Getting In, Over and Deep

Recently I had the opportunity to speak to a gathering of folks.  The invitation was to talk about how people get into spiritual living.  While that was an interesting topic to address, I soon realized how diverse and complex the answer really is.  I doubt there is a recipe or game plan that you can offer folks and everyone immediately proceeds to get into spiritual living.  I am sure people do it in different ways.  Perhaps it is that the same person does it differently over a period of years. 
   
I will offer three ways people get into spiritual living.  Over a period of time, I am confident people do all three.  I certainly have practiced all three.  I would like to talk about entrances, thresholds and openings.  These are not steps---to be taken one after the other.  They are not stages.  They are simply different ways we get into the spiritual. 
   
The first option is by way of entrance.  When I think about entrance, I first think about it in a literal fashion.  Probably the most typical entrance is a door.  Doors literally open and we step in.  Doors separate the outside from the inside.  And inside, doors separate one room from another.  In addition to doors, there are gates and, sometimes even, windows.  All of these provide access to some place we are not. 
   
Sometimes, we get into spiritual living simply by going to places where spiritual living is talked about and practiced.  We can go to churches, temples, etc. and literally open the door, go in and begin to learn and practice some form of faith.  We can find a place that feels like the “right” place for us.  Even though I grew up in the Quaker tradition, at some point I felt it necessary to decide whether it was the “right” place for me.  One way I did this was to go to a particular Quaker worshipping group and be with them long enough for me to make up my mind.  Countless times I would approach their place, literally open the door and pass into their midst.  Over time I was getting into spiritual living---thanks to their help.
   
The second way I suggest we get into spiritual living is via thresholds.  A threshold is a beginning point.  For me it is less literal than an entrance and more figurative or metaphorical.  I think about commencement at the university.  It is a threshold to the next stage in the life of the college graduate.  Even though commencement celebrates the finishing of their undergraduate education, it is still a threshold---a beginning point---over to the next step.  They are now ready to go over the threshold to engage the next step. 
   
There are many other thresholds.  Marriage, having children, even dying---all these rites of passages that so many of us step into in our lives.  The spiritual life also has thresholds.  We may pass through the entrance to some church, but we don’t immediately come to believe and make it the faith of our lives.  For most people coming to faith itself is a kind of threshold.  Coming to believe in God or believing that God actually is love can be thresholds.  Once we embrace that which we come to believe---step over the threshold---our lives change. 
   
We can undo our step over a threshold, but it is not as simple as going back out the door we made our entrance.  We can undo a threshold like marriage, but we can’t undo the threshold of death.  We can decide not to believe what we once stepped over a threshold to believe, but it is not as easy as stepping back outside a door.  Thresholds add a quality and a degree of seriousness that I don’t find associated with mere entrances.
   
The final way into spiritual living is the phenomenon of openings.  I will admit this is the Quaker language with which I grew up.  The way I use openings is metaphorical.  An entrance simply lets us in.  Thresholds take us over---over to some new place or space where we likely are changed.  Openings add a quality of depth.  Openings can take us in, take us over, but they always take us deeper.  As I understand it, openings always take us into the Presence of God or into the love, truth and wisdom of the Holy One.  Openings are a form of revelation.  I recall the early words of Thomas Kelly’s Quaker classic, A Testament of Devotion.  He says, “Deep within us all is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul…”
   
To realize this deep place---to be taken there---means we need to be opened to it.  There are many ways this opening can take place.  But openings are always grace; they are always gifts given to us.  We don’t open ourselves.  Of course, we can be open.  That is the most we can do.  If we are open, then it is possible and, maybe more likely, we will be opened by the Spirit.  Early Quaker writings are full of phrases like, “it was opened unto me.” 
   
Any and all three of these ways provide the path into spiritual living.  It can be as easy as walking through a door---making the entrance.  Sometimes we just need to go in.  This is something we can choose to do.  We don’t need grace; just opened the door!  Sometimes, we come to thresholds in our lives.  These are usually beginning points.  One option is not to go through.  We do not have to cross over thresholds---at least many of them.  But saying no to the threshold---staying put---is often a commitment to a static life.  Nothing happens; nothing changes and the world passes us by.
   
Openings can be big and small.  Openings can literally change my life.  Openings have led me to a new job, a new ministry and some of the deepest truths I know.  When I am opened by the Spirit of God, I am taken to deep places---deep within to that inner sanctuary of the soul.  These are the ways we get into spiritual living.

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