At the Door to a New World 1


 

A threshold experience is when we’re “at the door to a new world.” To enter in is to encounter excitement, terror, magic, whimsy, wisdom, revelation, triumph, survival, comfort, anxiety, terror, bonding, wonder, enchantment. (Maria Tatar)

We actively seek these threshold experiences when we enter a church, concert hall or theater; open a book; or embark on a pilgrimage. We long for that encounter that will enliven and enlighten.gateway

Other times, the possibility for encounter comes to us. Something new crosses the threshold and we catch just a glimpse – and it’s gone. Numinous experiences are like this. James Hollis writes in The Archetypal Imagination, that the etymology of numinous means to nod, to summon, to intimate; that is, the numinous is autonomous (like the wind) and is seeking us, soliciting the attention of our consciousness.

The question is, what do we do with the strange, the new, the different? Do we welcome it? Or do we walk away, go back to folding the clothes? Maybe, just maybe, we nod back.

 

 

Starting my day with a poem by Mary Oliver is always a threshold experience, a summons to wake up.

 

 

MAYBE

 

 

Sweet Jesus, talking

his melancholy madness,

stood up in the boat

and the sea lay down,

 

silky and sorry.

So everybody was saved

that night.

But you know how it is

 

when something

different crosses

the threshold – the uncles

mutter together,

 

the women walk away,

the young brother begins

to sharpen his knife.

Nobody knows what the soul is.

 

It comes and goes

like the wind over the water –

sometimes, for days,

you don’t think of it.

 

Maybe, after the sermon,

after the multitude was fed,

one or two of them felt

the soul slip forth

 

like a tremor of pure sunlight,

before exhaustion,

that wants to swallow everything,

gripped their bones and left them

 

miserable and sleepy,

as they are now, forgetting

how the wind tore at the sails

before he rose and talked to it –

 

tender and luminous and demanding

as he always was –

a thousand times more frightening

than the killer sea.

 

House of Light (p. 76)

 

I always vow to stay awake, “but you know how it is”. . . I’ll need another poem tomorrow morning.

 


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