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Reframing Ambiguity and Doubt

Have you ever thought of the experience of being lost as a spiritual discipline?

The Celtic spiritual tradition is known to highlight “thin places,” those sacramental spots where the distance between heaven and earth seem thin. Related to this idea is “thin times,” moments in our life when we are consciously aware that we are at a moment of transition. Some of these times are ones of our own choosing, such as setting aside time to go on a spiritual retreat, others are thrust upon us, such as living with the consequence of the death of a spouse. These are often moments of profound confusion and uncertainty. They are also moments of great opportunity.

We need to become aware of these threshold moments. At Celtic sacred sites, one will often find “threshold stones,” which are physical markers of transition. When we come to one of these stones, or enter into a time of liminality, a profound sense that dusk is turning into night or night is giving way to dawn, we need to stop and embrace the uncertainty of the moment. We have a tendency to want to move quickly from question to answer. This is not consistent with the rhythm of life—the changing of the seasons, the rising of the sun, and the ripening of fruit. We need to learn to sit in the mystery, to embrace the questions, to accept the unknowing. The late Celtic priest and poet John O’Donohue saw the question as a lantern. Rather than the move being question/answer it is question/quest. He writes, “A question is really one of the forms in which wonder expresses itself. One of the reasons we wonder is because we are limited, and that limitation is one of the great gateways to wonder.” We need to embrace our threshold seasons in life, our “thin times.”

We sometimes enter these moments with a sense of fear. When our faith is in the dock, we often talk of “deconstruction.” But isn’t it equally true that this a time of birth? Isn’t the threshold experience the midwife to a new, deeper, and different spirituality? Let’s reframe our times of unknowing. Let’s embrace the questions. Let’s stand quietly at these crossroads and wait for the Spirit’s gradual ripening of our souls.

This was Jeremiah’s counsel. “This is what the Lord says, ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16). “Stand,” “look,” and “ask” is the posture of not demanding instant closure, but accepting the process of ripening in the ambiguity. It is OK not to have everything all figured out. It is OK to be confused, to doubt, and to be stuck. A way will be made known where you will find rest for your soul. So let’s not enter these thin times with anger or impatience, but with an open hand, humble heart, and an unhurried pace. Accept the holy pause, for thin times are the midwife to a new reality.

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