Why was John baptizing in the wilderness, out beyond the city limits? Why did Jesus emerge from the waters of that baptism and go further out into the desert? Why was Paul, following his dramatic conversion experience, drawn into the desert of Arabia? Why was Francis drawn out from his comfortable confines of Assisi to rebuild a broken down church in the countryside outside of assisi? Why was Moses ushered out to the desert to live when he fled Egypt? Why does the good shepherd leave the ninety-nine to search and retrieve the one who is lost in the wilderness? Why does Jesus go out to a lonely place to pray? Why was Paul led to extend the gospel beyond his Hebrew identity? Why did Jesus extend the realms of hospitality and belonging to those who were formerly outside of God’s grace and blessing? There is a principle at play: the presence and ways of God inevitably challenge the comfort of remaining where we are to lead us out to the margins and thresholds of new understanding and awareness. After Jesus goes out to the wilderness where John is baptizing, when he emerges from those waters, he goes farther out into the wilderness. Why?
There is this repeating theme in our sacred story… there comes a time when we have to leave the comfortable and the familiar, there comes a time when we have to change where and how things are, there comes a time to understand our life in a new way and new perspective, there comes a time when we must cross the threshold that is the boundary of our familiar and comfortable place into a different place, a different way, a different form of living.
Early on, in the history of the church as institution, there has always been the counter-movement that ventured out into the desert, or other “away places” to shed off much of the habits and perspectives created amidst dominant and mainstream culture. Out on the margins and beyond, we begin to discern and think critically the ways that have become ‘mainstream.”
I seem to be a person who is drawn to the outer and marginal places. I feel the spirit’s prompt to leave the stability and comfortability of the center, to be present amidst the “outsiders.” The first time this happened in my life was many years ago when I shared my life and the life of the church, with a large community of punk rock teenagers. I think this tendency in me and annie has maintained the long-going commitment and work through the building on the far-east border of our campus. Through the community at the sol house all these years, annie, especially, has shared her life and the life of this parish with those who were not counted “in”. That building, and I believe the old admin building next to it, are gifts from God to this parish to offer the life and community of this place to others.
When I discerned it was time to allow our Sunday morning worship schedule to change from 3 services to 2, it was to lead us from the place this parish was at to a different dynamic and way of being. I felt all three communities needed to cross the thresholds that segregated the gifts each brought to bring forth a new way of being the parish community. .
The spiritual practice of crossing the thresholds that define our places of comfort and belonging, in order to discover broader perspectives and deeper places of being, is a particularly Celtic practice. Unlike the more authoritarian Roman tradition, Celtic Christianity encouraged the exploration and experience beyond the comfortable and stable.
Like Jesus ventured out into the wilderness, we too are encouraged to leave where we are in order to gain a vision for what might be next. Growth comes by moving, by learning, by changing, by adapting, by evolving… keeping things the same is a choice –but it might be the choice that keeps us from being where we belong. So, consider the long tradition that is evident throughout our sacred story and history… allow the spirit to usher you out….out from the comfortable and staid places to cross the thresholds leading you to the next places and time of your life.