Thresholds and de Waal

Living on the Border

“The first step in listening, learning, and changing is to see that different is not dangerous; the second is to be happy and willing to live with uncertainty; the third is to rejoice in ambiguity and to embrace it. It all means giving up the comfort of certainty and realizing that uncertainty can actually be good.”  Esther de Waal, To Pause at the Threshold, Reflections on Living on the Border


 When de Waal wrote this book, she had returned to the home where she had grown up on the border between England and Wales.  I met this prolific writer of Benedictine and Celtic spirituality at the College of Preachers at the Washington National Cathedral. She often took up residence there and was accessible during meals to weekly pilgrims like myself seeking respite and learning at this sacred space. This small pocket-sized book is a gem to be read and re-read. De Waal is talking about how we relate to borders and boundaries as she is directly experiencing borders in her day to day living experience. Do we build walls and barriers and fortresses or do we engage in conversation and learn about something different, another culture? She describes the diversity of the world as an icon to let us know that God loves differences. She entices us to be like a porter waiting at the gate of a Benedictine monastery, standing at the “threshold of two worlds”, welcoming those who come no matter the time of day, treating each stranger as if it were Christ. This resonates with me as a deacon. Our ministry calls us to go back and forth between two worlds, the church, and the world outside of the church. De Waal also teaches us to honor the threshold or the two worlds and be open to the change, the uncertainty, the contradictions that the different worlds may present to us.

De Waal’s concept of thresholds has been helpful to me in visiting those in hospitals or the homebound. I have learned to pause as I am about the cross the threshold of the door. At hospitals, this is a time to wash my hands at the door. The threshold is a symbolic reminder that I am entering another world. The handwashing is a reminder to leave my agenda at the door. I am there to honor that person and to listen and be present to them. Some of the time I remember.