‘Jesus, on whom be peace, said
This world is a bridge.
Pass over it but do not build your dwelling there.’
(Inscribed in Persian on Buland Darwaza, the main gateway to the palace at Fatehpur Sikri, south of Delhi, India
by the Moghul emperor Akbar I in 1601)
Last year, I had the opportunity and privilege to contribute to an anthology on a subject that I am most interested and passionate about – liminality. I have blogged on this topic numerous times. Here are some introductory posts:
- Reflections on Rites of Passage
- Those Terrifying Liminal Spaces: Reflections on Not Knowing
- On Flying Kites: Decisions in Liminal Spaces
- What if our Whole Life is a Liminal Space?
This latest compilation is the brainchild of pastor, writer, editor and friend, Tim Carson, who has written a variety of other books. I love Tim’s definition of liminality in his chapter contribution:
‘ The experience of liminality is feeling a loss of steady and familiar landmarks, the kind of security that accompanied past structure, even as the future has not yet materialized. With everything in flux, angst becomes the predominant mood. Very often action seems fruitless because some transitions cannot be hurried. One has entered an incubation period in which time shifts. The liminal person does not necessarily know that transformation is occurring at the time it is happening. Does a caterpillar have any idea that metamorphosis is about to take place as it enters the cocoon?‘
I wept reading that. It resonated so deeply with my own life experience.
Barbara Brown Taylor writes the foreword for this book. Yes, I was slightly dizzy when I heard this and I went into serious fangirl mode. I love love love her writings. In her foreword, she acknowledges how most of the contributors did not consent to go on a liminal journey, but life took them there anyway. Some were catapulted into the liminal space through ‘war, illness, abuse, or natural disaster. Others found themselves there due to poverty, gender, apartheid, or immigration.’
Personally, I found solace and comfort in the stories of this communal motley crew of liminal travellers, sharing their bewilderment at finding themselves ‘betwixt and between’ where ‘the only way through is through. There are no guarantees … To engage liminal space is to live in faith, not certainty.’
This post would be too long if I discussed every chapter. Instead, I offer one of my favourite quotes from each chapter. If you are wandering the shadowy, mystical path of liminality, may it be a light to you in dark times.
‘I’ve heard some people describe liminality in the language of Celtic spirituality: a thin place, a narrow place, a place where the living and the dead commune, where heaven and earth all regard each other. Hell too, I hope. Otherwise, what’s the point?’ Pádraig Ó Tuama
‘I discovered my first hummingbirds as a small child in the gardens of the Theological Community in Mexico City where I was encouraged to nourish my love for nature while caring for others by cooperating, respecting, and sharing in the many social and spiritual activities with people from all over Latin America. Tucked gently away in my soul and mind is the gift of seeing the world from the borderlands, the in-between spaces, the nepantlera of ‘either/or’ and’ neither/nor,’ with thousands of beautiful colour hues and nuances of language and culture.’Elena Huegel
‘Ultimately, the purpose of pilgrimage is to bring the pilgrim, transformed in the journey, back home again.‘ Kristine Culp
‘The liminal dimension undergirds all human experience. In some sense, there is nothing that is not liminal. We live our lives (and perhaps find sanity) by fashioning fixed structures of meaning and identity; selves and narratives that are generally static and contained. But that is not life, as much as it is the mask we put onto life. Meanwhile, the liminal waits for us.‘ Joshua Boettiger
‘Liminality is essentially and always a middle. It is the moment of in-between-ness where what has been is gone, but what will be has not yet arrived. In Christian spirituality, it is the moment of Holy Saturday, when Christ has died but is not yet risen. There is nothing to be done on Holy Saturday except to learn how to die with Christ, in the hope that one day – but not today – life will be restored by resurrection.’ Michelle Trebilcock
‘War is a universal experience of social liminality. If the scale of hostilities is sufficiently large, war can expand to even global liminality. Societies and nations are cast into a time between the times, a state of being filled with uncertainty and dread. For warriors within these societies, war represents a rite of passage, a transition that changes the identity of those who enter warand the community of those who share it.’ Kate Hendricks Thomas
‘In the aftermath of the tornado, liminal time moved at its own pace, mostly slower than we might have preferred.’ Jill Cameron Michel
‘Adoptees exist between families for their entire lives. They are products of legal and biological families, but not fully either. This liminal space is their reality, and from it comes complex identity work. The extent to which adoptees engage with the liminality of their adoption status emerges as a product of individual, contextual, and familial characteristics.’ Colleen Warner Colaner
‘The literature of the ancient desert monks and medieval Celtic saints is extensive and filled with many tales like this. In this liminal time, when climate change presents us with an opaque and uncertain future, can the literature that emerged from the liminal experience of Christian contemplatives in late antiquity offer us any wisdom for navigating our challenges in better ways?’ Timothy Robinson
‘The liminal is the space between; it is a state in which the classifications of the everyday are bracketed to reveal an alternative order, a more basic relatedness, which undergirds the everyday power and position exemplified by given cultural norms.’ Adam Pryor
‘Cancer is the quintessential liminal experience as it includes all the stages – pre-liminal, liminal, reintegration – and all the classic elements of the liminal journey: end of one way of life, loss of identity and status, bewilderment, confusion, ambiguity, reversal of hierarchy, uncertainty. Patients are between life as they once knew it and an uncertain future.’ Debra Jarvis
‘When I crossed the threshold into the strange world of incarceration, I was ushered into a state of permanent liminality, a time and space between the past and some seemingly unobtainable future. My life was stuck in a time between the times, a place between the spaces. Unlike van Gennep’s Rites of Passage, however, there was no design for movement, for transformation in the liminal passage.’ Jacob Davis
‘The stories that we tell to make sense of our world and our lives simultaneously open up certain possibilities for action and close others off. They define and limit the options we think exist. The danger is that we become so enamored with our own narrative that we shut ourselves from the narratives of the “other.” What if each of us needs both the presence and the narratives of the other to navigate the ambiguities of liminality?’ John Eliastam
‘Our collective challenge for the future is to produce a society that accepts diversity, welcomes difference, and champions human rights for all its citizens. If accomplished, this might enable Turner’s view of positive social change through community building actually to become reality. One can always remain hopeful.’ Diane Dentice and Michelle Dietert
‘To examine the liminal, where it may reside, are we well advised to avoid the paved road where, by following the markers, we do arrive, but it just may be a camouflaged dead end?’Kenneth Krushel
Let me end this post with a quote from my chapter. Writing this piece was part of a healing journey. I am grateful.
‘The gift of liminality, presented to me wrapped in pain, exile, and humiliation has assisted me in recognizing many of my ego’s trappings and yearnings. In this place, I have been confronted and stripped of much of the baggage that I carried over the years … of trying to live up to all sorts of expectations. Liminality, like the character V in the film V for Vendetta, showed me the bars of my ideological and structural prison, all dressed up in religious moralizing – and once you see, you cannot un-see.’
If you would like to order this book, you can do so via Lutterworth Press
Is love enough? Lisa Hunt-Wotton
This week for me was a dark, but illuminating space if that makes sense. We are in a disturbing season on planet earth in so many areas its enough to make you want to hide under the bed and never come out. The world seems to have been turned topsy-turvy and all the absolutes that we used to count on are shifting. People we used to trust seem to be on the other side of the fence and leaders that we could count on are… well… lets just say, less than worthy of being followed.
This week I had several uninvited and robust discussions with people about same-sex marriage. I was clobbered with bible verses and thrown to the mat over what were obviously very important views for these people. Several people threw the love word at me. Yes, if you can throw love. ‘Love does not come into the picture here, we are talking about the preservation of marriage’ (bit ironic that one). OR ‘I do love them, I just don’t love what they do’. ‘There is a lot more to consider in this issue than just love’.
I was a little shocked to be honest and began to question my own theology.
Have I got this all wrong?
Is there more to consider than love?
Am I watering everything down?
Is love too weak a position to have these days with ‘the world escalating to the New World Order (where all sorts of unspeakable things are going to happen) and we (Christians) are in danger of being overthrown and jailed for what we believe.” (Yes this was said to me)
Many sleepless nights ensued. When finally I felt a whisper of hope. Literally a whisper of hope which woke me up yesterday.
Love, faith and hope remain but the greatest of these is love. (I Cor 13)
Where is the good news people? We are supposed to be the people of good news. Even I am scared of Christians at the moment. Where is the faith, the hope and the love? No wonder people are abandoning religion at staggering rates. Some of you are terrifying.
The greatest of these is love. Love is not weak, it is not an alternative theology and Yes it pretty much is all that you need to consider.
GOD IS LOVE – hello. It is who He is.
“Love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God … for God is love” (1 John 4:7–8).
Love is the greatest commandment (Mt. 22:36-40)
Love is the greatest thing. (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
Without love, nothing matters. (Gal. 5:6)
The fruit of the Spirit is love. (Gal. 5:22)
IF we are to throw the sacred texts like weapons at people then please get it right.
Jesus has to be the interpretative key to everything in the Bible.
Jesus was asked this: “Teacher, what is the most important commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is, “Love others as much as you love yourself.” All the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets are based on these two commandments.
School of Love
How many years have you spent studying love? How many workshops, conferences, books, schools have you attended on love? We were never called to be church goers, or even Christians. We are called to be disciples. Disciples are students and our teacher Jesus, came to teach us about love.
I would like to see less doctrinal wrangling in the church and more love. Brian McLaren,
We are called to love
Jesus teaches us to love God and to love others. Imagine how the statistics of rape and domestic violence would fade away if we truly learned to just love our families? But He didn’t stop there. He asks us to love the ‘other’. The outsider, the outcast, the stranger, the alien, and even the enemy. With the SAME love. To treat EVERYONE the way that we want to be loved and the way that we want to be treated. There is not longer US and THEM there is only US.
How does this stack up with our behaviour, language, engagement and response toward the other? To refugees, muslims, LGBTI, homeless, other ethnicities. Is it loving? Jesus’ rather clear teaching on love of enemies has been consistently ignored by all the mainline churches.
Conversation of love. “Tell me your story? What has life been like for you? Help me to understand. How can I support you, sit with you, listen to you? What breaks your heart? What is hurting right now?
We should see all people as brothers, sisters, neighbours, loving them as ourselves, standing with them in unity. Loving someone includes understanding them. Walking alongside them through all of life’s ups and downs.
Think of your child, your grandchild, your partner, your best friend. You don’t abandon them, or cut them off or turn your love off like a tap if they make a mistake or stumble. True love is selfless, it is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking.
John offers an insight that resolves the paradox: if you don’t love your neighbor whom you have seen, you can’t love God whom you have not seen (1 John 4:20). His words recall Jesus’s own words: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). (Source)
“Sacred texts always maximize your possibilities for life and love, which is why we call them sacred. I am afraid we have for too long used the Bible merely to prove various church positions, which largely narrows their range and depth. Instead of transforming people, the Biblical texts became utilitarian and handy ammunition. Rohr.
Love for the other also extends to love for creation. When God told Noah to make an ark, is was not just to save humanity. It was to save all of creation. All the differences, paradoxes and opposites shut up inside a boat with the door locked. What a picture of the preservation and celebration of diversity and otherness.
In conclusion, I would have to say that love IS the only thing to consider. Love is enought. If I am wrong, then I will gladly be wrong on the side of love.
“Jesus does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them”. (Saint Therese of Lisieux)
“All that we do is a means to an end, but love is an end in itself because God is love”. (St. Maria Teresa of the Cross [Edith Stein])
Featured image by Trunk Animation.
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