Of Doors and Thresholds 8-19-18

Rev. Stu Smith talks about metaphorical Doors and Doorways at CCU in Anaheim, CA.



Clara and I recently had some work done on our house, part of which was replacing the last of the carpeting, so now the whole house is hard laminate flooring. We also opened it up and took out the popcorn ceilings. We’re very happy with all the improvements, but there are a couple of unintended side effects.

The first is that we turned the place into an echo chamber. There’s no such thing as a private conversation in our house anymore. The worst of it comes when the dogs walk around the house at night; their claws on the flooring sounds like someone’s typing right next to your head.

The other unintended side effect of the improvements is that the front door wouldn’t open completely when the new flooring was in installed. The new floor was a bit higher than the old floor, so the bottom of the door scraped against the new laminate. That was an easy fix—they just shaved half an inch off of the bottom of the door.

What that reveals, however, is that the house has settled over the years. Not everything lines up like it was intended. If everything lined up like it was intended, after raising the level of the floor, either the door would have opened all the way or not at all; but it wouldn’t have opened just part way. In fact, looking at the door inside the door frame, you can’t see how the house has settled slightly. The door frame doesn’t fit squarely around the door.

Now, a normal person would probably leave it at that, but I of course have to start persevering about doors and doorways, and considering it in terms of this scripture I’ve got in my craw, Luke 11: 9&10: “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”

Where I eventually wound up is contemplating the differences between doors and doorways, in ters of form and function. Here’s what I came up with.

Doorways presuppose separation. Without separation there’s no need for doorways. Right? If everything is already all together, doorways are not only unnecessary, they can’t exist.

So for a doorway to exist, there must be some type of separation. Whether the separation occurs naturally or by design, there is separation. In a broad sense, we can call separation ‘walls’.  Whatever kind of walls they are. They may be physical barriers, like actual brick-and-mortar walls. They may be emotional walls that result in separation. They may be as unintended as a language barrier. What we proverbially refer to as a ‘glass ceiling’ is a type of wall.

Some walls are absolutely necessary because some types of separation are required. The ozone layer separates us from solar wind that would kill us. Our skin is a barrier that keeps our insides in. There are certain things in this world that require separation.

But sometimes doorways exist that allow access between otherwise separated entities. Just like walls, doorways can be physical, or cultural; they may be emotional, or spiritual; they may be social, or financial. At any rate, doorways allow access.

That’s the definition of a doorway according to my dictionary:

  1. thepassage or opening into a building, room, etc….; [a]
  2. a meansof access


We may sometimes speak of something as being our doorway to something else. Rock guitarist Layne Staley said, ‘Music is the doorway that has led me to drawing, photography and writing.’ James Van Praagh said, ‘Meditation is a doorway to the soul.’ Cumberland Gap, Kentucky is known as the Doorway to the West.

A doorway is a passage or opening, a portal, a means of access.

I googled ‘doorway to’ just to see what the suggestions would be. The top six were ‘doorway to recovery, to college, to hell, to Mexico, to health, and #6, doorway to heaven.’ For some reason, more people are interested in finding the doorway to hell than finding the doorway to heaven. They must agree with Billy Joel, as he sings in Only the Good Die Young, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun.”

One way to talk bout going through a doorway is ‘to cross a threshold’, by which we mean to start a new endeavor. Crossing a threshold is the beginning of a new adventure. The tradition of a groom carrying his bride over the threshold is a symbol of starting a new life together.

Literature is rife with examples of characters crossing through doorways into worlds of adventure. The mirror in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass is a type of doorway. Once Alice passes through, she finds a magical world of fantasy. For the children in C.S. Lewis’ ‘Chronicles of Narnia’, the wardrobe is the doorway to those fabled lands. The TARDIS used by Dr. Who to explore the universe is a doorway.

Those are all physical, but doorways can take many forms. Education can be a doorway to a better job. Eating right can be a doorway to better health. Forgiveness can be a doorway to renewed joy. Doorways provide the access from where we are to where we want to be.

Doorways represent possibility, opportunity, untold adventure. When we cross through a doorway, we enter into the new, the unknown, the realm of mystery. Crossing through a doorway taps into the world of potential. It symbolizes hope. It’s a metaphor for moving beyond whatever walls have separated us from the abundance of life.

But before we go any further, I haven’t even talked about doors. I said that the whole idea of doorways is dependent on some type of separation, that I’m generalizing as walls. So, according to my wild ramblings, doorways presuppose walls. I would say, then, that for all intents and purposes, doors presuppose doorways. Just as there must be walls for doorways to exist; there must be doorways for doors to exist.

Walls separate. Doorways allow access. What do doors do?

In the most general sense, doors regulate access.

Let’s consider a building in the most fundamental, architectural sense. Walls exist to create separation. There are exterior walls to separate inside from outside; and in many cases there are interiors walls to separate different areas inside. There are various doorways to allow access through those walls, to allow access into the building and among the various separated areas. Many of those doorways have doors to that regulate access.

First of all, the exterior doors regulate who and what can enter. Not only to keep out strangers, but we don’t necessarily want the neighborhood critters wandering in. And inside a building there are often doorways with doors regulating access to the various rooms.

That’s what doors do. Doors regulate access. And just as walls and doorways can be either physical or metaphysical, the same is true of doors. Doors take many forms.

Physical doors may be gates. BTW, that’s how you get to either heaven or hell. Through a gate, not a doorway. Read a book. Turn-styles, like when you enter or leave an attraction are a particular sort of doors. In the broadest sense, traffic lights and railroad crossings are doors.  The locks of the Panama Canal are a type of door. Border-crossings are a type of door. Heart valves acts as doors, just like the floodgates on Hoover Dam. Anything that regulates access is a door.

Clara’s father, Ichio, spent his high school years at the Japanese Internment Camp in Manzanar. He and his entire family were relocated there during WWII. Needless to say, that entire circumstance was inexcusable. But Ichio had one story he used to tell that sounded more like a Japanese version of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn than anything else. Knowing Ich, there was probably a Becky Thatcher in there somewhere that he was too polite to mention.

So, it turns out that he and his buddies started sneaking out under the fence whenever they saw the opportunity and exploring the landscape. Up on the hillside, they found a reservoir that was fed by a mountain stream. The reservoir fed into a pipe that supplied the water for a large part of the camp. So that reservoir, naturally, became their swimmin’ hole. The problem was that sometimes when they’d sneak up for a swim, the water would be too low.

So they did what every other red-blooded American boys would do, they closed the valve to the camp’s water supply. But just until there was enough water to do a proper cannonball. Ich said they knew they had to open it back up when they’d see that rooster-tail of dust making its way up the hillside. “Here comes a truck!” And they’d all run and hide.

So to make a short story long, a valve, because it regulates access, fits our understanding of a door. Still, we’ve only talked about physical doors.

But when Jesus said, “knock, and it shall be opened unto you,” he surely wasn’t referring exclusively to physical doors. It’s not as though one of the disciples asked, “Jesus, what are these wooden things in so many of the doorways?” “Why, verily, my child, that is a door. Knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Just be sure to wipeth thy feet.” He wasn’t giving a tutorial about how doors work.

Jesus was obviously talking primarily about metaphorical doors. He was also talking about physical doors. That’s how metaphors work. If what you’re saying isn’t even true about the actual thing, that’s a horrible metaphor.

Maybe the door you need to go through is an actual door, in which case, you need to take everything I’m saying completely literally. I don’t want to be responsible for you standing outside a door and not knocking because I said that it’s only a metaphor.

But I’d like to stop for a moment and think about what it means to knock on a door. In Jesus’ parable, he says, “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”

Those first two represent simple interactions. Ask, it’s given. Done. Seek, ye find. Done. The third part, ‘knock, it’s opened’, is different. Built in to the statement, is the assumption of further interaction.

The idea of knocking on a door assumes that there is something on the other side from which one feels separated. The idea of opening a door represents access.

Now, when we think about knocking on a door, we generally think about knocking from the outside. But Nina pointed out to me that Rumi refers to knocking from the inside. Our metaphorical doors may appear to us as entrances to our deeper self, or exits from bondage, depending on the circumstances.

I have to speak very generally, because I don’t know what your doorways are. One person may be looking for the doorway out of an unhealthy relationship, or out of an unfulfilling, dead-end job. They’re looking for the doorway out. Someone else could be standing outside love’s door, wanting to enter, but too shy to approach.

Whether we see it as a doorway in or a doorway out, crossing a threshold is the act of claiming that to which we’ve been given access. That’s where the adventure begins. And Jesus tells us that if we want to be given access, if we want to cross that threshold, all we have to do is knock. The simplest of acts. If there’s a door you want open, all you have to do is knock. Simple as that.

Of course, when we’re talking about metaphorical doors, we’re also talking about metaphorical knocking.

So how do you metaphorically knock on a metaphorical door?

I was here at church last Wednesday before the Conscious Communion Service, talking with Mark about scheduling some of the upcoming events. The issue we were discussing is getting people to commit to a given date.

I usually don’t pay a lot of attention to ark because he tends to ramble, but that afternoon he was uncharacteristically lucid. I’ pretty sure his meds were peaking, and he was just coming off a nap. He said if we want to make something happen, we need to put it on the church calendar. He said, ‘taking an action step increases the likelihood that a thing will occur.’

You need to take an action step.

An old farmer went out and bought himself an automatic chainsaw. But after a week, he returned to the store and demanded his money back. He said, “You said I’d be able to cut 5 times as much wood with this confounded thing, but I have to work twice as hard just to cut half as much wood. I want my money back!” The salesman said, “I don’t understand. There must be something wrong with it. Let me take a look.” So he gave the cord a yank and started it up. [sound of chainsaw] The farmer jumped back. “What’s that noise?”

He didn’t take the proper action step. He didn’t knock.

And as a result, he was working twice as hard for half the results.

There’s an old expression about opportunity knocking, but often it’s up to us to do the knocking. Knocking is a way of making a commitment to the universe. Knocking is an indication of wanting to cross a threshold.

I went to Boy Scout camp for a week on Catalina Island many, many years ago. One of the challenges was to swim a mile in one hour. It was planned for dawn toward the end of the week. I hadn’t planned on participating, because, as I said, it was planned for dawn. But all week, this kid named Walter Marks kept saying to me, “You can’t crack the egg unless you try.” All week he taunted me. “You can’t crack the egg unless you try.” It was like his manta.

But by the time the morning of the mile-swim arrived, I was convinced. I got up pre-dawn that morning, made my way down to the beach, and completed my mile-swim.

We all stand at doorways during our lifetimes. There are thresholds we want to cross, but a door stands in our way. Those doors often represent our fears and insecurities, our reluctance to change, our complacency.

Scripture tells us that all we have to do is knock. If we want to move past our separation from God’s highest and best, if we want to cross a threshold into greater abundance, more joy, and a more complete expression of our divine nature, we have to knock. We have to take an action step.

In the Bible story of Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, God instructed Moses to lift up his rod and hold up his hand in order to part the Red Sea. That was Moses’ action step.

In II Kings is the story of Elisha telling the widow to go gather containers from all of her neighbors, so that God’s abundance could be poured into her life. Gathering the pots was her action step.

What are your metaphysical doorways? What type of threshold are you longing to cross? What walls are you trying to move beyond?

If you want to improve your health, go out and buy yourself some walking shoes. If you want to travel, pick up some travel brochures. If there’s a relationship that you want to see restored, make the call. Do something to show yourself and the universe that you’ve made a decision to move forward.

We’ve all heard of the community who went to pray for rain, but only one little girl brought an umbrella. That was an action step. That was her way of knocking.

It seems like we’ve gone through a lot, so I’d like to run back through that, if I may. There are walls in our lives, both physical and metaphysical. Walls are anything that separate us from where we want to be. They may be walls of resentment, or fear, or feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness.

Ending that separation from our highest and best often requires that we step through life’s doorways, that we muster the courage and conviction to cross new thresholds.

Many doorways that we may wish to cross through will have doors that need to be knocked upon. Knocking is an action step. And scripture tells us that when we knock, it shall be opened.

What doorways stand before you? What new adventures await you beyond those thresholds? All you have to do is knock.