Updated: Jul 24, 2020
"The Celts describe thresholds as "thin times or places" where heaven and earth are closer together and the veil between worlds is thin. ... We experience the thresholds of the year unfolding, so that each new season beckons us into a renewed awareness of the nearness of the holy presence." — Christine Valters Paintner, The Soul's Slow Ripening
In her book, The Soul's Slow Ripening, Christine Valters Paintner talks about thresholds of the day and night, between activities, seasons, places, our soul's inner movements, and more. We live at thresholds of endings and new beginnings in each moment of our lives. Thresholds are places of questions, unknowns, transitions, and imagination. In this time of pandemic, we experience transitions and the unknown all around us. We live in a time in history where all of us are having to face the limits of our own knowing and felt control.
As I have reflected on the many questions that the changes around me have evoked in me, I have become increasingly aware of the constancy of these potent transitional spaces in our daily lives. Thresholds are the fabric of our lives. Every morning we wake up to new unknowns. In this article, I share several ways how we, as spiritual seekers, can practice living awake and present in the in-between places of our souls and our lives.
Thresholds of Dawn & Dusk
Many of us have found early mornings, or moments just before sleep, times when our awareness of God's nearness is heightened. These are threshold moments in nature and our bodies between awake and sleep. Our senses and consciousness shift from state to another, and we move from activity to a deep rest. Our active engagement, alertness, productivity, creativity and work flow move in cycles, just as the earth does.
How does the natural rhythm of the earth accompany you in your rhythms to prayer?
Seasonal Prayer Table
I have found that observing of changes of season is an incredible enriching spiritual practice. For a while now, I have collected different images, artifacts and elements to make up a seasonal table that guides me to prayer. This could be called a family prayer altar or sacred space. I love listening to God in and through nature, and sometimes on my nature walks I stop to reflect on something that has caught my interest and allow God to speak to me through it. If I can, I will take this element with me and place it on my seasonal table.
What could you add to your home's prayer space that reminds you of the season of the earth and its invitation to your spirit? How might the seasons of the nature lead you to prayer and a life that respects the natural rhythms of the earth?
Many artists create mood or inspiration boards that fuel their creative work. I have found a similar practice nurturing for my life with God. In the beginning of the year I spent time praying about a "word for the year" and as an expansion of this I created an image board where I selected images that expressed my longings for the year. I also create image boards for new work projects and when I want to express in images the questions, invitations or new realities I am living with. I enjoy this way of praying with my eyes and hands.
I wonder, what images, shapes, textures and colors represent your soul's longings and draw you to prayer?
Rhythms of Work and Rest
A long time ago, I was part of a community where we used to celebrate the end of a working week and the beginning of weekend rest through a Sabbath meal on Friday nights. I love this Jewish tradition even though it hasn't become part of our current family rhythm. My husband and I worked from home pre-Covid as well, and the pandemic has definitely made the need for creating a threshold between work and rest even more important to us and many others. Currently we mark the start of weekend rest by enjoying a special breakfast on weekend mornings.
What rituals or traditions help you to celebrate the "work well done" and enter a sabbath rest?
"In monastic tradition, statio is the practice of stopping one thing before beginning another. It is the acknowledgement that in the space of transition and threshold is a sacred dimension, a holy pause full of possibility. This place between is a place of stillness, where we let go of what came before and prepare ourselves to enter fully into what comes next.
When we pause between activities or spaces or moments in our days, we open ourselves to the possibility of discovering a new kind of presence to the darkness of in-between times. When we rush from one thing to another, we skim over the surface of life, losing the sacred attentiveness that brings forth revelations in the most ordinary moments."
— Christine Valters Paintner, The Soul's Slow Ripening
I have noticed that I often move from one activity to another throughout the day almost on autopilot. When I pause in between tasks, places or conversations, it gives me a chance to acknowledge God's presence with me in the past activity and welcome him into the next. I call these moments"doorknob prayers". They are sometime simple breath prayers just before starting a Zoom call, or when I roll out the yoga mat, or turn the key in the lock of our home. Terra McDaniel, a spiritual director and a friend of mine, wrote a great article where she explores the importance of rituals of renewal and release after a significant conversation (in her article, i.e. a spiritual direction conversation). This is another helpful example of reflecting on ways how we can make space for the in-between spaces in our daily lives.
What moments and objects are potent places for "doorknob prayers" in your daily life?
Coming and Going
Although our traveling is largely restricted now due to the current global health crisis, some of us still are traveling, far or near. Physical travel has always been a thin place of encountering God for me. Whether I'm on an airplane looking out of the window over the lands I am leaving behind or on my bike passing my my familiar neighborhood roads, there is something about the traveling that brings me to prayer like few other things do.
The Celts have many prayers and blessings for the traveling. Praying for and during our travel allows us to be present to God and ourselves in our rich and many journeys of life. It helps us bless the purpose of our journey and the places and people we will come in contact with.
Instead of experiencing travel and waiting in traffic as a wasted time, what might help you to step into the gift of the moment then and there?
Below is one of my favorite Celtic Travel Blessings.
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Threshold Prayer Practice
Finally, I would like to share a short creative prayer practice that is designed to help you to engage with God in some of the transitional places within your heart.
1. Find a threshold, or any entrance or a doorway. Slowly, and mindfully walk up to the threshold and pause there. You can also choose to stand behind a closed door or a gate. 2. Breathe deeply and become curious about what happens in your body, feelings and thoughts as you stand still there your eyes open. What do you see?
How does your body feel inside? What does it want to do/touch?
What questions and feelings arise in you?
3. Become aware of God's presence with you at the threshold. Wait for a period of several slow breaths. What do you notice about your body and feelings now? 4. Draw or journal about your experience.
Resources: The Soul's Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred by Christine Valters Paintner
The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom by Christine Valters Paintner