I love the Celtic notion of thresholds, which O’Donohue writes about so beautifully in his books. Thresholds are those liminal boundaries in life where the veil between the material world and the world of spirit and soul is exquisitely thin. Celtic Christians named them just that ~ thin places ~ where heaven and earth touch in a mysterious and transformative way.
Think of the shoreline on an expansive stretch of beach ~ where earth and water and sky come together along a thin line of playfulness and dance. None overwhelms the other, but each coaxes and cajoles the cusp of the boundary so that by stepping into the rhythmic tides you feel as if you are standing in three vastly different worlds at once. I believe this is part of the magical attraction we feel for the ocean shore. Being there reconnects us to something numinous about the world, and about ourselves.
As a boy (and even now, actually) when I would sink my feet into the sand at the ocean’s lapping edge, I would sense myself somehow connected to the millions of life forms swimming in the deep ~ whales and fish and coral reefs ~ even half a world away, linked together by our shared touching of this one integral immensity we call the sea. And my toes, buried in sand, would reach to China, right through the center of the earth, to touch the toes of a Chinese lad whose feet were at that moment likewise grounded. And in the wind, so ever-present at the shore, I would hear the thunder strum of angels’ wings that filled the heavens, too numerous to count, and the warm brilliance of the spiritual realm dancing over and around the entire universe like birds flitting about the trees outside my home at dawn.
That I could sense all of these disparate realities simultaneously was, and is, a wonder, and recalled me to a place of knowing that I too am a threshold being ~ a curious intersection of soul, spirit, and body, all simultaneously present, each magically alien to the others yet always engaged in this playful but reverent interplay, like the shifting dance that is the thin living line between earth and sea and sky. The shoreline is a mirror in which we see something deeply true about what we humans actually are.
We are walking, breathing thresholds. Purely spiritual, but with a body. Uniquely soulful, but with a spirit that lives apart from and over our busy soulful ways, always gently yet persistently tugging us back to God.
Is it any wonder, then, that we have such trouble knowing ourselves? We are a thing to be wondered at.
Just as there are thresholds in the physical world, like the ocean shore, there are also thresholds in the spiritual world, and in the realm of the soul, which we encounter every day. Some are subtle and easily missed, while others crash into our lives like tsunamis, and can unmake our sense of God and of ourselves in the span of a single breath. I’ll share more about these thresholds, and what they have to do with leadership and coaching, in the coming weeks. But for now, I invite you this week to let yourself become aware of your life as a threefold threshold ~ a nexus where spirit and soul and body all meet and continually interplay. Here are some questions that may help:
- In which of the aspects of your nature ~ spirit, soul, or body ~ do you feel most at home? What do you find dangerous or unnerving about engaging with the other two?
- Why do you suppose God designed us this way ~ as living, breathing thresholds between three realities? What is he after in creating us this way?
- What activities cause the veil within yourself to grow thin, allowing you to experience the richness of your life as a material being? as a soul? as a spiritual being? as all three at once?
P.S. ~ Here is a poem I wrote some years ago about a particularly rich experience at the threshold of the sea…
of wind-brushed beaches
and walks at midnight
where I trailed the border
of the worlds
sand and shell and sky beyond sky
…of reaching into forever
and holding on to pure light
like a mother’s breast
I splashed it on my body
I drank it like life
and I saw myself in the reflection
of your eyes
I was your glory
and you were mine…