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I Stand By The Door

Artist's Mother Opening a Door, Édouard Vuillard, 1891

Samuel Moor Shoemaker III, DD, STD (1893–1963) was a priest of the Episcopal Church. Sam was considered one of the best preachers of his era, whose sermons were syndicated for distribution by tape and radio networks for decades. He founded Faith At Work magazine in 1926. He served as the rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in New York City from 1925 to 1952. Bill W., one of the founding members of Alcoholics Anonymous, once wrote in the A.A. Grapevine that “Dr. Sam Shoemaker was one of A.A.’s indispensables. Had it not been for his ministry to us in our early time, our Fellowship would not be in existence today.” His help for A.A. was tangible even before the Fellowship began to exist. Sam provided refuge for alcoholics in New York though Calvary Church. Of greater importance was his spiritual aid, which directly influenced the Twelve Steps and the nature of A.A.’s program of recovery. His long and close friendship with Bill W. provided support to the co-founder, and helped the Fellowship weather its fledgling years. Rev. Shoemaker, toward the end of his life, wrote “I Stand by the Door” (aka “I Stay Near the Door”) as an apology for his ministry.

I Stand by the Door

by Sam Shoemaker

I stand by the door.

I neither go too far in, nor stay too 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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