The Liminal Space

I love words-especially words that somehow capture an entire concept. I’m a sucker for lists like this that show you words in other languages that perfectly encapsulate a feeling we can only awkwardly describe in English.  One of my favorites had a real moment a year or two ago-it’s the Danish word Hygge meaning a strong feeling of coziness.  More broadly it articulates the concept of soaking up all the good things that come with a cold, dark, winter (like they have in Denmark), blankets, cocoa, and snuggles on the sofa.  How fortunate that sad season is also a chance to embrace Hygge, which in my world looks like wonton soup, oversized sweatshirts, and Dany dog-obviously. 

In grief, I learned another new concept-word. A phrase that already existed in English but I hadn’t known because, frankly, I had never had the need so it had not yet crossed my path.  Like all the best words, it came at the exact right time.  When I was healed enough to have the concept enter my mind and expand my thinking but still broken enough to let it transform me.  Did the title give it away?  The phrase is the liminal space. Father Richard Rohr describes it this way, “where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown.  There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence.” 

Doesn’t that sound magical?  Another thing I learned in my grief journey is that if Richard Rohr has already said something you should probably just say it the way he said it cause you’re probably never gonna be able to say it better.  You can find yourself in a liminal space at any major life transition, but I have most heard of people experiencing it after trauma or loss. Theologian, and winner of most references on this blog, Kate Bower describes her own liminal space in this way, “At a time when I should have felt abandoned by God, I was not reduced to ashes.  I felt like I was floating, floating on the love and prayers of all those who hummed around me like worker bees, bringing notes and flowers and warm socks and quilts embroidered with words of encouragement.  They came in like priests and mirrored back to me the face of Jesus.” 

A dear friend of mine described her experience in the liminal space as, “a feeling of utmost calm and contentment.”  For me, my liminal space felt like assurance.  I had never had more doubt.  Doubt in my ability to find a way in this new life, doubt in the faith that had always felt true, doubt that a God even existed-let alone cared about me.  But underneath all of that doubt (and rage, and fear, and confusion) there was a kernel of certainty-an ember that refused to go dark.  I knew, deep in my being, that God was here and I was going to be ok. And that was enough.  Which was shocking for someone who’s faith upbringing really emphasized believing, “beyond a shadow of a doubt.” I had never had more doubt. But I had also never had more faith.

Nicole Serrano has a beautiful song (you can listen to it here) that perfectly describes how I felt during this time.

My suffering doesn’t mean
My Father’s forgotten me
My wandering isn’t threatening
My Father sits here with me
My Father sits here with me

What if broken just means I’m open
What if this is what it looks like to receive
Though my journey is filled with sorrow
What if this is where You want to meet with me
What if this is where You show me I can be filled

My liminal space was a grace-filled time of receiving, reorienting, and redefining my faith. The problem with the liminal space is that it does not last.  While everything else about that time can keep its ass in the past, I do long for that easy certainty.  It takes effort to not continually second guess that experience, “Did I really feel that?”  “Was that real?”  My friend would desperately try to recapture that calmness as she faced new struggles on her journey towards healing.  Kate, we’re on a first name basis now-she liked my Instagram story so we’re basically besties, puts it this way, “The feelings will go. The sense of God’s presence will go.  There will be no lasting proof that God exists.  There will be no formula for how to get it back.  But they [the spiritual advisors she was talking to] offered me this small bit of certainty and I clung to it.  When the feelings recede like the tides, they said, they will leave an imprint.  I would somehow be marked by the presence of an unbidden God.” 

I miss the simplicity of the liminal space.  I didn’t have to prove it, I didn’t have to over analyze or find a different, but still biblically sound, interpretation, I just knew.  Perhaps someday I can go back to the liminal space, hopefully in a much less traumatic way.  But until then, I will continue to speak this affirmation of faith from Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals that captures the simplicity of my liminal space:

Lord, you have always given bread for the coming day;

And though I am poor, today I believe

Lord, you have always given strength for the coming day;

And though I am weak, today I believe.

Lord, you have always given peace for the coming day;

And though of anxious heart, today I believe.

Lord, you have always kept me safe in trials;

And now, tried as I am, today I believe.

Lord, you have always marked the road for the coming day;

And though it may be hidden, today I believe.

Lord, you have always lightened this darkness of mine;

And though the night is here, today I believe.

Lord, you have always spoken when the time was ripe;

And though you be silent, today I believe.  Amen.

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