A threshold is not a simple boundary;
It is … a real frontier that cannot be crossed without
the heart being passionately engaged and woken up.
This is one reason such vital crossings were often clothed in ritual.
John O’Donohue, To Bless The Space Between Us
If the poet philosopher John O’Donohue were still alive, maybe he would have written an updated version of his life-saving book To Bless the Space Between Us. Maybe that revised edition would include the blessing I was searching for last month.
Four close friends and I—all of us middle-aged, cis-gender, straight, women—needed a ritual to bless our much younger friend, May, who would soon be on her way to Thailand for a series of gender affirmation surgeries.
This was May’s threshold, but it was ours as well.
A threshold is a place of letting go of an old identity and waiting on a new identity to emerge. It is a liminal moment when the sacred is being born in us, a time of unravelling and slowly reknitting back together.
We wanted May to feel our support as she crossed her threshold, following through on years of discerning this path. We wanted May and her partner, Ann, to know that a support squad of Aunties was walking beside them on what is often a lonely journey. If their spirits waned as they crossed miles, time zones, quarantines, and language barriers, perhaps they would hear the echo of us cheering “we listen to your heart’s desire and we respond with love and joy!”
My robust bookshelves and nook-and-cranny internet searches did not turn up such a blessing for this particular life threshold, so we patched one together ourselves, borrowing from some contemporary Jewish blessings and a few faith-based LGBTQ+ websites.
As we did so, I realized why thresholds need rituals. Over the course of three decades of friendship, this group of women circled up to bless pregnancies, celebrate births and weddings, and grieve the deaths of parents, a spouse, and a child. Standing with one another at the personal thresholds of life and death is something we know how to do deep in our bones.
Standing in solidarity at a cultural threshold is not as familiar. As we gathered up our loving energy to strengthen May and Ann, we named out loud our hopes that the unjust treatment of trans people will end. We named the interconnected ways race, class, ethnicity, and immigrant status compound those injustices. We stood together in a liminal moment — touching the sacred born anew, as former beliefs about rigid gender binaries give way to rewoven understandings of God’s unfolding creation. We affirmed the cultural journey we are on as a people of God creating a more loving and inclusive world.
Because our love is deeply rooted in having watched May grow up, this was more than just a performance for Pride Month. It was a micro-community of prayer and action taking one more step across a threshold of initiation into the slow and necessary work of creating a more hospitable world for all people.
We spoke out loud words that remind us who we are and what we want to fight for, like these:
On this day, we commit and recommit to creating a world where all people of all genders know acceptance, love, equity, and justice.
We commit and recommit to living with compassion, caring for all of humanity and the earth.
We commit and recommit to the healing work of critically evaluating the stories we inherited and revising the stories we live by, so that every person will know, no matter their gender or sexuality, that they are loved and valued.
Thresholds need rituals because rituals slow us down. They name a new or still-emerging reality. O’Donohue reminds us that a great complexity of emotions awakens at thresholds: confusion, fear, awe, grief, hope. It is good to take our time, to feel all the varieties of aliveness. At the threshold, we can focus our complete attention, listen inwardly until we hear more clearly the outward call.
If you have created a ritual for social change or a blessing at a public threshold, please share it with the world. Let the people see micro-communities of prayer and action on the move, following the Spirit to a place of ever more radical love. As these threshold moments become visible, they are no longer rare or weird. They usher in a new normal. This is one way we change the world.