Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7: 13-14
Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Psalm 24:7
As I sat down to reflect on these two passages from Psalms and Matthew I was reminded by my partner that I forgot to close the garage door. Again. The irony and timing of his reminder was not lost on me as I had just started thinking about the symbolism and hidden meanings of doors, gates and paths (roads). I’ve always been prone to leave doors open - front doors, back doors, and admittedly, garage doors.
Doors and gates figure prominently in many of our sacred stories and texts. From our first sacred story of Adam and Eve and the Gate to Paradise to the final pages of Revelation, gates and doors symbolize entering in, transitions, movement, separation, power, freedom, hope, opportunity and invitation. In John, Jesus says “I am the gate,” and in Luke the Rabbi instructs us to “enter through the narrow door.” In other passages Jesus says he is “the door.”
Doors, gates and paths are also part of our daily lexicon and used by artists, writers, and lyricists. We often speak of doors being opened and shut, revolving doors, getting a foot in the door, and “Katie bar the door.” Gates often symbolize the beginning (“at the starting gate”) and end (“get the gate”). When running late, we often “hit the road”. In the verses from Matthew I notice that gate is used before road, and that may suggest that gates mark the entrances onto roads we choose.
In contrast to the narrow and broad roads referred to in Matthew, I am reminded of the two equally leafy paths in Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”. In contrast to the passage in Matthew, there are two equally leafy paths to consider and not a path that leads to destruction and another that leads to life. For me, this poem is infused with the anticipation of remorse. Even as he makes a choice the speaker knows that he will second-guess himself at some point in the future. At the very least he will wonder at what is irrevocably lost: the impossible, unknowable other path. But the nature of the decision is such that there is no right path—just the chosen path and the other path. The ironic tone is inescapable: “I shall be telling this with a sigh / Somewhere ages and ages hence.” The speaker anticipates his own future insincerity—his need, later on in life, to rearrange the facts.
As I think back to the literal and figurative doors, gates and roads of my life, I am reminded of the screen door at the back of my paternal grandparents’ home (it was always open) and the worn path leading from my childhood home to their back door and kitchen. I remember the many swing gates and cattle grids on the farm of my maternal grandparents, and I think back to the long, shale-covered driveway of my childhood on which I learned to ride a bicycle. I am also reminded of the many doors that have been opened for me and for a few doors that I have chosen to break down. I would like to think that my propensity for leaving doors open comes from trust and confidence as opposed to forgetfulness – maybe it is a little of both. For me, however, the paths I choose are more important than the doors and gates I walk through.
In “Thanks, Robert Frost” David Ray writes
Do you have hope for the future?
someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
that it will turn out to have been all right
for what it was, something we can accept,
mistakes made by the selves we had to be,
not able to be, perhaps, what we wished,
or what looking back half the time it seems
we could so easily have been, or ought...
The future, yes, and even for the past,
that it will become something we can bear.