The Threshold: Something Different


by Mary Oliver

Sweet Jesus, talking
his melancholy madness,
stood up in the boat
and the sea lay down,

silky and sorry.
So everybody was saved
that night.
But you know how it is

when something
different crosses
the threshold—the uncles
mutter together,

the women walk away,
the young brother begins
to sharpen his knife.
Nobody knows what the soul is.

It comes and goes
like the wind over the water—
sometimes, for days,
you don’t think of it.


miserable and sleepy,
as they are now, forgetting
how the wind tore at the sails
before he rose and talked to it—

tender and luminous and demanding
as he always was—
a thousand times more frightening
than the killer storm.

Today is the last day of Christmas (if you are counting the 12 Days), and it is the day on which the Orthodox Christian world celebrates the moment when three pagan wizards walked across the threshold of the house where Mary and Joseph lived with their baby, Jesus, and offered him gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Talk about something different crossing the threshold!

Their gifts identify how different he would be, this poor child a king, this nobody a priest, this unknown boy the son of a god.  And that they were brought by pagan wizards a sign that his words, work and life would have a universal appeal and a universal effect is often a forgotten piece of this story.

In a world where Jesus has been turned into a symbol of the status quo, where his Church has been made the vanguard of exclusion, where his teachings have been changed into political platforms for anyone who wants to lure the religious right into their coffers, the real power and danger of this man is left almost completely hidden.

Tender and luminous and demanding–a thousand times more frightening than the killer storm:

–because he spent his time with the powerless;

–because he said love each other and he had in mind those who were at war with one another when he said it (we don’t need anyone to tell us to love our friends);

–because he said of sinners caught in the act–I don’t condemn you;

–because of his kingdom, he said that we would find it within ourselves;

–because he dared touch the untouchable;

–because in his eyes anyone who was deemed a no one became someone, and by his example, he calls those who look to him with any faith, any respect, any confidence, any allegiance, any trust to do and to try the same.

A thousand times more frightening than a killer storm–this Sweet Jesus talking his melancholy madness, crossing our threshold, if we allow.  He offers a house of hope where no one is left out.  Some call that Unitarian Universalism.

Bob Patrick

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2 Responses to The Threshold: Something Different

  1. Ms. B says:

    What a beautiful & powerful reminder of what we are called to do, and why. I stumbled upon this devotional a few months ago & I have been provoked & inspired every time I read it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and interpretations, I enjoy them so much.

    • Bob Patrick says:

      Dear Ms. B,

      Thank you for taking the time to respond. I am so glad that you find our daily words of wisdom helpful. Best wishes to you for this new year! Bob

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