At Morning Prayer today we were praying Psalm 84, about the beauty of God’s dwelling place, and I was struck by this line:
The threshold of the house of God I prefer to the dwellings of the wicked.
And afterward I spent some time thinking about it. I imagined the dwellings of the wicked as being quite fancy, with fountains and pools outside, and hangings, carpets, and other rich furnishings inside. Maybe there would be delicious smells of cooking, fine wines set out for drinking, servants to bathe the feet of guests.
And yet the psalmist prefers the threshold of the house of God. What would that look like? A threshold is a small space, just the place before you go in the door. I tried to imagine the threshold of God’s house, and what came to me were images of old churches we visited on our trips to Spain. And in front of many of those churches, on the thresholds, were beggars. Not many, just one or two to a threshold.
In one town, Leon, where we stayed for a few nights, we attended morning Mass at a small church just around the corner from the hostale where we were staying. I noticed, day after day, locals entering the church dropped a few coins in the cup of the old woman on the threshold. I was surprised, because I assumed that beggars were there to prey on tourists, but that was not the case here; the locals were helping to support this woman. I saw similar scenes in other small towns we visited.
Now don’t worry, I’m not going to make points about supporting the poor or about social structures in other countries. I’m going to stick with the image of the threshold of God’s house. What does it mean to be at this threshold? Well, for one thing, we are all beggars at God’s threshold, and if you think of the saints as coming into God’s house, we are there to beg for their help, their prayers to God on our behalf as members of one Body.
But there is also another meaning of the word threshold: the place or point of beginning, the starting point for a new state or experience, on the threshold of adulthood. If we are on the threshold of God’s house, what a wonderful new life we can expect when we enter that house!
So, then, to spend our life on earth at God’s threshold, we are waiting, but we are also choosing to wait there. We’re not hanging out at the dwellings of the wicked, we’re keeping our purpose in mind, praising God, and gathering at His threshold.
And the psalm ends:
Lord, God of hosts, happy the man who trusts in you!