We Are Liminal People

*Originally posted in May 2012

Richard Rohr calls liminal space that which is "betwixt and between"; it's the threshold.

You realize you are in liminal space when you have left something behind, but you haven't entered into something new yet. You find yourself sitting, cross-legged, on the threshold of life. It's not that you wouldn't move forward, if there was something to move into. There just isn't another door, another road, another ship. It's just you and the moment you're sitting on.

So you wait.

And maybe you think. Maybe you contemplate what brought you here, what you lost, or what you were before you left that old moment behind.

Maybe, in liminal space, you do something you would never have done when you were overflowing, or empty. Maybe you act on the freedom you hope is beyond the threshold, whether or not you can see it.

Maybe you take the time to build an altar, a marker.

Maybe you are Jacob. And just like the man who was not yet Israel, you aren't the younger brother of Esau anymore either. You have a vague idea of where you're going, but you've never been there and you don't know who you will be when you arrive. You know you can't go back again... the old Jacob wrapped himself in fur and lost his identity in a bowl of soup and a stolen blessing.

So you take some time in this desert. Alone.

When you dream something holy takes place.

Because you're alone. There aren't any other voices to compete with the whisper. So listen, Jacob. God is speaking.

Liminal space isn't defined by a certain amount of time. It isn't a space of punishment. It isn't abandonment.

Liminal space is the spiritual desert and Henri Nouwen says that the desert is "the place of the great struggle and the great encounter".

You're going to struggle here, that much is certain.

But you are going to encounter God.

So build your altar, sink into the threshold. Sleep if you must.

Dream holy and terrifying dreams.

We who have been defined by liminal space are liminal people. The world doesn't know what to do with us and we don't need the world to understand us. We are the ones who drag rocks to a pile so we never forget. We sit quiet, sweaty and alone before that very pile letting the experience sink into us until we are changed. We are the ones who are so changed by the desert that, when we enter into it again later in life, we aren't afraid to wrestle with God. We won't stop short of deep, internal change. We won't stop until we are touched by the Hand that formed us. We won't stop until he names us and we limp to prove it.

If you are liminal, camping out in the in between space, don't be ashamed or afraid. God is in the liminal space.

And God is in your freedom.

Just be there. Sit in it.

Sooner or later a door will present itself, a path will spread out before you, a ship will sail into sight. Liminal space will fade behind you and you will find yourself breathing the words of King David...

 I said, "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest- I would flee far away and stay in the desert; "Selah"

{Psalm 5}

For now, embrace it. Know that God is in the waiting.

Build your marker. Sit before it. Know it. Name it.

Because, as difficult and lonely it is now, someday you'll long for it; you'll ache for the desert. King David will come to mind and you'll exhale his same prayer.

"I would fly away and be at rest"...