Leaving room for liminal space

Liminal: “occupying a position at or on both sides of a boundary or threshold; an intermediate state, phase, or threshold.”  I started a relationship with this word most specifically when in the midst of my doctoral work.  I was trying to make a connection theologically with what I believe is spiritual space, for lack of a better phrase, that it takes for certain things to come into being and into the experience and/or understanding of human beings.  I think creation and creativity happen in that space.  I think the power of the Holy Spirit fills that space invitationally and with nudges and often unrecognized subtle guidance.  It is space I do not believe human beings can create, or manipulate, or cause to happen themselves; but in faith, can catch a glimpse or a moment of recognition that leads to deepening relationship in and with the holy.  

That word has been more constant in my external and internal vocabulary in the last couple of years because that’s where it feels like we’re living no small amount of the time.  In an intermediate place, or at the meeting of both sides of a boundary or threshold.  There is no going back to exactly the way it was, there is not yet a knowing of what will be a new normal ahead, there is only this place; this liminal space where perhaps the great creativity invited and empowered by the Holy Spirit may move us into a vision God has for us that we have yet to see clearly.

In 2005, waaaay before pandemic and the word “hybrid” now both accepted gratefully AND somewhat despised by educators and religious folk alike, a theologian named Kwok Pui-lan wrote this that simply put words to so many of these thoughts. 

“The most hybridized concept in the Christian tradition is that of Jesus/Christ.  The space between Jesus and Christ is unsettling and fluid, resisting easy categorization and closure.  It is the ‘contact zone’ or ‘borderland’ between the human and the divine, the one and the many, the historical and the cosmological, the Jewish and the Hellenistic, the prophetic and the sacramental, the God of the conquerors and the God of the meek and the lowly.  Jesus’ question ‘Who do you say that I am?’ is an invitation for every Christian and local faith community to infuse that contact zone with new meanings, insights, and possibilities.  The richness and vibrancy of the Christian community is diminished whenever the space between Jesus and Christ is fixed . . .” (Kwok Pui-Lan, Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology).

That liminal space . . . Jesus as both fully human and fully divine – son of God and God in human form; that which is embodied and that which is beyond limitation of body, space, and time.  Do we allow for that space in our faith – that space of unknowing wherein we find peace in trusting where we cannot always see?

I both believe most firmly in the reality of that sacred space of creativity originating with God AND I struggle with it because it is so much the unknown.  There is ample evidence and affirmation of God working through that space through we broken human beings and yet wonderment where we cannot explain but so very badly want to.

Author Amy-Jill Levine in her book, Entering the Passion of Jesus (shameless plug for our all-church Lenten study groups this year, register on our website), says, “The crowd (those gathered at the Palm parade) – again that’s us – knows what it wants.  It wants what we all want.  It wants political reform; it wants compassion rather than conquest.  It wants a balanced budget, affordable health care, a strong military, clean water, peaceful streets, lower taxes, good schools . . . But leaders cannot do everything on their own.  We’ve already seen how the Psalms insist that kings must rely on God.  They also must rely on the people to carry out God’s will . . . to take up a cross meant to risk Roman capital punishment.  It meant being willing to accept hardships and loss, humiliation and imprisonment, even death, in order to proclaim a vision of a better world, a divine kingdom, and then to work for it.”

Liminal space – that open area between God’s vision and the concrete steps it takes to live into that vision.  That creative juxtaposition of ideas, brainstorming, and aspirations; and the plans, development, and infrastructure to carry it out.  To live in that space is to choose either possibilities or dread; to risk vulnerability or to lock ourselves into hard shells and high walls of protection.  Can we grieve loss AND celebrate life?  Can we name with broken hearts what we miss AND begin to experience healing through moments of joy and glimpses of generous grace?

“Occupying a position at or on both sides of a boundary or threshold.” I continue to work daily to live in that place with trust where I cannot see, believing in God’s gifting of creativity and possibility for us partnering to bring about God’s vision for our gathered humanity.

May the liminal time and space in your lives be filled with sacred promise and hope.  May healing occur beyond understanding in a way that strengthens each of our lives for others, and may God who defines grace, give us strength to receive and give in generous hope!

I sorta love flashmobs a lot – and this video is one of my very favorites . . . in the space of the unexpected there is sometimes joy . . .

Link to video