Liminality

“Liminal” comes from the Latin for “threshold,” so a liminal space is the threshold separating one space from another. There are liminal physical spaces, emotional liminal spaces, and liminal spiritual spaces.  Liminality describes those times in life when we’re in transition.

Airports are physical liminal spaces, in-between destinations. If you have one foot in this room and the other foot in that one, you’re in the liminal space between the two rooms. 

Graduations, marriages, divorces, new careers, relocating, births and deaths of loved ones are emotional liminal spaces. The COVID-19 pandemic was and is a liminal space between life as it was and life as it is. A rush back to life as it was is a reaction to the discomfort of liminality. 

When I was a hospice chaplain, it was not uncommon to witness a person in an interim state between life and death. It’s like they have one foot in each world, neither dead nor alive, neither here with us nor there with God. 

Sometimes, we find ourselves between two seemingly contradictory ideas. God is good, yet God allows us to suffer. 

The biblical Garden of Eden was a liminal space – part heaven, part earth where heavenly beings and earthly beings could interact. 

Physical and emotional liminality are usually temporary – we settle into the new relationship or the new place. But, in spiritual matters there is often permanent (at least in this life) liminality. 

Psychologically, we are uncomfortable with liminality. Our brains crave homeostasis. 

We desire certainty, a world we can understand and control. That’s why fundamentalism is so popular in religion and politics. Both offer simplistic certainty in times of uncertainty and insecurity. 

We imagine a nonexistent time when all was clearly defined. Too many of us absorb beliefs by peer osmosis then look for support of our preconceptions. Our thinking is dualistic, black and white, right and wrong, good and evil, good guys and bad guys, us and them. We sink into the delusion that our world is understandable and therefore manageable. It is neither. The cosmos is complex, filled with wonder and mystery; it contains things that seem contradictory. 

Despotism, fascism, totalitarianism advances by offering people simple explanations and dualistic certainty. The authoritarian invites the endorsement of religion, which gives the former an imagined divine legitimacy. Church becomes chaplain of Empire; Empire becomes protector of Church. Civil religion, AKA Christian nationalism, is Christian in name only, embracing things diametrically opposite of the teachings of Jesus – things like white supremacy, antisemitism, misogyny, xenophobia, consumerism, militarism, environmental destruction, capital punishment, armed resistance, and conspiratorial lies. Christian nationalists have supported some of the cruelest dictators in history. 

Followers of Jesus live in the liminal space of here but not yet. We live in the space between God’s world and this world. The Kingdom is here and now; it is yet to come. Jesus’ teaching insists on liminality. The poor are blessed, the weak are strong, overcome violence with nonresistance, love your enemies, defeat death by dying, the way up is down, the greatest is the servant of all. Embrace uncertainty. Jettison dualistic thinking and simplistic solutions. Welcome liminality. Live in the mystery of the faith.

About Dr. Larry Taylor

Radical Anabaptist Jesus Freak Red Letter Christian, sailor, thinker, pastor, teacher, chaplain, counselor, husband, father, grandfather

Posted on August 9, 2022, in Christianity. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Mary Hatzenbehler

    Living by faith is living in a liminal space. Interesting. On our prayer request page, we pray for miracles. Yet we believe even the illnesses are part of God’s promise that He works all things together for our good. We still pray, Lord, heal! We see the cancer ravaging a beloved one, and also see Christ victorious over the cancer, defeating pain, binding the enemy of our souls, triumphing over death, raising the afflicted one up from the sickbed whole and joyous! Faith sees the healing without being in a schizophrenic paradigm shift. Faith sees reality, and denies the lie, no matter how evident and debilitating the lie seems. Isn’t faith a liminal space?

    Like

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