Always when we start a new spirituality book, our retired women’s group wonders, “could this book possibly be as timely as the last one?”
The answer usually is “well…it’s different than the last book, but it certainly looks promising.” At least that’s how I responded as we began The Soul’s Slow Ripening by Christine Valters Paintner (CVP) last month. The first chapter, on the Celtic Practice of Thresholds, spoke to my recent experience so directly.
“Thresholds are those times when life shifts,” says CVP, “when the past season has come to an end but there is a profound unknowing of what will come next.”
That’s exactly how I felt as I was deciding whether or not to go on a new chemo pill in January, because the last one was no longer effective. I asked a number of medically-related people whether my remaining quality of life would be better with or without the pill, but of course nobody could tell me.
“Thresholds are the spaces between, when we move from one time to another (as in dawn to day or dusk to dawn), or one awareness to another” (CVP).
I felt like I was stuck – facing a threshold but not being able to move through it. It clearly signaled a new phase of life for me, with or without the new drug.
“We are invited to release everything to which we cling too tightly – our need to be right, our need to feel secure, our need to be in control”(CVP).
Ah yes. I really did feel the invitation – or rather the downright necessity – to release the need to be right, that is, to make the “correct” decision about this. For of course the “correct” decision was impossible to know. “Which way will I feel more secure?” was also an impossible question.
The hardest thing to release was probably the need to be in control [it always is]. Yet the sooner-than-expected death of a friend made it clear that there is no control and in one sense, not even much predictability when living with cancer.
I wrote in my journal earlier in January, “I need to accept that I cannot know all the implications of any decision I make. We do our best and then it’s in God’s hands. We are not in control – there will be continual surprises.”
CVP’s husband John, a Scripture scholar, uses this verse from Jeremiah as a biblical foundation for the chapter on thresholds:
Thus says the Lord:
Stand at the crossroads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls. Jer. 6:16 NRSV
It’s comforting instruction, as always. I remembered the many times I’ve prayed with it in the past. But what, I wondered, are the “ancient paths where the good way lies” in this instance? And what does Jeremiah know about 21st century cancer research anyway?!
…I decided that the “good way” would surely involve living my values to the best of my ability. Walking in the “good way” would surely mean giving up control. And it would surely mean claiming yet again the strong and tender assurance that nothing can or will ever separate me from God’s love.
I eventually decided to go onto the pill for now.
At a scheduled meeting, the retired women’s group listened respectfully to my dialogue with Christine and John Valters Paintner. After a bit of conversation, group members each read me a blessing, and we put the cards and scrolls into a Blessing Bowl with special meaning from Ten Thousand Villages.
The group’s listening and the special blessing bowl and its contents have helped me catch at least flashes of CVP’s wild assertion:
When we are able to fully release our need to control the outcome, thresholds become rich and graced places of transformation.
May it increasingly be so…..
Questions for Reflection
- When have you wrestled with crossing a threshold?
- When – if ever – have you experienced a threshold as a “rich and graced place of transformation”?
Next Week: TBA