I Stand by the Door

My friend Erin just reminded me of this poem by the Rev. Sam Shoemaker; he was an Episcopal priest in the mid-20th century; he was a wonderful evangelist and also had a hand in the founding of A.A. and the formation of the Twelve Steps. This poem describes in a  nutshell what I love about evangelism.

I Stand by the Door

I stand by the door.
I neither go to far in, nor stay to far out.
The door is the most important door in the world –
It is the door through which men walk when they find God.
There is no use my going way inside and staying there,
When so many are still outside and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where the door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind men,
With outstretched, groping hands,
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it.
So I stand by the door.

The most tremendous thing in the world
Is for men to find that door – the door to God.
The most important thing that any man can do
Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands
And put it on the latch – the latch that only clicks
And opens to the man’s own touch.

Men die outside the door, as starving beggars die
On cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter.
Die for want of what is within their grasp.
They live on the other side of it – live because they have not found it.

Nothing else matters compared to helping them find it,
And open it, and walk in, and find Him.
So I stand by the door.

Go in great saints; go all the way in –
Go way down into the cavernous cellars,
And way up into the spacious attics.
It is a vast, roomy house, this house where God is.
Go into the deepest of hidden casements,
Of withdrawal, of silence, of sainthood.
Some must inhabit those inner rooms
And know the depths and heights of God,
And call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is.
Sometimes I take a deeper look in.
Sometimes venture in a little farther,
But my place seems closer to the opening.
So I stand by the door.

There is another reason why I stand there.
Some people get part way in and become afraid
Lest God and the zeal of His house devour them;
For God is so very great and asks all of us.
And these people feel a cosmic claustrophobia
And want to get out. ‘Let me out!’ they cry.
And the people way inside only terrify them more.
Somebody must be by the door to tell them that they are spoiled.
For the old life, they have seen too much:
One taste of God and nothing but God will do any more.
Somebody must be watching for the frightened
Who seek to sneak out just where they came in,
To tell them how much better it is inside.
The people too far in do not see how near these are
To leaving – preoccupied with the wonder of it all.
Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door
But would like to run away. So for them too,
I stand by the door.

I admire the people who go way in.
But I wish they would not forget how it was
Before they got in. Then they would be able to help
The people who have not yet even found the door.
Or the people who want to run away again from God.
You can go in too deeply and stay in too long
And forget the people outside the door.
As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,
Near enough to God to hear Him and know He is there,
But not so far from men as not to hear them,
And remember they are there too.

Where? Outside the door –
Thousands of them. Millions of them.
But – more important for me –
One of them, two of them, ten of them.
Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch.
So I shall stand by the door and wait
For those who seek it.
‘I had rather be a door-keeper
So I stand by the door.

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Published by

Tim Chesterton

Family man; pastor of St. Margaret's Anglican Church on Ellerslie Road, Edmonton; storyteller; traditional folk musician and occasional songwriter. Email me at timchesterton at outlook dot com.

2 thoughts on “I Stand by the Door”

  1. I worry about this; I am too far “inside,” most of the time. I work at the church; everyone I know is a church person (either here, or organist/choirmaster colleagues at other churches). About the best that can be said for me is that I am helping people that have made it into the door to go on a little further into the House. Especially the children, most of them who have been church people from their birth — but they too are in danger of slipping out the door to see what is Out There; I seek to awaken them to the beauty of holiness (mostly via music) so that they will fall in love with this place where they have always been and grow deeper into it.

    That and the street people. Here, I am at the door, often a lot more than I want to be.

    Today is the feast of Catherine of Siena. Normally, I talk at youth choir on Wednesday afternoons about whatever saint’s day it might be. I don’t want to say much about Catherine, because she is one of the ones who has gone way, way inside the House, and she is more than a little scary. I don’t want little choirgirls to get the idea of emulating her and chopping off their hair, spending all day in a dark room, fasting, and sleeping on boards. And dying, all worn out, in her thirties.

    And yet… people like Catherine are part of what ultimately makes this House a good place to be, and even to outsiders, she (and others) show that this is For Real. This is the one and only reality.

    At choir, my intention is to instead focus on our anthem for Evensong this Sunday, which includes the text “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not to thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy path.” I want very much for them to carry that thought away with them.

  2. Andrew, I don’t think everyone is called to the ministry of standing by the door. I do, however, think that some of us are, and that our ministry is not often recognized as important in Anglican/Episcopal circles.

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