Our struggle with liminality

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…" - Ecc. 3:1

If you were asked what season this is, you would probably say, “Spring.”  And you would be right.  Yet, we’re also in another season.  The whole world is. 

We’re in a season of liminality.  That’s not a word you hear every day.  It describes an in-between time.  A time between what was and what will be.

It’s very uncomfortable for those who go through it, especially when we don’t know what the future holds.  During such times people feel confused, anxious, disoriented, and afraid.  As unwelcome as such times may be, it is an important time in our lives.

We are in what some have called a condition of “pure liminality.”  When this happens temporal and spatial personal, group, and societal forces all move into a liminal state at the same time.  In her book How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, author Susan Beaumont explains, “When this occurs, the disorientation is severe, and the existing infrastructures fail to hold.  Structure gives way to anti-structure, and organizations and institutions begin to collapse.  Many would argue that the mainline church is approaching pure liminality.”

Liminality has been experienced by people of faith down through the millennia.  Adam and Eve, Noah, Ruth, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, and Job each had their own personal liminal experiences.  Jesus’ ministry began in liminal space.  From the time of his baptism through his 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, his liminal pilgrimage forged his new identity.  Jesus emerged into his new life as teacher, healer, and savior.

Beaumont goes on to say that “The Christian story is, by design, an invitation into liminality.  The hoped-for reign of God is already inaugurated in the figure of Jesus Christ, but not yet complete.  We embrace an understanding of our eternal lives as liminally suspended until the final return of Christ.  We have already been redeemed, but the fulfillment of that redemption will not be complete until the end times when Christ returns.  Our theology frames an identity for us of semi-permanent liminality.”

This is who we are – a people who live in liminality.  We will experience the full range of emotions including forays into fear, uncertainty, and anxiety.  But we need not stay there.  We know that beyond these transitory feelings, there is hope.  Like the season of Spring, there is the undercurrent of new life and new possibilities.  It is still as true today as it was so long ago.