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Book Review: to Pause at the Threshold, Reflections on Living on the Border by Esther De Waal

by Peter Menkin  
1/20/2009 / Book Reviews

Entering into a life in the Spirit

In our 21st century world, this meditation on the ordinary becomes a poetic statement about finding one's way, and is so needed. A work that broadens ones vista, the subtitle of the book, "Reflections on Living on the Border," contains new visions of life from ancient wisdom. A small book, the author Esther de Waal explains how and what to do with the new found in places like, "So when I went walking along the stretch of Off's Dyke that ran only a few miles away, I came to know afresh the world that had earlier delighted my father." This book tells the way to live in the world. It speaks of living with the inner world of the heart and mind, as well. For me, these are important.

"All our lives are inevitably made of a succession of borders and thresholds, which open up into the new and promise excitement or fear. The traveler encountering unknown places has all the exhilaration, the thrill of another country." For some time, I have sought to find newness of seeing things and knowing things, and also in regard to people in my life. This book helps to change the reader in ways that open the eyes to new ways of living and seeing. It is a work of vision and ongoing renewal. Again, in a book, she accomplishes with clarity and easy style lessons of the meaningful in life, and finding meaning.

She writes about pausing in the book. Titled "To Pause at the Threshold: Reflections on Living on the Border," published by Morehouse Publishing, she writes about living a spiritual life, of living life within the Anglican Communion. The book is both dear, as in personal and telling, and objective as in telling and demonstrating. "Above all I want to explore the role of thresholds, of the crossing-over places, not only geographical ones but also metaphorical thresholds," she writes in her introduction. This book is for the spiritually inclined, for the religious individual, and for the seeker of new life in living.

Our world is uncertain. Her instructions on living a better life go like this: "The first step in listening, learning, and changing is to see that different is not dangerous; the second is to be happy and willing to live with uncertainty the third is to rejoice in ambiguity and to embrace it." Originally published under an imprint of St. Mary's Works called The Canterbury Press Norwich, this formerly English book will find many readers in the United States. She says so many things that speak to the Anglican religious way of living, and so many things that speak to a society that is diverse as America. She finds the central places of the spirit in her writing. Two other books are noted here as worthwhile: "Living with Contradictions: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality" and, "Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict." One quickly gets an idea of the thrust of her work from the titles.

Laying a way to enjoy and reflect on the ordinary in life, she draws large inferences in this book: "...we find ourselves touched by something primal, that repetition of birth and death, dying and new life, experienced again and again, year in and year out, repeated throughout our lives." These are some patterns of the day, like the simple task of bowing ones head down during the day in the bright light, " glory to the great God of life for the magnificence of the sun and for the goodness of its light to the children and men and to the animals of the world."

Here is another nugget from a book that flows and contains nuggets of establishing oneself in a place. Esther de Waal quotes from many sources. Here she quotes John Howard Griffin's diary: "August 6, 1969. 5:45 a.m. Before dawn. With the beginnings of the predawn-light some of the birds come to life--not with singing yet, but with a kind of murmuring. I carried my coffee out on the concrete porch and drank it walking back and forth. The air is cool, almost cold, and fresh. Light came slowly. I watched the trees assume black shapes through the fog. I thought of Tom who saw the sounds, smelled the same predawn freshness, allowed the same silences to do their work in him."

For people who like a good read, the 102-page book categorized as spirituality is intelligent and inviting. There is importance in opening up and being inviting to one's surroundings, as the book blurb states. I agree, this is a book that sees "A threshold as a sacred thing..." Her book is like the porter in St. Benedict's rule who waits at the gate, the work "...shows us a conversation between the holy and the everyday..." Esther de Waal points the way to enjoyment.

--Peter Menkin, Pentecost 2007

Peter Menkin, an aspiring poet, lives in Mill Valley, CA USA where he writes poetry. He is an Oblate of Immaculate Heart Hermitage, Big Sur, CA and that means he is a Camaldoli Benedictine. He is 64 years of age as of 2010.

Copyright Peter Menkin

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