Some of you will remember this pop song from the 80s. Olivia Newton John appeared in a music video sporting a sweatband, a fashionably tight leotard, and a set of those stupid leg warmer things. A bunch of dudes sweated clumsily in the background while Olivia, the thin, confident fitness instructor, sang suggestively about getting physical and stuff. Remember now?
You old and medium-old timers want to sing it, don’t you? Okay, here we go: 1-2-3-4 …
Let’s get liminal, liminal / I wanna get liminal / Let’s get into liminal
I wanna get liminal / Let’s get into liminal / Let me hear your body talk, body talk…
Okay, I may have changed one word but I that’s what popped into my brain when I started writing and now it’s stuck there in an eternal loop. Maybe it’s because 2023 has now turned into 2024 and many of us are feeling … well, liminal.
liminal space / noun
a state or place characterized by being transitional or intermediate in some way:
any location that is unsettling, uncanny, or dreamlike:¹
‘Liminal’ is from the Latin word limit, meaning ‘threshold’. Liminal spaces can be physical (a hallway, a motel), emotional (a relationship, an illness), or metaphorical (a decision, a change).
Liminal spaces are not news cycles generated by social media or corporate algorithms; they are not the natural ups and downs of daily life. They are foggy, open-ended times of unsettledness.
A common thread woven among all liminal spaces is the unfamiliarity, the discomfort, the search for arrival or completeness. Liminal spaces can feel unreal, even eerie: an empty factory; a job loss; a death. No one likes losing comfort and familiarity, although I suspect some are more equipped than others.
I’ve discovered some interesting things about liminal spaces.
- They are inevitable. You will experience liminal periods in your life no matter how you try to avoid them. Even the person who spends their life living in the same house, working for the same company, buying the same groceries every Friday night will have their life invaded by liminal spaces.
- Liminal spaces occupy a large percentage of our lives. We crave the solid places of certainty but liminal spaces are where we are stretched, formed, and inspired.
- There is actually a type of comfort to be found in liminal spaces because that is where we are more engaged and creative. The arts, inventions, ideas and accomplishments of all sorts, are inspired by the passion generated by liminal spaces.
- Liminal spaces are where we are formed, strengthened, and where relationships can mature.
Think about where you are right now. Perhaps you are in a liminal space. We dislike, even hate, a liminal space because it asks us to leave the ‘me’ that is self-satisfied and stuck. Just remember that your circumstances aren’t as important as how you manage those circumstances.
Look for it: influencers all through history are remembered by how they reacted in uncertain circumstances. The actions of every character in every book and movie are portrayed while they are in disoriented, liminal spaces.
The Bible is full of stories of unsettled, homeless people walking some sort of physical, emotional, spiritual path. In fact, you can even look at the overall flow of scripture as liminal space: hoping for a deliverer; confused in his presence; anticipating his return.
Theologian Walter Brueggemann assigns each of the biblical Psalms to categories of orientation, disorientation, or reorientation. I believe the disorientation of liminal space is what balances and propels the other times in our lives.
Christianity even divides the calendar year into various periods of liminal time: Advent and Lent for example, are simply periods of anticipation and mystery, not arrival points.
Most recently we observed Epiphany, which recalls the visit of the Magi to worship Jesus. The word ‘epiphany’ means to grasp reality through a new discovery, realization or disclosure.
The story of the Magi is about leaving comfort to search for something unknown. It is a story of following a light while traveling in darkness. It is a story of those who cling to power at any cost versus those who let go of it in order to discover more. It is a story of finding a new path home.
It is a narrative of the risks and joys of liminal spaces.
Christians are often taught to be sure of what they believe, but that can be dangerous without the sense that there is more to explore and experience. To put it another way, if you’re always comfortable and certain in your theology then you’re not doing it right. Your spiritual life shouldn’t be governed by arrival but an ongoing, even desperate, search for the limitless God.
Liminal space is a term that really resonates with me, having left many places of comfort – both voluntarily and involuntarily – with no landing place in sight. I can remember spaces in my spiritual journey when I knew there was something more to search for it, I just had no idea where it was or how to get there.
Underlying it all was my deepest conviction that God understood my restlessness and encouraged it. I was able to feel okay in the liminal spaces because Love was walking with me.
There will be liminal spaces for us in 2024, maybe even through the entire year. Will you defy those spaces and stay where you are? Or will you allow those spaces to move you into a better way, a better you?
I’m still surprised at the people I meet who are christians, go to church, apply all the formulas, but are dissatisfied and feeling a void inside. Good for them. And good for you.
That’s what liminal spaces were made for.
Let’s get into liminal.
~ ~ ~