Liminality, from the Latin limen for threshold, refers to a process of crossing over a boundary into something or somewhere new. In one sense we are doing that continuously as we live in the present moment; between past memories and future aspirations.
However, I think it is helpful to think of liminality not as an inevitable passing through but as a place where we deliberately choose to pause and reflect; to discern what we are now called to be or do, before moving on.
A place of surprises
It is a place of creativity and surprises: Jacob, pausing in the desert, wrestles with God overnight but leaves transformed, both disabled and blessed. The uncertainty of what might emerge may be why we avoid it.
This article highlights the importance of liminal space during the Covid pandemic and suggests how, using ideas from the social sciences, we might incorporate this into our personal and church life.
The call to liminality in challenging times
Most of us like the comfort of routines; we feel in control and confident. The pandemic and its changing restrictions is an ongoing challenge and we may simply wish it were all over. We may fear being overwhelmed by the fear of Covid and distress at the devastation it has caused. The temptation is to yearn for the familiar and to ignore how imperfect that was; the Israelites in the wilderness yearned to return to Egypt, where they were slaves.
Yet might liminal space open up ‘treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places’ (Isaiah 45:3)? Might our lament help us recall our dependence on God, our interdependence on each other, including the marginalised, and the call to tend the earth? Might we (re)discover God’s plans for us and gain a renewed hope?
Liminal space is where we wait on God to equip and call us. Christ’s incarnational life: the prolonged prayers, wilderness retreat, transfiguration and anguish in Gethsemane remind us of the spiritual significance and costliness of liminality. It is a discipline; the fruit of personal and social transformation is not produced overnight.
Our tradition embodies liminal space in our Sabbath rest, penitential seasons of Advent and Lent, retreats and pilgrimages.
- When do we allow for liminal space in our lives and that of the church and how have we experienced God in it?
- What are the fears that hold me back; can I give them to God?
In the second part of this reflection, Michèle will look at a three-stage structure to help us use liminality constructively – to be published Fri 14 Aug.
Michèle Hampson is honorary adult psychiatrist and priest in the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham. St Luke’s is grateful for Michèle’s contributions to our Virtual Wellbeing series – find the series here
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- the person in your diocese responsible for clergy wellbeing, or
- St Luke’s click here or call 020 7898 1700