The Hero’s Journey Begins with a Single Step



It is a step over the threshold – out the door and into a world that may prove to be dramatically different from the world being left behind.

Crossing the threshold is the point of no return.

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins leaves his comfortable home and his comfortable routines at Bag End – even though he wasn’t really thinking of seeking adventure.  In Tolkien’s sequel The Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins crosses the threshold of the Shire, heading into lands and dangers he cannot imagine.

Most cultures have embraced a variety of symbolic, threshold-crossing moments in the lives of their young.

Think of the first day of school; baptism; first communion; Bar Mitzvah; getting one’s driver’s license; high school graduation.

A groom traditionally carries his bride over the threshold of their first house.  That step is taken in the opposite direction, from the outside to the inside.  But the meaning is the same.  An old life is being left behind.  A new life is being welcomed – with all of its attendant joys, challenges, and responsibilities.

In classic mythology, thresholds may be guarded by fierce armies or terrifying monsters.

The hero must win a battle, pass a test, or display great virtue or character.  The penalty for falling shot can range from humiliation to annihilation.

Thresholds, in other words, can be flat out scary.

But like the heroes of great stories, we will never live lives of deep meaning unless we find the courage to leave behind what is old and cross over into the new.

Psychologists call such events liminal moments – that’s from limen, the Latin word for “threshold.”

Sometimes liminal moments are thrust upon us, seemingly out of the blue:

Your manager tells you to clean out your desk; an MRI shows cancer; an irreplaceable person dies; the love of your life says, “I’ve been thinking things over, and I honestly don’t love you anymore.”

It feels as if your world is ending.

That’s because your world really is ending.  What used to be your safe, predictable, get-paid-every-two-weeks world is suddenly gone.  You’ve stepped over the threshold into…what?

There’s another kind of liminal moment, one that’s just as scary and just as important.

You decide of your own volition to live a different kind of life.  You admit that you’re trapped in a normality that isn’t serving you well.  You cross some kind of threshold – abandoning the addiction, paying off the debt, signing up for that class, making that phone call.  It represents the first step on a long journey.

What’s beyond that threshold?

Native peoples call it “crazy time.”  In crazy time, nothing appears as it used to be.  Everything seems to be at risk.

But crazy time is where the adventure always begins.

Richard Rohr observes that healthy religion should lead us into crazy time.

That’s because God specializes in redemption, renewal, and resurrection.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come.  The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Surrendering to God, in other words, is the ultimate liminal experience.

Only one question remains:

Are you willing to cross the threshold today and start living the adventure that lies before you – even if it feels like crazy time?

— Authored by Glenn McDonald

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