Pausing before entering the intersection

F or several months this past summer and early autumn, the road along our parking lot, Kline Street, was torn up to replace some sewer lines and for other routine maintenance. For those months I had the chance to watch the workers as they labored their long hours, rolling in as I unlocked the church and still working as I locked up.

I appreciated their hard work; however, while the work was stunningly efficient, it did cause some minor inconvenience getting into and out of the church complex. It did not take too long for the staff and parishioners to figure out how to make it work, and we certainly appreciated the work being done because it was necessary.

It was not until a few weeks into the project that I discovered one happy benefit: it eased up the intersection of Kline and Railroad Avenue just a block south of the railroad tracks. Every city has a few intersections that seem to be a bit more problematic than others, and a person tries to navigate them safely, or avoid them all together.

What makes this particular intersection so interesting is that it really should not be an issue at all. Railroad Avenue has a stop sign and Kline is a through street. That should be simple enough. There is not a great deal of traffic at this intersection, but the traffic that is there is, unique.

Every time I drive down Kline on my way home, as I approach this intersection, I am a bit nervous because every close call I have had recently has been on this corner. There must be some psychic convergence that occurs there because it seems every driver pulling up to that corner sees the stop sign as an affront on their personal dignity.

I have watched drivers stare right at me as I am driving north on Kline and just barely slow down as they barrel through the intersection right in front of me. I have watched drivers stare straight ahead and simply ignore me as they barrel through the intersection right in front of me. Now, I am not saying that I am the perfect driver by any means, but these experiences have made me more cautious approaching this intersection.

We should be cautious when approaching any intersection, because it is the nature of intersections to be inherently dangerous. In anthropology, intersections are symbolic of “liminal space,” spaces that are in between. Liminal spaces represent the middle place between where we have been and where we are going.

People in the ancient world considered these spaces so dangerous many of their religions had a “god of the crossroads” to whom travelers and pilgrims would offer sacrifice as they moved through the space, asking for protection and wisdom. They recognized and ritualized the danger every intersection holds.

They understood that liminal spaces demand that choices be made, and choices are always dangerous. They understood that the choices they made, at that moment, at the crossroads, would forever change who they would become.

There is a wisdom in this understanding that our more modern minds might miss. Throughout our lives we are given opportunities to be transformed, and the choices we make at those moments have a profound impact on who we will become as we journey through life, and how we journey.

Sometimes we are blessed at an intersection with a stop sign to slow us down, make us pause and think before we move through the crossroads. In a few weeks we will be given the opportunity once again to pause before we enter into a liminal space in the life of the Church.

On Ash Wednesday, we step forward to be marked with ashes and to be reminded of the truth of our lives. This is a stop sign; now the problem is most of us do not like stop signs. We can be annoyed with those moments that demand we halt our journey, that get in the way of our need to get somewhere.

Yet, stop signs are important on the road and in life. We are given a moment to halt, to pause, to ponder for just a moment the direction we are traveling. We pause before we enter into that dangerous intersection, that liminal space that is Lent, the space between where we have been and where we are going.

We are invited to use this time to reflect on the journey we are making, the direction we are going, and if we are on the road that will take us where we want to go. It is dangerous because we may have to change direction, or simply change. It is in taking that risk that we find ourselves living life with awareness, and embracing the truth of who are called to be.

This is dangerous, but always better than just staring straight ahead and barreling on through.