Borders are significant places. They come in all shapes and sizes. A border can be a doorway, a gate, a fence, a street, a river, a wall, or a line drawn in the sand.
Scripture is filled with stories of individuals who crossed borders. At the prompting of God, Abraham left the security of his native land, Ur, and crossed many borders until he came to the land of Canaan. Years later, the Hebrews, under Moses’ leadership, crossed the Red Sea in their quest for freedom. Later still, their descendents crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land.
In today’s world, we are all too familiar with stories of people risking their lives to cross a border. We see pictures of crowds of people gathered at our U.S. southern border. Or we see the small boats crammed with refugees fleeing their war-torn countries in the Middle East for a new life in Europe. Sometimes they are successful. Sometimes they are turned away. Sometimes they die trying to cross a border.
The seasons of Advent and Christmas celebrate a border crossing of another kind: the Incarnation. As the writer Rebecca Douglas has said, at the Annunciation, God, through Mary, “stepped over the line not only between heaven and earth, but also between divinity and humanity.” Unfortunately, we sometimes take this incredible mystery for granted. We fail “to quake at the inbreak of God Almighty,” writes Brennan Manning, “and we rob Christmas of its shock value.”
Jesus was a border crosser both by his life and teachings. He crossed the borders of convention by freely associating with all kinds of people: men and women, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, young and old, healthy and sick. He challenged his followers to cross borders too. The command “Love one another” means to reach across the often invisible borders that divide us. It means to put an end to the divisions that separate us. It means to tear down the barriers we have constructed–often out of fear–between ourselves and the stranger or the unknown.
We know we might be refusing Jesus’ invitation to be a border crosser if we find ourselves saying or thinking things like these: “But this is the way I have always done things… I’m too old (too tired, too busy) to change… Those people are not like me at all… I am not responsible for anyone except myself and my family… Please don’t give me any new information. I am comfortable with what I already know…”
On the other hand, we know we might be a border crosser if we say or think things like these: “May I help you?… What are you going through?… I’ve never done anything like this before… May I tell you my story?… We’re more alike than I ever imagined…I’m beginning to see things differently now…”
This Advent, may our prayer be: O Jesus, Incarnate One, you stand at the edge of our borders, at the walls we have constructed mostly out of fear, and you say, “Cross over!” But we say, “I can’t. I’m too afraid.” You say, “I will be with you.” Loving Jesus, help us to be border crossers like you. Help us to move freely from here to there, from the familiar to the new, from safety into the unknown. Give us the strength for doing the hard work of real loving. Help us to befriend all kinds of people–not just people who look and think as we do. Give us the courage to invite others into the sacred space of who we are. And finally, this Advent, we thank you for becoming one of us and showing us the way to true freedom, happiness, and oneness with you and with each other. Amen.
What borders have you had to cross in your life?
Have you ever found yourself saying or thinking one of the things in the last two paragraphs (before the candles and prayer)? If so, what was the occasion? How did you feel as you said it or thought it?
What are some of the borders in today’s world that Jesus is challenging us as individuals and a church community to cross?
PS: I am away this week for a week of intense and uninterrupted writing. I will be working on my next book. I ask for your prayers for this “holy time.” Thank you! (Next week’s reflection will be posted on Monday as usual.)
Our song today is the ancient Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” This is a beautiful instrumental version by the Piano Guys, with piano and cello. For me, this hymn captures humanity’s longing for peace, oneness, and love.
I invite you to respond to this reflection below.
Good morning, Sr. Melannie…
Good morning, all…
My wife has been away for a couple of days, and so my sister-in-law and her boyfriend invited me to dinner. We ate at a Al Forno’s, a cozy, quiet restaurant in Providence. I had never been there before but was told the food was excellent, and it was!
At Al Forno’s some of the tables are literally right next to each other, and so while we were finishing dessert, we noticed a woman sitting by herself just to our left. Being a gregarious trio, we asked how she liked her meal (she did), and if she would like some of our dessert (she declined but then accepted). We found that she was recently retired after having worked many years for the CDC (get your flu shots!).
It was a delightful exchange, a brief border crossing into the land of another, someone we may never see again but who has left a brief but lasting memory. A blessing.
Thank you, Ed! Blessings!
I, too, was invited to cross a border, last week. I was on my way to visit my son. As I was going down a main street, I noticed that he was running to catch a bus. This was the second time I saw this man. This time, I was irritated with the bus driver, who, I was sure, noticed the poor man running, in the snow, trying to catch it.
I stopped and offered him a ride. Although he is Puerto Rican and it was difficult to understand most of our conversation, we did talk about his country. I had gone to Vieques quite a while ago, but we talked, some, about that island.
I had no hesitation, this time, in stopping, because I was very at peace with that decision. I knew God was with me. Isn’t that what God is all about? Making decisions out of love.
Good Morning Sister and All,
This really hit home with me as my daughter suffers from the disease of mental illness and addiction. To me, she is far away and in a place so alien, I have not yet crossed the border. I am fearful and feel like the wandering tribe and lost people.
This Advent season has become for me and my family a time of intimate calling for Emmanuel to come and ransom our captive. The song you have chosen is so poignant and uplifting that this morning is bright and hopeful.
Thank you Sr.Melannie for all you bring to us through your thoughtful writings. I will be looking forward to reading your newest book.
Denise, praying for you and your daughter. Many are in the same place as you. You are not alone. God Bless You and give you strength and hope. Amen
God love you, Denise…you and your daughter are in our prayers.
Denise Keep praying.. My son is recovering addict. He has been clean and sober for 8 yrs now and my prayer every day is he will get one more day. He was a convicted felon and spent time in prison. He has since met his wife who is also recovering (9 yrs) They both now give back and help new recovering addicts. There is HOPE I’ll pray for your daughter.
I too suffer from depression, so I know what your daughter and your family are enduring; it is so difficult. I have found Mother Teresa’s book on her own depression to be very helpful. Let us all pray for each other.
What a beautiful idea of border crossing this Advent!
I am learning to play the mountain dulcimer with a couple of other friends. Over the weekend, we did a little Christmas concert playing for 10 friends. My heart was pounding as we played but it was delightful to share music with supportive friends. At any age, we can try something new.
I will be praying all week for the gift you are working on! I am spending this year on THE FLOWING GRACE OF NOW … a suggestion you offered and is wonderful. I will look forward to reading your new book, which I am sure will bring peace, hope, and joy to our lives. Love and Prayers
Great story, John! Our lives are filled with opportunities to cross borders…sometimes scary, but always filled with the potential to positively impact others, as well as ourselves. My wife, daughter, and I watched the film “The Nativity Story,” last evening; an Advent tradition in our home. It is a wonderful film, and filled with many border crossings, figuratively and literally! And these crossings, especially for Mary and Joseph, were filled with fear…..but also with Love, and with Hope. All three emotions resonate with me as I contemplate past, and potential future, crossings in my life. May Love and Hope always prevail! Thank you, Sister! Prayers and Blessings to you during this important week……Love the Piano Guys rendition of ……”Emmanuel”
In our little town in Florida, at our church, we serve 150 meals a day from our soup kitchen, to people from all walks of life. No questions asked. Crossing borders? Probably, but we’ll never know. Just volunteering at this mission crosses a border from staying at home and not doing anything or helping the less fortunate. “Open wide our heavenly home” in verse 5 of “O come , O come, Emanuel” is what we do. we’ll be singing this hymn many times during Advent, but what a great version by the Piano Guys. Thanks Melanie!
My husband & I participated in our area’s celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe feast day, parade, dancing, Mass and meal. A beautiful 3 hours with our Hispanic Catholic community which was a border crossing for us.
What a beautiful, timely, thought-provoking and challenging reflection!
Thank you, Melanie! Have a blessed Christmas – and keep writing!
Just stopping in to say hello & to read everyone else’s comments, insightful, heartfelt, encouraging! Peace and light to all.
We have so many border crossing in our lives. We have met so many wonderful people because we have opened our doors and our hearts without ever realizing it. Those crossing have become awesome blessings.
May this 2nd week of Advent bring you many blessings as you pray and write. We look forward to your next book filled with wisdom and love.
Many blessings upon you.
How very timely
I just read that the sheriff in our county bragged about turning in who he thinks are illegals, to Washington. Evidently got the names from his church, an innocent outreach which he has ruined. This is just one of his evil doings..Looking for a job in Washington. God help all of us no matter what language we speak.
We cross at least 2 borders every day. One, when we wake up each morning; Two, when we fall asleep at night.
Dear Sr Melannie,
THANK YOU for all of the
Wonderful inspiration you
Share with us each week and in
your books . Gracious Goodness
Sits at my bedside. ..
May the Holy Spirit enlighten you
this week as you share more wisdom.
I do hope you return to Siena Center
in Racine WI soon.
Have a very Blessed and Happy Christmas!
May the coming Decade be Healthy and Blessing-filled.
With love and prayer,
Someone praying for Emmanuel to come will welcome me. I pray to be Emmanuel for that person.
I have had some borders to cross and some were quite involving.
I did add special added prayers before crossing them.
Some people in authority accusing me of something I was not responsible for. However, they were supported by another person held in high esteem. Consequently, I was confdemned and had to face their consequences.
Right now, migrants wishing to have safer and better situatios , hoped to find this in our country. They risked all kinds of hardships, some even death, to realize their dream of a better world.
Our president, who has many a bias, accused migrants of ill will and also of causing drug problems in the USA. Many have been subjected to return to their country of origin, which threatened them with death or being abused sexually. Youngsters have been separated from parents and caged without necessities of liffe.
I love all of your postings but this one really hits home. Thank you for it especially during Advent. Blessings to you and your Sisters.
Border crossings,, yes! My most memorable recent one was on Thanksgiving day. I decided to vounteer for a city-wide Thanksgiving dinner provided by Mel Trotter mission for our homeless and held in our largest convention center in the city. I was given the job of sitting at the “story table”. Not having done this before, I had no idea what that would entail. I had the privilege of listening to one of the young (21) men tell me his story which I in turn wrote down in a little booklet that was provided.
I first listened to what he said and then I condensed it and read it back to him to see if I got what he meant. We went bit by bit and each time I read it back to him, we looked each other in the eye. By the time we were finished there was a real connection between us…..a real trust had been built. We probably will never see one another again, but for that piece in time, we were the center of our worlds.
He was the only one that wanted to do it, but it was worth the 3 hours I spent with these beloved of God.
I try to keep my eyes open for chances of border crossings, even little tiny ones, for they bring great joy into my life.
Happy traveling to you all,
Thank you Sr. Melannie
Very timely posting for me, as I crossed a “real” border into Cuba last week with a friend who has being ministering to the people there for almost 20 years. I missed celebrating Thanksgiving with family, but realized every day there, just how much we all have to be thankful for. We attended services everyday in a different home that was ministered either by a husband and wife (Pastor & Pastora) or mostly by a Pastora who preaches and teaches children from her home. I witnessed a little girl about 10 years old preaching to us. We were not in Havana, but in the outlying villages where people are really struggling to survive. It looked like Russia in the 70’s when the stores were bare and food is being rationed………and all this is happening just 90 miles from our American border. Please keep all who are suffering from lack of basic human needs in your prayers.
Thank you for all your efforts, Sister. You are a true blessing.
It would seem that any way of thinking that separates me safely or sadly from those “other” persons whom I am not like is a border that needs to be broken down or crossed. Whether I have them on a pedestal or in the gutter, on the wrong side of the tracks or some important issue, I am the one whom I am excluding from the gift they could be to me.
Enjoy your week of writing, shying away from the intensity!
I am often “accused” by my sons of “talking to everyone” — when I stand in line (at the Washington Monument, at the Epcot big silver ball, the bakery, the gas station). Over the years (I’m 72) I’ve met some really interesting people and even heard some great and not so great stories. I’ve learned people, for the most part, love to share their stories. I was a newspaper reporter for 15 years and loved every minute. Many say they have nothing to share and then spend two hours telling me their “nothing” — and I was always surprised to see how much they ended up learning about themselves. They crossed borders and I got to witness that – for better or worse. I help with ministry to the homebound and I have always loved talking to elders of our communities where we’ve lived. Many “border” stories there for sure. Thank you for your insight and helping us think about what “border” can mean. Blessings for your writing — I’ve done some little of it (not so intensely as you) but I do know it can be very hard work.
Thank for your lovely reflection and for the musical selection that accompanies it!
I am in the same place as you are right now. If no one has steered you to the following 2 books I urge you to get them. They are”Tending Dandelions” by Sandra Swenson & “BALM” by Beverly A. Buncher. I hope they help you. I will be praying for you, your daughter, & your family. God bless!
The border crossing the hardest for me was from wife to widow. But I found my safety in God, who I thank daily.
For me the most difficult border was removing the mask to reveal the me God knew from before my concepgion. My secrets were blinding me from His love for me and those He could love and heal through me.
May God enjoy helping you with your book