I’ve been thinking quite a lot about doors recently. Each morning, I open up the door to the Calvary Stair from Jeffrey Street and then lock it behind me as I prepare to pray Morning Prayer and the Mass, not alone, but in the company of many who join online and very many more who pray where and whenever they can, conscious that they are part of something bigger. The ‘something bigger’ is not just the scattered community of Old St Paul’s, though I think we’ve all realised even more deeply how much we value that these last few weeks, but the scattered community of all those who long for something more, who have a sense that life is not purposeless, not disposable, but truly valuable, truly meant.
So on one level, it feels wrong that I have to come down those stairs again some time later and once more lock the door. We are used to our precious temple being a little island of peace in our city that welcomes any who seek solace, peace, meaning, rest, quiet – a place where all questions are welcome, all longings treasured as signs of the beyond, indications of the incomplete nature of life that nonetheless suggest a deep intuition that all is not meaningless.
But I wonder if this time of locks and closed doors might be inviting us to think afresh about what the thresholds are between a patterned, committed religious life and the lives of those who may not feel comfortable joining us, and yet are asking the kind of serious if unresolved questions that we all recognise. Let me put it more starkly: does this time of locked doors not open to us the possibility that the threshold between ‘in’ and ‘out’ is something much more dynamic than we had supposed? Where is our doorstep? Where is the half-opened door where the most vital conversations happen? Who is inside and who is outside, and do these categories really make sense anymore?
We are used to thinking of doors and thresholds as devices necessary for containment. I think there is a real risk in the current crisis to harden that kind of thinking. We’ve heard it already from some political leaders who see this pandemic as an opportunity to draw more sharply the line between in and out, us and them. Those of us inside have been assaulted from without by some alien invader. This thinking is profoundly wrong and extremely dangerous for it fails to see that we are all in this together, irrespective of borders, and the only wise response is one that works from a very wide sense of what ‘us’ means. We need each other now more than ever.
And for the church too, this is a time to consider again what we mean by ‘us’. Who are those on ‘this’ side of the door and who are those beyond? Today’s Gospel might easily be read as a manifesto for those who want to make a clear division between the insiders and the outsiders. The good shepherd knows his own and protects them from the nasty invaders who threaten them. Keep together, shut the door, close ranks against the big bad world outside. But I hear the story in today’s Gospel very differently. Jesus does not seem to be interested in the identity of the sheep that are of his own particular flock. He is concerned with the gift of abundant life to anyone who hears a voice that speaks their name, anyone who ‘goes in and out and finds pasture’. The thing is, the door is Jesus, and the door is open. The door is not a separating barrier but a threshold where encounters happen and it is everywhere.
We might then say, ‘why speak of doors at all? There is no difference, no separation, no sacred and profane, no us and them.’ I think I want to keep hold of the image of the doorway because all of us recognise that, in life, there are thresholds. There are times when we realise something new, times when we break through to a new insight, times when we move from a place of hesitant inaction to a place of dynamic, if still hesitant openness.
I wonder if this time of closed doors might be a time to rediscover the thresholds where encounters happen, thresholds where people are expressing their deepest longings for meaning, love, nourishment, hope. I wonder if this is a time when we discover once again that the church is a doorway that always lies open to the world, open to this city of ours, open to the questioning, the seeking, the hesitant. How might we find new ways to linger in that doorway, wherever it is?
And I wonder if this is a time when we discover afresh the encounter that happens for ourselves, on our own thresholds between us and one whose voice we recognise. This voice says ‘come on in’. It says ‘come and go and come again with your news about where you have found good pasture’. It says ‘look out for the sheep that are not of this fold’. It says ‘you are a flock without number, without limit.’ The voice says ‘you are alive when you see that the door lies open because the door is me, and I am not here. I am out and about, seeking to save that which is lost. Come with me.’