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At the Threshold of the Year

January 5, 2022

At the Threshold of the Year

“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘Will it be happier.’” I came across these words of Alfred Lord Tennyson recently and they gave me pause. I had to read the sentence several times. Something didn’t make sense. Something was odd or missing. It didn’t seem all that hopeful. And that’s when it hit me. I read it wrong. Here’s what is actually says, “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘It will be happier.’” Ah! This word reversal is a window is maybe into how I’m really feeling as we cross the threshold from 2021 to 2022.

These are challenging, difficult times. It’s been an exhausting year. Change is all around us—in our lives, families, communities, and the church. It will feel very different come January without Shirley Winters in the church office. Just when we were set- tling into a new normal, the latest COVID-19 surge is upending everything. Many are bracing for what we will face in January. In Roman mythology, Janus, namesake of January, was the god of gates, the god of beginnings and transitions. Janus was depicted with two faces; one looks backward and the other forward.

Despite my trepidations, I generally like threshold places. And I love this reflection by John O’ Donohue — poet, priest, gifted writer who had a beautiful soul— on the gift and promise of being in between; from his remarkable book To Bless the Space Between Us (2008). “At any time,” he writes, “you can ask yourself: At which threshold am I now standing? At this time in my life, what am I leaving? Where am I about to enter? What is preventing me from crossing my next threshold? What gift would enable me to do it? A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms, and atmospheres. Indeed, it is a lovely testimony to the fullness and integrity of an experience or stage of life that it intensifies toward the end into a real frontier that cannot be crossed without the heart being passionately engaged and woken up. At this threshold a great complexity of emotion comes alive: confusion, fear, excitement, sadness, hope. This is one of the reasons such vital crossings were always clothed in ritual. It is wise in your own life to be able to recognize and acknowledge the key thresholds: to take your time; to feel all the varieties of presence that accrue there; to listen inward with complete attention until you hear the inner voice calling you forward. The time has come to cross.”

Perhaps this is why I’m drawn to the European tradition of chalking doorways on the Feast of Epiphany (January 6), a custom which might have originated with Christians from Alexandria in the third century. Next year, thresholds will be chalked: 20 + C + M + B + 22. The letters C, M, B have two meanings. First, they represent the traditional names of the Magi (Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar), which emerged in the sixth century. The initials “C, M, B” are also an abbreviation for the Latin words Christus Mansionem Benedicat, “May Christ Bless this Home.” The “+” signs represent the cross, and the numbers to the left and right are the year. It’s a way to cele- brate the occasion of the Epiphany and to ask God’s blessing on our lives, our homes, and those who visit our homes throughout the new year. The time has come to cross.