Through Thresholds to Grace

Gregory Gebbia, OFM HNPNow

by Gregory Gebbia, OFM

“The Gates,” displayed in New York City several years ago, served as thresholds for the contemplative, similar to the way Lent, too, is a threshold experience, says Gregory Gebbia, OFM.

Gregory Gebbia, OFM

Lent is opportunity. It is that yearly invitation that enjoins us to check our heart conditions and to take a serious reading of our patterns of thought. It is that singular time of the year when we refocus ourselves on the important, and do not allow ourselves to become distracted by the seeming urgent. Concerns of genuine importance will guide us to remember that we are baptized after all. How true it is for so many of us. When we allow ourselves to be rapt by crucial momentary matters, we abandon God’s constant invitation to consider essentials so necessary to leading a more abundant life.

Several years ago, an amazing experience of beauty occurred for the residents of New York City and to those who made a wintry journey to the Big Apple. It was called “The Gates.” Over 23 miles of walking paths of saffron-colored gates were on display. It seized one’s imagination with a hue that intensified possible interactions between the natural and a created wonder. In a word, it was inspirational. The memory of this event continues to stir the recesses of one’s soul because the seemingly endless pathways served as thresholds, doorways and liminal experiences for the contemplative.

Saffron-colored gates stretched for more than 23 miles, providing an amazing experience of beauty and seemingly endless pathways that served as thresholds and doorways for the contemplative, says Gregory Gebbia, OFM, similar to the way Lent provides a spiritual gateway to a closeness to Christ.

Lent, too, is a threshold experience. A gateway that helps us choose a spiritual passage that leads us to align ourselves more closely to Christ. As a yearly opportunity, Lent is more gift than demand or even expectation. God’s unconditional love for us is always communicating that there is a “more excellent way.” Yet, for too many of us, we bring a ho-hum attitude to Lent. We fall into that spiritually limiting state that stifles any kind of movement within our souls.

We interpret Lent as a spiritual marathon summoning us to walk through a grim desert of denial and self-deprecation. We decide to “give up” some inconsequential treat that pacifies some small amusement or enjoyment. We kneel in penance more, do holy things without becoming holy, and then wonder why another Lent has passed us by and all our great intentions for growth do not find rootedness in the ground of our thoughts and hearts. We do not cross a threshold that encourages us to be “transformed by the renewal of our minds.”

This tremendous insight of our scriptures is that mindset – that the way we think and perceive has a direct impact on the way we live our lives. Instead of developing what educators identify as a “growth mindset,” we give way to a “fixed mindset.” The difference being, a mindset that understands that with time and perseverance, achievement can advance while the latter says nothing can change my learning. It is the difference between hope and resignation.

Fair enough! Lent does remind us that sin is real. It can have an ever-expansive influence over the direction of our lives. To bring a casual response to the reality of sin means we have chosen to be unresponsive to the cries of our hearts and to the tears of the brokenhearted. Nevertheless, this is exactly why we need to walk through the gateways of God’s vision of us, and then cross through the thresholds of grace.

The direction of Lent points us forward, not backward. To focus ourselves solely on sin, and not on grace, is to immerse ourselves in a pool of despairing quick sand, an entrapment. This exaggerated focus on sin only illustrates all that we are not. Worse yet, it blinds us to all that we could become through the gift of the Lord and Giver of Life, the Holy Spirit.

Passing through the thresholds of grace offers us an opportunity to walk through and pass beyond the life-limiting. Those self-limiting mindsets, the paralyzing doubts and fears, past disappointments, hurts and all our unresolved losses, are indeed real crosses!

These pain-filled moments, however, are not an endpoint for us. Lent does come to an end. We then have before us another gateway to cross, the ultimate threshold of grace we call resurrection.