Holiness of Transitions
By JIM NICHOLS
We have all been there. We are sitting in a waiting room with both hope and fear. Behind that door is someone we have not met who will make a decision that could change our lives significantly. As an applicant for the job, we chose our clothes carefully. A mentor told me to “. . . dress one step up from what you think the job would require.” We hope we have prepared enough background information to avoid becoming flustered. The whole scene is both exciting and scary. Who is behind that door and what will happen during this encounter?
Doors are a physical representation of transitions. Not only do they separate spaces, but they separate opportunities and challenges. I am one person on this side of the door, and perhaps another on the other side. Until the door opens and I am invited in, this is a time for what some might call a “holy pause.” Because our lives contain so many transitions, holy pauses should probably be more common in our lives. We are about to open a space for God to work in a different way; will we have eyes to see and ears to hear?
During my chaplain work I walk down many hospital halls. Carrying a printed list of patients I am to visit, I scan the room numbers on the doors. A hospital establishes a different set of tensions than a job interview, but there is still a door, and I am either in the hallway or in the room. I have only a name for the occupant and, perhaps, the age and a word or two about a diagnosis. It is time for a holy pause. Knocking and entering, I introduce myself and say the patient’s name. Occasionally, I have gone to the wrong room. This is awkward, but generally ends well, sometimes with an invitation to stay and visit.
The holy pause before entering causes me to pray about what will unfold in the next few minutes. What has this patient been thinking about God if anything? Will I find anger? Hope? Despair? Fear?
Not uncommonly, immediately following my visit, the patient is scheduled for a medical test or surgery. It could result in news that the patient dreads. This clouds every word the patient says and affects family and friends in the room. This dread existed before I crossed the physical threshold into the room, but now it surrounds me. This is why God wanted me to come here across that threshold.
I am writing this at a common academic graduation time of the year. Dressed in seldom used commencement garb, students face a day of clear transition. There are no physical doors involved, but each student knows that one part of life is ending, and another is beginning. During life, of necessity we will leave and lose some times and people important at the time. It is a hard, but true, fact that we have different friends for different times and places. The graduates sense that, but it is still a time for a holy pause. What will God place before me and how will I respond? Family members are asking the same questions.
With the morning light entering my bedroom window, a transition is occurring. It is a time to ponder that event, as routine as it is. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). Some hours later, at dusk, some things stop, and others start. Our spiritual practice should note these sacred and rhythmic transitions. They are part of the created world and worthy of our thankfulness.
Moving from one time or space to another, whether a door is involved, is just one of many transitions for us. Leaving aside illustrations and examples, I am sensing that you and I rush from one thing to another often with insufficient attention. The more we skim over the surface of our responsibilities and opportunities, the easier it is to miss the sacredness of each aspect of life. Ordinary moments are sacred; so are transitions.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain
Is this called living in the moment? You are so right about our rushing through life without experiencing it.