By DR. LINDA GESLING
With the months and years of political wrangling over the future of the Lift Bridge, it is easy to forget that bridges are actually a connector, a way to bring together that which is separated. In Celtic spirituality, bridges are sacred spaces, with power to move us forward in our own growth. This alternate focus on bridges can open us up to possibilities for our lives.
Developing a strong spiritual life, a reliance on help from God, can be a bridge for us when we need to cross over to a new place, whether it is a new job or just a new way of approaching our responsibilities. This doesn’t mean that crossing places are suddenly easy. Swinging bridges can be fun if they are over a relatively shallow body of water, not so fun if they are suspended above a high gorge. Walking on bridges that are shared with traffic can also be a nerve-wracking experience as the cars and trucks rush by and dents in the rail show spots where they have ventured into the pedestrian area.
To go forward into new relationships and new activities of life also involves such a period of uncertainty, when one is neither in the old place nor the new and it is all too easy to question the wisdom of the decision. Change is hard. When I remind myself that the crossing place is sacred space, I have new perspective, a willingness to keep moving, even as I can see the river rushing beneath me.
Bridges take us from what is known and familiar to what is different and strange. My childhood experience of a big bridge was the one that crossed the Mississippi River from the downtown of Keokuk, Iowa, (similar in size to Stillwater) into Illinois, at that point very rural, with few buildings or attractions a young child would notice. Yet over the years I came to appreciate the villages, apple orchards and, finally, the highways that took me to the cities, state parks and historical landmarks of that strange land called "Illinois."
In our lives, we are sometimes reluctant to cross to a strange place, to leave behind what is known and comfortable. To decide to leave behind cynicism or constant criticism and move to a more positive place can take just as large a bridge, and be just as great a journey into the unfamiliar.
Of course, not every time we need a crossing place do we find a ready-made bridge. We might need to look for a ford or build a raft or find a ferry. We might have to swim. In Minnesota, we know that sometimes we just need to wait and the miracle of winter will give us ice for a safe crossing. In fact, there can be wisdom in taking time, in waiting. However, at some point, we must go forward. Whatever the method, crossing places help us keep moving.
When difficulties come, whether we want change or find change inevitable, we are entering sacred space. Now when I look at the Lift Bridge, I don’t see controversy or dollar signs, I see sacred space and invitation.
Dr. Linda Gesling is pastor at First United Methodist Church in Stillwater.