Since we moved to California, our cat Merton has taken to lying on thresholds. His favorite one is the doorway between our media room and our screened-in porch. Whether we are watching a movie or having supper enjoying a view of trees, Merton will be right there with half his long body inside and the other half outside.
This behavior has got us thinking about thresholds.
We could give Merton a nickname, we realized. He could be “Sufi cat,” since Sufis are those who stand on the threshold between the seen and the unseen worlds. (Merton’s worlds appear to be quite tangible, but you never know.) It is as if he is reminding us daily of the major transition we have been going through during the last year. Like other times in our lives, we have found ourselves standing on a threshold and pondering whether we have the courage and resilience to step into unknown territory. Such crossing-over places signify transformation and that can be scary or soul-stirring.
Many different cultures give us insights into the spiritual significance of thresholds. The Japanese practice of changing from shoes to slippers before entering a home enables them to gracefully make the transition from the public realm to the private one.
The traditional Christian monastic practice of statio acknowledges threshold moments. Here the monk or nun enters the church or chapel but pauses first at the door to shed any burdens, agitations, and distractions which might get in the way of being truly present to God.
The Celtic tradition has many prayers and rituals for transitional times of the day. There are ways to savor the beauty and poignancy of the coming of dawn’s light when we leave behind the darkness of night. Equally breathtaking is twilight when evening arrives and we welcome the darkness. By observing the thresholds of light and dark, we are tutored in the art of surrendering to the Divine mystery and opening our hearts, minds, and bodies to the great intangibles. This involves letting go of preconceived ideas or expectations.
Thresholds also invite us to practice hospitality. Consider the situation at borders throughout our world. They are often tense places where peoples and cultures intermingle, sometimes creatively and other times with hatred and hostility. St. Benedict advised monks to greet strangers with love, knowing that in them resides the presence of Christ. In many of today’s hot spots, this humble and helpful approach could work wonders as refugees face those who view them as implacable enemies out to take their jobs and livelihoods away.
Here are some ways you can make crossing thresholds into a spiritual practice.
- Count the physical thresholds you cross during the day. Notice how many times you have to move from one type of place to another.
- Consciously step over a threshold. Start with the same foot each time. This simple practice will bring your attention to where and who you are in the present. It can also help bring you into the Presence.
- Pause at the threshold. You may want to bow or say a short prayer. Use the pause to focus on your intention for the next moments. This is an especially valuable practice when you are entering a place of prayer.
- Mimic our cat Merton and lie down on a threshold. See how it feels to inhabit two worlds with your body. Realize that the inner and the outer are always available to you.