I learned a new word this week. Liminal. Like my favorite word pueblo, it just rolls off the tongue. While I like the way it sounds, I do not like the way the word feels.
Liminal comes from the Latin word limen, which mean a threshold, and signifies an in-between period where structures once rigid or solid become flexible and malleable. Originally, the word was used in reference to rites of passage to describe participants who were in the middle of the process. However, since the late 1960’s, the word has been slowly broadening in meaning to include situations and circumstances in which there is large-scale uncertainty politically or socially like revolutions or other times of crisis.
The image that comes to mind is one of an acrobat between bars, literally suspending in mid-air. I am not sure if liminal officially applies yet to individual lives, but the concept resonates with different seasons in my own life.
Small-scale liminal experiences can range from the terribly unearthing period post-graduation to the already/not yet of engagement or pregnancy to the upheaval caused by unemployment, sickness or the loss of a loved one. In liminal spaces what once felt like solid and sure ground buckles, leaving us suspended in the in-between with all the feelings that accompany it.
You see why I said that I may like the way the word sounds, but I certainly do not like the way the word feels?
The betwixt and in-between places of life have incredible potential to leave us fearful, anxious and completely undone. However, they also have great potential to anchor us initially or again in the unshakeable truths of an unchanging God.
Liminal spaces open up windows of need in the lives of non-Christians into which the body of Christ may step relationally and intentionally. For Christians, liminal spaces can expose the people and places our hope has been anchored in rather than in Christ.
Most of us spend most of our lives attempting to avoid liminal spaces for obvious reasons. However, seasons of disorientation are unique opportunities to orient or re-orient our lives around the Lord and His greater purposes for our lives. The Lord seems to do some of His finest work in and through us during the in-between the bars moment and seasons.
Most of Moses’ life was liminal space. He was quite literally set afloat from the solid ground of life in his Hebrew family only to be raised as an elite Egyptian. The solid training of his Egyptian upbringing buckled when he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. He spent long liminal years in Midian until God appeared and spoke to him in the burning bush. Then came the liminal wilderness wandering. A survey of Moses’ life seems to indicate that there were small islands of surety and clarity of purpose in the vast sea of a mostly liminal life.
Yet, Moses knew a certainty and surety in the Lord that was not attached to his ever-shaking circumstances. It seems that he allowed his very liminal life to point him to the Lord who became his rock.
Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting You are God. Psalm 90:1-2.
Written by a man who never had a permanent home or place of belonging, these words have deeply significant meaning.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; My God, in whom I trust….He will cover you with His pinions and under His wings you may seek refuge. His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. Psalm 91:1-2 and 4.
If you find yourself in a liminal space, take heart. There is a Lord of the liminal, one who stands outside time. He is the same yesterday and today and forever. The next bar will come (and then go), but He is with you and longs that you would look to Him in the midst of the liminal seasons.