This time between Christmas and New Years always seems like a threshold to me. It’s a week of waiting, watching, and not really knowing.
One of the things I have learned the most these past three years is how to live in a “liminal” space, the “in-between” or “threshold” space.
“Liminal” comes from the Latin word “limens,” which means “threshold”. It is when you have left the tried and true, comfortable place, but have not yet been able to reach or replace it with anything else. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer.
I have learned it’s a space that moves you from either/or thinking to both/and thinking. It gives you the ability to live with paradox. You no longer think in terms of win/lose, but win/win instead.
It is a completely different mind.
In his book “Immortal Diamond”, Richard Rohr describes it as “the transition to the second half of life that moves you into this space.” He says the only way to make this your primary way of thinking for you to experience something that forces either/or thinking to fall apart.
Some examples I have seen play out around me:
Maybe you hate homosexuals, and your son comes home to tell you he is gay. You hate divorce, and your daughter is going through one. Or, you meet a Muslim who is more loving than most of your Christian friends. These paradoxes lead you to question your own “right” and “wrong.”
My journey into “liminal thinking” was when our son Michael died. After the shock and disbelief wore off, I found myself in a struggle. What do I do now? How can I ever minister again after this?
I could not go back to my old comfort zone, yet I had no idea how to find any possible new answers. I wanted to go back to my familiar and habitual world. I found myself constantly thinking, “I don’t like this. I can’t deal with this!… But I can’t go back from what I now know and am living.”
Rohr explains when you get to the point of “What will I do now?”, and you find that your minister, your parents, your spouse don’t hold the answers, it’s inside such liminal space where real change happens, where your self-serving little dualisms have to fall apart.
It might be called growing up. We all hold on so strongly to our past because it is all we have. But life has taught me repeatedly: change always feels like dying.
I have learned—or at least I am still learning— to live in this space called “liminal”. It’s a space where I don’t really know, and, I don’t really need to know. Slowly, I am finally becoming okay with the not knowing.
I find my faith increasing when I do not know. I find that “Give me this day my daily bread”— daily revelation— is my life source for living in the paradoxes life presents each day. Asking for “my daily bread” has amounted to something more intimate—more substantial and necessary— than a familiar prayer.
It has taken me every year of my life to understand the wisdom and humility of Solomon’s words in Proverbs 30:8-9, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or, I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”
In this one-week between Christmas and New years, where we are all forced to live in “liminality” on a smaller scale but in a wholly-felt discomfort, press into that space of not knowing. Learn how to sit with it, allow it to move past your brain and emotion. Allow the discomfort of the in-betweenness to transform your “right and wrong” thinking into “win and win” and into “both/and”.
I have found freedom and rest on the other side of needing to know, and I pray you do as well!