Lucy stayed in the room with the wardrobe even after her siblings trooped out, "because she thought it would be worthwhile trying the door of the wardrobe." This curiosity drove her further in, further in, until the wood of the wardrobe became the snowy wood of Narnia. Upon crossing that portal's threshold, "Lucy felt a little frightened, but she felt very inquisitive and excited as well."
Lucy's passage was motivated by curiosity. Other motivations exist for those who choose to make a passage.
When Ishmael of Moby Dick decides to "sail about a little and see the watery part of the world," it is because of his melancholy.
"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul… then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can....There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me."
While Melville says that all cherish these feelings, Steinbeck implies that some people just can't shake it. In Travels with Charley, he describes the feeling:
"When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch…. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ship’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, I don’t improve; in further words, once a bum always a bum I fear the disease is incurable."
Yet for others, passage is not motivated by curiosity, or melancholy, or an appetite for adventure.
Being a hardy group of rugged outdoorspeople, the shepherds of the Christmas story could have handled a longer trek—but the journey into town from the countryside was relatively short. They had been keeping watch over their animals during what was probably a typical night on the job. And then something happened that prompted them to abandon their duties with haste. Something happened that urged them to cross a threshold.
It was not a deep depression like Ishmael's or a hunger for adventure as in Steinbeck or an innocent curiosity like Lucy's. No, it was an apocalypse of sorts.
It all happened so fast. An angel of the Lord; the glory of the Lord; fear; the promise of a sign. Then, another sudden explosion of revelation: a multitude of the army from heaven appears with the angel of the Lord and they are singing for peace.
This incursion into the normal lives of these shepherds was the impetus for a shift in their priorities and efforts. The word proclaimed—"unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord"—turned them from the lives they knew, and turned them toward Bethlehem where they had been told they would find a sign: a baby.
So they "went with haste" seeking their Savior.
When they returned, they were different. They came back to the countryside glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.
The intrusion of the angels upon the shepherds—a noisy and bright affair causing fear and surprise—occurred because of another great intrusion: that of the Word become flesh.
The Word, says the Apostle John—which was in the beginning, with God, which is God, the source of all life—this Word, it is said, became flesh and dwelt among us.
The Lord's coming from heaven is the Lord's crossing a boundary from beyond creation into His creation. Jesus came to give his life (Mk 10:45); the Lord descended from heaven (Jn 6:62); Christ came into the world (Jn 3:13); Christ came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim 1:15). Jesus, the writer of Hebrews says, passed through the heavens.
Jesus's crossing into flesh is an intrusion that places us, like the shepherds, into our own illuminating liminalities.
Several articles in this issue of Wheaton magazine have themes of passage: passing from one place, condition, or stage to another. These illuminating experiences have diverse motivations and results, but—like the shepherds—these are stories of people who have crossed thresholds seeking the one who crossed into flesh.