The word Liminality was new for me when I encountered it in the middle of my 4 year involuntary sabbatical at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp. I even wrote about it here a little over 2 years ago. The word made a significant impact on me, as it clearly explained what I was experiencing. In case you’re wondering, or didn’t click above (or don’t understand or don’t want to understand hyperlinks) to my post from the past (one final chance, boomer), liminality is an in-between state of mind or situation. In our life, it might occur when we retire and are trying to decide what to do with the rest of our life. Perhaps a marriage or relationship has ended or the last child has left the nest for college. Perhaps we've been single and are on the threshold of marriage. Maybe we’re a high school senior who’s supposed to be graduating, but it feels like we’re being forced to stay home.
My sense is that even if the word is new, we now clearly understand the feeling as we are in the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end or the vague middle of an unfathomable transitional period called the Covid-19 pandemic. Will life ever be like before? Or maybe the real question is Do we want life to be like before?
Our culture has conditioned us to expect life to happen in a certain way. We trust the culture. But occasionally we have the opportunity to see that the culture is unreliable, nothing more than an emperor with no clothes. Politicians, scientist, talking heads on TV and radio, even some so called religious leaders have all looked pretty stupid during the pandemic as they’ve made pronouncements followed by backtracks and finger pointing. They can’t even decide if we should wear a mask. We already suspected they were fooling us, but it’s still unsettling. But in the midst of chaos, can there be growth and learning, even grace?
In one of Richard Rohr’s recent daily devotionals, he pointed out that we are, as the anthropologist Victor Turner (1920–1983) wrote, “betwixt and between. In that space—which is mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual—we are destabilized, disoriented. The old touchstones, habits, and comforts are now past, the future unknown. We only wish such a time to be over. We may be impatient to pass through it quickly, with as little distress as possible, even though that is not likely….”
One thing I’ve learned over the last few years is that, just when I’m ready to write-off life as too weird or difficult, something serendipitous will happen if I just pay attention. Paula D’Arcy in Waking Up To This Day: Seeing the Beauty Before Us describes it as an indescribable light that “fights its way through the impenetrable dark—an unpredictable, unimportant, runaway moment that lights up everything you’ve been unable to see until then. That light removes all the shoulds and oughts, all the illusions about fairness. You enter liminal space . . . In that space you take your first script [or what I call your false or separate self], the one that weighs five hundred pounds, the script that was cutting into your heart all along, bleeding you to death but you didn’t realize the wound or its seriousness—and you simply let it go.” I hope now can be such a time for us individually and collectively.
None of us knows what the future holds, but we do inherently know that we were created for relationships, with God and with each other. That understanding is at the core of who we are as humans. It’s in the betwixt and between where that knowledge can grab us and change us. We can throw away the old script that we already knew deep down inside wasn’t working.
Just let it go. It’ll be OK.