This past Saturday while Gary and I were in New York City, we went for the first time to the Cloisters.

Located in Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park, the Cloisters is home to the Metropolitan Museum’s collection of Medieval art. In my usual perverse fashion, though, I walked the Cloisters this past weekend with an eye not so much for the art it houses but for the space it contains, the particular assortment of angle, light and shadow created by stairwell, doorway, and colonnade.

Medieval European sculptures, stained glass, and paintings, like the icons of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, are designed to serve as doorways between the mundane world of stone, glass, and pigment into a spiritual realm that transcends time and space. Through the act of looking, a spiritually minded observer can travel through light, angle, and perspective into a nether realm that defies temporal limitation.

Whether inside a museum or not, I love the look of abandoned doorways and forgotten windows, their particular slants of light beckoning with an irresistible allure. What lies behind and beyond? What souls have passed here in the past; what feet will tread here in the future?

In one of my favorite of her short essays, Annie Dillard describes a childhood memory of hiding from Santa Claus as he “stood in the doorway monstrous and bright” with “night over his shoulder, letting in all the cold air of the sky.” As a child, I too was terrified of Santa Claus and perhaps too of God, craving like all humans to be noticed but fearing to be seen, caught in my unavoidable imperfections.

Now more than ever, with Christmas looming like God’s eye over our shoulder, we grow mindful of what lies behind and beyond: after the hectic chaos of shopping and cooking and merrymaking, toward what end do we wend our days? Dillard concludes her musings about “God in the Doorway” by noting that “once in Israel love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds, and we were all afraid.”

These days when Love appears unannounced on our doorstep, will we be aware enough to heed or even flee? These days oblivion runs deep; these days, I fear we’ve shut our windows and barred our doors, leaving God to grow tired from knocking, his knuckles bruised and battered from our abundance of blind disbelief.