Pandemic and Liminality: A Holy Space
Updated: May 30, 2020
Over the past few weeks I have heard a lot of people referring to the “new normal.” I get it, figuring out how to live in unprecedented times causes a lot of anxiety. When will things be “normal” again? It seems like saying we are in the new normal relieves some of that anxiety. Except for the fact that the new normal keeps changing - sometimes daily!
What I have come to personally is that I am living in liminal space.
What is liminal space?
Liminal comes from the Latin word limina which is translated as “threshold.” Like a doorway between two rooms, to be in the liminal space is to be between what was and what will be. You are not in the place you once were, but not yet in the place where you will be.
Liminality can be a personal, interior journey or it can be something we experience as a community. During this pandemic we are experiencing liminal space in both ways. Personally, in how it is affecting me. Communally, in how it is affecting family, work or ministry environment, neighborhood, community, state, nation, and world. We can experience liminality spiritually, emotionally, and/or physically. Currently, as a community we are most certainly feeling it in the physical boundaries placed upon us.
From the Christian perspective, liminal space is known as a holy space.
· It is the uncomfortable and uncertain space in which transformation often takes place.
· It is a space in which we become keenly aware that we are not in control.
· And it is a space in which we can choose to participate in the work of the Holy Spirit within us.
The Spirit of God draws us into liminal space. Sometimes He does it by invitation and sometimes He does it through our circumstances. Perhaps God could be using the circumstances of this pandemic to draw you into holy space with Him. You may have noticed this in your life with God. It may seem to you that God is doing something different. For some, it may feel as if God is drawing closer but others may experience Him as far away. Whether He seems far or near, both are invitations to draw closer to Him.
Where are examples in the Bible of liminal space?
Ruth Haley Barton notes these examples:
“It is Joseph in the pit.
It is the Israelites wandering in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land.
It is Jonah in the belly of the fish.
It is Mary weeping at Jesus’ tomb.
It is the disciples huddled in the upper room.
It is the disciples on the Emmaus Road betwixt and between the life they had known and whatever was supposed to come next.”
For me, the current feel of this liminal space seems less like a doorway and more like a tunnel. I know I won’t be in this space forever - and therefore I don’t want to miss what God has for me here. My prayer has been, “Lord, let me lean into You within this liminal space and experience all that You have for me to know of You and myself, and to be for others.” It would be so easy to numb ourselves with busyness and activity rather than allow ourselves to feel the uncertainty and discomfort. Liminal spaces can feel ambiguous and insecure - and they are the best spaces to keep company with Jesus.
The first time I could understand and name liminal space in my life was several years ago. God had spoken very clearly to me about a path He wanted me to take with a particular purpose. I clearly sensed that things would change for me, that there would be a shift from what was, to something I could not perceive. Once I was able to name God's invitation into holy space with Him, I had a deep sense of knowing that this place, which was out of the comfortable certainties I had known, was a place in which I could learn to more fully trust and wait as God did the work of preparing me for the next season.
In the liminal space you can choose to open up to learning something new. To let the transforming power of God do the deep soul work of conforming you to the image of Christ.
Romans 8:28 comes to mind, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” But how often do we examine verse 29, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” It is very tempting to get hung up on theological concepts of God’s foreknowledge and predestination. So we often miss what I believe is a key factor in God working for our good: He is conforming us to the image of His Son.
I invite you to consider this, there are times that what is for our good may not feel good. But we know He is good... His purpose is good... to conform us to the image of Christ.
How can we lean into God in liminal space?
1. Make space to listen to God. I probably can’t emphasize this enough. Be creative - talk a walk with Jesus, get up earlier in the morning, stay up later at night, swap off with spouse or family member for time alone.
2. Meet with a spiritual director, accountability partner, spiritual friend, or someone who will listen and not try to fix you or the situation.
3. Put together a Rule of Life - put simply, a description of the life I am called to live. Here’s the rule of life I’m working on:
Gail’s Rule of Life for COVID-19 - Three ways to love God. Three ways to love others.
1. Be present to Christ. Keep company with Jesus.
2. Feel what I feel. Welcome Jesus into my emotions.
In pain, grieving, or sadness welcome His comfort.
In joy, laughter, and gladness welcome His delight.
In worry, fear, and anxiety welcome His truth.
In anger, frustration, and insanity welcome His control.
3. Engage in self-care.
Keep to a schedule, as best as I can.
Make healthy food choices.
Make healthy exercise choices
4. Be the presence of Christ for others.
Point others to Christ, not to myself.
5. Show hospitality.
Practice Colossians 3:12 - Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
6. Engage in community.
Get out of the house - walk, run, talk to neighbors (at appropriate distance), etc.
Serve others - write cards, donate food, run errands, etc.
Do what I able, when I am able.
Questions for Reflection
Reflect with God on what He is doing in you.
How are you experiencing God in the liminal space?
What are spiritual practices you can engage with in order to open up to the transforming work of the Spirit of God in liminal space?
Resources on Rule of Life
Crafting a Rule of Life by Steve Macchia