The Threshold: Scary Places

I wonder what doors you have stood before and been terrified to enter.  I don’t wonder that we all have these places, these scary places.  I also don’t doubt that these thresholds that stand between us and our scary places are vast and various and that it doesn’t matter what yours are–they are real, and they hold important adventures for us.

I was first aware of this kind of threshold as a seminarian assigned as a student chaplain in a metro Atlanta hospital.  Each week, I reported to the hospital chaplain and received names and room numbers of patients I was to visit.  One by one, I stood in front of the door of their room.  I could barely breathe.  I wanted to run away. What and who would I find on the other side of the door?  What would they be struggling with? Would they be dying?  What would I do or say that could be of any help at all?  A few years later as a young minister serving parish communities, I would stand on front porches, or in nursing homes, or funeral homes, or hospitals, or outside of a mobile home, feeling and wondering the same things.

I know that you have stood in front of similar doors, literal or metaphorical, facing something on the other side that left you breathless, fearful, doubtful and overwhelmed.

Henri Nouwen, of blessed memory, in his book,  The Wounded Healer, taught me that when I stand before such a door, I go through it as the host, not as the guest.  I am not there to be welcomed or to to be served or to otherwise be cared for (even though some of those things may happen).  I am there, as the host, to welcome, to serve, and to care for.

I remember the day I stood before a hospital door and tried to find my lost breath.  Nouwen’s words came to me. You are not the guest.  You are the host.  In that moment, I was able to call forth the host in me, enter the room, and begin caring for, listening to, tending to and being with the person inside who was wounded, suffering, dying.

A shift can happen at any threshold.  We owe it to ourselves to stop in front of a threshold in our lives, to breathe, and to ponder who we are and how it is that we enter the new space.  The new space will always contain things unknown and unexpected to us.  Do we enter expecting the new space to re-shape around us, or do we enter that space welcoming, embracing and ready to flow with what and whom we find there?

Bob Patrick

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