Liminal, you say? What is that? All the Advent readings I’m seeing are talking about waiting. Advent is all about waiting, longing, and hoping for the coming of the Messiah. It is the quintessential spiritual example of liminal space. Liminal space is the space between two things that takes waiting to the next level. It is a phrase that describes time in between the old and the new, the problem discerned and the solution, the recognition of need and the provision. In this sense, liminal space can be very painful and difficult to endure! In one of my readings Richard Rohr is quoted, calling liminal space “a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them…..when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer.” If you are currently in a liminal space, you probably identify readily with this.
To allow all the discomfort of longing, hoping, and wanting in the liminal space requires courage and a willingness to tolerate a great deal of tension. A skill set that is grossly undervalued in a culture of instant gratification. Rohr adds that “if you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run….Anything to flee this terrible ‘cloud of unknowing.’“
I wonder if part of our frenzied Holiday activities are in part an attempt to flee the oftentimes subtler and quieter experiences of liminal space. One thing our church does that I respect a great deal is a Christmas mourning service for any who have suffered loss and find the holidays to be difficult. That service is an example of holding open liminal space and honoring the pain and tension in the lives of those who are grieving. It helps the process of being in liminal space by simply acknowledging it is there.
I was doing a retreat for a group this week and a couple of people talked about the difficulty of being in a time of not yet knowing answers to important, life-altering questions. The temptation is to try to force an answer or solution before it is necessarily time. Sitting in the ambiguity and ‘not-knowingness’ presses all of us to the edges of our faith and hope. In the best sense, liminal space brings us to that place because the edge of our faith and hope is where a deeper experience of God can be. Our faith becomes less about outcomes and answers and more about relationship and God’s presence through any and every circumstance. It is the place of the deepest shifting, spiritual stretching, and emotional growth.
No wonder we talk more of holiday sales than liminal reality! I’m curious about how your experience of liminal space has shaped you.
*Richard Rohr, “Living in the Liminal Space”, a sermon delivered April 7, 2002.