My mom used to always say that entrances and exits are the hardest of things. The first time I remember her saying this to me I was leaving my most loved elementary school, a place I went to from 2nd-5th grade, a place that felt like home–I was leaving it to begin a new middle and high school. A much bigger place with new routines and unfamiliar people. And what my mom meant by the entrances and exits being the hardest of things wasn’t so much about the grief of goodbye and the discomforts of starting new things, but more about how hard the work is for us humans to stand still in the threshold and give the in-between-ness, the subtlety of entrances and exits, the dignity it deserves. I sense you already know well that When something ends, it never just ENDS. It stays with you for a time. And when something begins it never just BEGINS. It takes time to find your place in it.
It can be said that You are in neither and in both. We call these liminal places. Limin, which in latin means Threshold.
I would say we are in a collective threshold place with this pandemic. Entering, exiting, beginning, ending. Both. Neither.
Not unlike the beautiful story Lauren offered us, thresholds are instruction places. Invitation places filled with all kinds of contradictions and paradox. Discomfort and comfort.
The New Year is one of these liminal places. January, takes its name for the Roman God Janus, which pagans invoke on the first day of the year, January 1st, and Romans celebrated all month. And Janus was depicted as the two-faced god of the doorway, with each face pointed in a different direction: one looking forward, the other behind. The doorway of course symbolized the transition point between the safe indoors (the known) and the mysterious outside world where anything could happen. So much unknown.
And there sits Janus on the threshold, showing us how to take stock of both.
I see him as the wise sage that more than just taking stock, teaches us about standing still at the threshold, don’t just barrel through, for while it might feel unsettling to sit at the entrance and exit, while it might feel hard, as my mom used to say, it is also a holding place. A healing place. A place of reckoning. A place of reconciliation.
Irish priest and poet John O’Donahue wrote a blessing entitled “For the Interim Time,” where he urges us towards stillness in the wait. He writes:
“The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.”
The more refined your heart will become for your arrival in the new dawn…And that is what today is. A holding time, a refining time. “Make a home and rest here” our Time for All Ages author tells us.
Now we all know about the resolutions that New Years’ rituals call us to make. Some of you might enjoy doing this. It’s a nice feeling to put up a fresh calendar, throw away the old one, and exclaim: this year is the year! From now on, I will…From this day forward no more….I’m not knocking resolutions. Some of you might have wonderful, life-giving stories that have come from them. Some of you might also despise them, because they seem to only set you up for failure. Resolutions can be especially painful for those who suffer from addictions, as if choosing to stop was all it took.
Interestingly, the etymology of resolution simply means to loosen or release. And I wonder if we might do better putting it that way. It feels a little more spacious doesn’t it? What, we might ask, what in our lives, what in the past year might have come loose or is ready to be released? And simultaneously, we must then ask ourselves–because thresholds aren’t just about looking in one direction–what might we be being called towards? And This is how I understand intention, which is a theme we will be working with all month: a word whose roots teach us about being stretched towards a purpose. Not firm resolve or perfect clarity of direction, but rather: stretched toward. Called toward.
What a lovely threshold place: loosening what was and stretching towards what might be.
A holding place where we become like our Roman God Janus.
Isn’t this what we so need right now? Isn’t this, collectively, what we are being asked to consider? Reckoning places-thresholds that help us learn how to, with love in our hearts, cast our eyes back, and simultaneously forward? This is at the root of anti-oppression work, this is the basis of a spiritual life, this is where our Unitarian Universalist church and theology sits right now, and this is where we are as a people, with our fellows, with our own beings and bodies. From whence did we come, Oh God, and where are we going? Time to loosen. Time to stretch. Neither answer clear, no, we cannot rush this crossing. No quick moves. Both requiring us to still ourselves, oh so hard, at the threshold and concede that we need to take a breath. Be in both, be in neither. Enter and exit and enter again and exit again. Do not fret. For in the words of the great mystic Julian of Norwich, all shall be well at the crossing place. All matter of things shall be well. I believe that. I want you to believe that too.
So, as a part of our New Year’s worship service it seems good to ritualize or mark this in some way. I want this to be what it needs to be for you this morning. I hope you will see it as a gift and resting place that you might carry into your day and year.
First, I want you to take a nice breath. And maybe even close your eyes, if that feels good to you. Take another breath. We can stand for as much of it as we can get these days. Imagine that you are standing in a doorway. And maybe it’s a beautiful doorway. Ornate. Or simple and rustic. Familiar even. It doesn’t need to be a doorway that goes into a house or enclosed structure. It can even be a gate of sorts. No matter what it is in your imagination, I want you to feel comfortable here. Know this to be a holding place. Because You’ve come here to rest. Because you have been working so hard. Doing so much. Surviving, for that is what this pandemic has asked of us, surviving is hard work. And maybe your body wants to lean itself against the inside of this doorway. Just be there for a moment.
Now, look to one of its openings and imagine that if you walked through this side of your doorway, you aren’t going to, but if you did, it would carry you into all that you have lived. That’s where this path goes. It’s the known. You’ve been there. It’s where you just came from. Imagine now that a light has been lit that is very calming. A large glowing light. Gentle. It’s not going to illuminate or force you towards anything that you don’t want it to. You can trust in this beautiful light now. And ask yourself if there is something you have been holding or carrying that you can hand over to this light. Something that it can hold for you. It might be a feeling of bitterness or resentment, a family member or person or situation in your life that is difficult, it might be a meddling fear that keeps you up at night. It might be a behavior that you default to and are made weary by. Let’s all take a moment together now and see what might be loosening or readying itself to be put down. And when you land on something, or a few things, just hold them for a moment. (BRIEF SILENCE-LIGHT CANDLE) And when you are ready, place it in the light and rest. Just enjoy the lighter load for a moment. If you start to worry about what’s next or want to take it back, or you’re finding yourself get distracted, that’s ok. You can try again, or put your worries in the light. Or if you are having trouble thinking of anything, that’s ok. Try to return to the light being a comfort and this being a holding place. A place of rest. Not judgement. Not shame. Rest. Loosening.
So let’s thank that light. Lovely. Now imagine that you are turning towards the other direction–this is the path of the unknown. So much that is ahead–our hopes are here too. For what might be. This is the call place. The stretching place. And again, let’s imagine that a great light is present to us here. What intention can be placed in this light? It could be the smallest of seeds. Hopes for healing or forgiveness for some part of yourself. Or another. Or for courage to do a hard thing. Maybe it’s a question. It could even be a plea for help. Again, this light isn’t here to smother you or force anything from you. It’s just a holding light. So let’s again, take a moment to consider what you might like to place in this light. And just hold it for a moment. You can also just rest in the unknowness here. Take in this direction and the light that is with you in the days ahead. Feel held in that.
And now you can put your intention into the light. And just rest now. Feel comfort. All is well. SILENCE.
And now let us thank this directions light. And thank this doorway, this threshold, for being here. You can return here whenever you want.
If you want to alter this meditation for yourself later I hope you will. If you feel it important to write down some of what came up for you this morning, please do. If you are comfortable sharing some of this with one another after service in that would be wonderful. I have lit two candles each representing the bodies of light that held us at the threshold. You can do this at home too. Anytime you want to.
William Blake wrote that “we are put on Earth for a little space that we may learn to bear the beams of love.” This was our little space today. May we enter into this year, and yes, this unsteady time, as bearers of these beams of love, to know ourselves to be seekers and makers of these little spaces that hold us in love and teach us how to spread it.
This is my holding place prayer for us this morning, and for this New and wondrous Year of Invitation.