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Your doorways: Triggers to new life

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What on earth does the Lord’s ancient command to the Israelites to “write these words (the law) upon the mezuzot (doorposts) of your house and upon your gates” (Dt 6:9) have to do with your family’s homebound COVID-19 saga of 2020?  

The answer to this question, I suggest, can be found by reimagining something as commonplace as our doors, and building a simple and small habit around them.  

Thanks to previous studies in Jerusalem and Jewish friends and relatives, I’ve had some practice in this. On many a doorpost, I’ve seen the mezuzah — a small wooden or metal container holding a page of Scripture, including the Shema prayer, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Dt 6:4) — and long admired how some practicing Jews will even touch it and then kiss their hand as a sign of their affection for God’s word. It’s a split-second physical gesture, woven into the fabric of an ordinary day, which speaks volumes.    

Jewish religious practice aside, it turns out something fascinating is happening as we walk across the thresholds of our homes. The “doorway effect,” as Ashish Tiwari at Science ABC summarizesresearch on the phenomenon, occurs when “passing through a doorway and entering a different room creates a ‘mental block’ in the brain.” We’ve all experienced this when we’ve arrived in the next room of our house, only to ask, “Why did I come here?” 

“To some extent,” Tiwari explains, when you cross a threshold, “you forget about the past” and experience a “divide” in your memory. “Walking through open doors resets the memory to make room for the creation of a new moment, a new setting, a new situation.”

Enter the mezuzah — or in the case of our home, a beautiful Trinity icon holy card, which we’ve taped to several doorframes. For the past few years, my wife and I have been tinkering, you might say, with this ancient practice of using doorways as triggers for remembering God and, in particular, the fact that we’ve consecrated our home and family to the holy Trinity. 

“When you walk into a room,” notes the author of “Performance Habits” Brendon Burchard in his suggestion of leveraging the “doorway effect,” “you have a psychological trigger go off in your mind that you’ve associated with that doorframe. So, for example, when you walk into the office in the morning, have three words go through your mind about how you want to interact with other people.” For Burchard, the practical question becomes, “What are the trigger moments I could set up during the day to keep me on track?”

Over time, my wife and I have come to think of each threshold in our home as an opportunity to pass through Christ and his cross and into the sheepfold, the safe pasture, as we (do our best to) pray a brief prayer such as “Come, Holy Spirit.”  

Do we forget constantly? Of course. But at many moments, this glance at the Trinity icon has made room for grace. We’ve been able to pause, reset and invoke the Holy Spirit as we enter the next room.            

With time, our prayer has taken on more of the Trinitarian dynamic that we know to be true at the deepest levels of our lives: God created us in his image, the “imago Trinitatis,” and welcomes us into an interpersonal communion of self-gift, love and sacrifice. These attributes of God, we pray, will be glimpsed in our own family as we move about our homes, reflecting his image to one another.  

“Since staying at home more because of the coronavirus pandemic,” a recentstudy asked participants, “which of the following have you done more of?” 

While thankfully only 14 percent of respondents said they are “arguing (more) with spouse/family,” the vast majority reported watching more TV (71 percent), cooking (56 percent), following the news (55 percent), cleaning (53 percent) and streaming video online (50 percent). Some will see silver linings for the family here — more cooking and meals together — while others will note cause for concern, such as soaring hours of screen time. 

When, please God, this pandemic recedes into memory, what if we can each look back and recall not an anxiety-fueled binge of endless media, but a new season of growth as we became, threshold by threshold, who we are made to be in Christ? 

“I am the door,” Jesus invites us, his disciples. “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (Jn 10:19).

Johnson is co-founder, with his wife, Ever, of Trinity House Community (trinityhousecommunity.org).  


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020