trust I am not lost,
but burrowed in a womb
of life-giving mystery.
And you say,
“You are already free.
Now live into that truth.”
Psalm 118:5 * John 8:32 * 2 Corinthians 3:17
“Jesus said, ‘You will know the truth,
and the truth will set you free.’” – John 8:32
SOMETHING THAT NOURISHED ME RECENTLY…
God’s manna has been merciful and plentiful. One recent and tangible inspiration for me has been this new t-shirt from Adrianne Haslet-Davis. If you don’t know her story, check it out here. Adrianne was a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing at which she was a spectator. She has since gotten into running and created an incredible movement supporting the amputee community. Talk about transforming your pain. As I’ve experienced such lament and rage this summer over everything from Supreme Court decisions to gun madness to climate change, people like Adrianne remind me how painful thresholds can be catalysts.
On a lighter note, sunflowers. Always sunflowers. My favorite flower. Delivered by a friend when things imploded this month.
This mug, sent to me by my sister-in-law, who will also run the Chicago marathon with me this fall. It brought much needed laughter during a stressful time. Cheers to all who keep going.
And lastly, this favorite Mary Oliver poem which continues to save me over and over and over again.
Opening my hands in prayer with you as you cross your own thresholds….
Love and Light,