by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM October 25, 2021
Crossing any border can be an invitation full of mystery, anxiety, uncertainty, surprise, suspense, danger. I had a bit of a taste of this recently when I crossed a physical border, traveling from LaGuardia Airport, New York City, United States, to Ottawa International Airport, Ontario, Canada. I confess I carried more than my usual anxiety about the routine “What ifs” of flying, such as: Would my flights be on time? Would I make my connecting flights? Would I be reunited with my luggage at my final destination?
This time, because of pandemic restrictions, I carried some new concerns: Where to get the required PCR COVID test that needed to be administered no more than 72 hours before my connecting flight? Would I get the negative test results in time for my departing flight? Had I correctly completed all the required information on the ArriveCAN App? Did I have my vaccination card? All leading to the big question: Would I be able to safely and smoothly cross the border into Canada to lead a retreat that had already been re-scheduled several times since 2020? And would I be able to return home?
Since I’m now writing this blog post, having returned from beautiful Pembroke, Ontario, to the comfort of my home in the US, the answer is a resounding and relieved YES. I’m filled with gratitude for the many who helped me navigate the anxiety-producing pre-flight requirements–and the more confusing Customs process upon arrival in Toronto. At the moment of that border crossing, I felt a deep empathy for refugees and migrants whose anguished search for safety and security for their families leads them to risk their very lives in crossing into the unknown.
The experience of the past two weeks has invited me to sit with the many other borders, large and small, that fill our lives. We’ve already crossed, or are in the process of crossing, some of the significant milestones that move us from a known, familiar reality, to newness:
The moment of our birth, leaving the comfort of our mother’s womb for the glare of lights and the cries of joy in the delivery room;
Parenthood, a vantage point from which we note the borders that have been passed through by our children: first steps, first words, first day of school, first time as a licensed driver, first time casting a vote;
As we mature, we move into other transitions, choosing a vocation or path in adulthood and perhaps choosing a life partner. We may change jobs or move into a new residence. We may choose to learn a new language, cultivate a skill, or enter a country or culture other than our own.
Each of these movements involves risk of some sort. Each calls for a letting go or leaving behind, an embracing of the unknown future. We progress through the familiarity of childhood and the letting go of a parent’s hand into an embrace of the responsibilities of adulthood. We enter into deepening relationships with others.
Border crossings and transitions are also part of our journey of faith. We pass through the boundaries of our earliest images of God and our relationship to Someone so much greater than ourselves. We grow in deep inner soul work. We break open and reflect on our desire to make a difference and live lives of meaning, to deepen our relationship with the Holy One. We say “Yes” to all the letting go and letting come that accompanies that sacred relationship.
Of course, the ultimate transition for us is death, the inhale and exhale of a last breath, the letting go of this life to cross over into risen life. Each of our previous crossings helps us to prepare for this last one, because in each of the previous border crossings we have been accompanied by a God who does not abandon, a God who dreams the fullness of life for each of us. May we grow in trust that that same God who welcomed us into the world continues to companion us with every step into newness and the unknown.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One. Reflect on a transition, change, or newness that recently came into your life.
What emotions accompanied the change? How were you supported by family, friends, prayer in crossing that border? What learnings were part of that crossing?
Thank the Holy One whose love knows no boundaries and always accompanies you.
Featured image: John Mccann, Unsplash
NOTE: Thanks to all who were part of the Retreat Day for Caregivers in the Diocese of Albany, NY and then the guided retreat for the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in Pembroke, ONTARIO that kept me on the road and in the air for the past 14 days. I’m especially grateful for your prayer as I navigated the border crossings from the US to Canada and back again. Travel has certainly become more complex these days!
I’ve now completed all of the 2020 commitments that were held over until 2021 because of the pandemic. After a non-stop schedule from June through October, I’m looking forward to some time working from home and engaging in spiritual direction, writing, planning, and being restored and renewed. Thank you.
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