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This video offers A Cartoonist’s Guide to embracing liminal space. What is it? How do we live into it? Where is the good news in it?
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I’ve had some conversations over the past week that have got me thinking about a word. It’s not a word that you use in everyday conversation, but it is one that you are currently experiencing every day.
The word is…liminal.
It means the space and time between things. It is the threshold you pass over and through when you move from one place to another.
The term was originally coined in the field of anthropology when scientists studied aboriginal cultures and noticed that the men of a village would take the boys into the wilderness for a period of time, take them through various rituals (some of them involving pain), and when they returned to the village they were considered full men in the society.
The scientists called this time away from normal life—the time between childhood and adulthood—liminal space. They were no longer children, but they were not yet adults. They had to pass through liminal space.
I’m thinking about this term because I’ve heard different people talk about how they like life to be black and white. They like to have clear answers. They long to go back to “normal” life before the pandemic.
But now, life seems so grey and mushy. Before, we had clear boundaries. You go to this building for work, you go to this building to work out, you go to this building to do church, you go to this building to be at home.
Now, all of those things are mushed together. The boundary lines are blurred.
There is no longer clearly defined areas of black and white.
Many people don’t like grey.
Grey seems to be the fuzzy space between black and white.
This is liminal space. And we pass through this threshold all the time and various points in our lives.
Here’s the tricky part.
Thresholds are usually fairly small. They’re like the transition from one room to another.
Sometimes the threshold can be longer, like a dark hallway through which you must travel before you get to the next door.
These hallways can be dark, grey, confusing, and sometimes painful and scary.
When we are in this dark liminal hallway, we might feel like the Psalmist in Psalm 13,
“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
And have sorrow in my heart all day long?”
My guess is that you have sung a version of that refrain a few times over the past few weeks.
This is liminal space.
We are no longer in “The way things used to be.”
And, we truly don’t know what the next door looks like, where it is, or how long it will take to get there.
Like the Frozen 2 song, we are going “Into the Unknown.”
Let me ask you this question. What are you really hoping for in the next doorway?
The natural tendency is to want to walk into a “new normal” that places things back in their tidy boxes of black and white.
Many of us really hope that the dark hallway is a circle and will take us back to the way things used to be.
Well, I have good news and bad news for you. Let’s start with the bad news.
Liminal space is not the moving from one place to another, as if the last place was still there and we can just jump back and forth whenever we want.
I’ve been studying spiritual formation for over 25 years and I’ve noticed a pattern of life that every spiritual teacher mentions in one way or another.
It is a three-fold pattern.
It begins with CREATION which has a clear ORDER to it. Life is stable and good.
Then something happens to disrupt the GOOD CREATION. It is un-created and enters a state of DISORDER. This is liminal space.
Then, through the tension of the original order and the disruptive force, something new emerges.
There is a re-creation, there is a RE-ORDER.
Sometimes we call this pattern LIFE, DEATH, RESURRECTION.
So, the bad news is this. The first ORDER is gone. It won’t come back.
The natural response to death is grief.
Many of you are grieving right now. That’s OK. It is normal. The greatest thing we can do as a church in this moment is to learn the spiritual practice of lament. We must pass through the five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
Now, there is good news. It might not feel like it right now, but it is good.
Life is liminal.
This process of ORDER-DISORDER-REORDER, of CREATION, UNCREATION, RECREATION doesn’t stop.
It is a spiral. Each time we pass through it we are refined. The things that need to die in our lives are painfully extracted, and a new order emerges, if we accept the process.
Here’s the good news.
Life isn’t grey. Grey only exists if the only two options in the world are black or white.
Life is an amazing spectrum of color. There are no clear boundaries between red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple.
As we practice resurrection during this Easter season, my prayer for you is that you would faithfully walk through the grief of the “normal” that has been disrupted, and that we would be able to open our hearts and minds to the ways that God is blurring the boundaries in our lives and re-creating something that we have never imagined.
I don’t know what that is yet, but I know the one who walks through this liminal hallway with us and loves us enough to re-create something amazing in us, with us, and through us.
Enjoy the rest of your day.
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