AfterWords | Liminal Spaces (May 21, 2023)
AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.
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A 3-Minute Read
by Katherine Carrier
Consider the breezeway, skyway, hallway; the atrium, foyer or narthex; the airport, bus terminal or train station—we’ve all found ourselves in these liminal spaces, passages from one place to another. Architects are both cautioned and inspired to carefully design these areas. Important things happen to humans in these spaces: nervousness on the way into a job interview and elation or deflation on the way out; anxiety heading into the doctor’s visit and relief or anguish on the way out; longing, anticipation, dread or sadness at the airport. These spaces need to be big enough, bright enough, soft enough to hold the full range of the expanse of the human heart.
These liminal spaces must hold our own liminal stories, whatever forms they take through the myriad transitions that line up along a lifetime of lived experiences.
Many therapists pose questions to reveal a person’s life metaphor. What is the setting and mission a person has created around their days? If you listen to people, if you listen to yourself, you get clues of the metaphor. Shakespeare wrote “all the world’s a stage.” Shakespeare produced and performed. The Apostle Paul fought the good fight and ran the race. If you go to PointsofLight.org, you’ll learn that George H.W. Bush saw life as a service to others, and he inspired others to be “a thousand points of light.” For Madeleine L’Engle, to live was to create. Harriet Tubman herself became the liminal space that took others into freedom.
A rich young ruler came to Jesus to ask what he must do to inherit eternal life. In the back and forth of this interaction, it is clear this man means business. All of his life has been spent carefully stewarding his resources and his character. He has amassed incredible wealth and gained ever-increasing influence and power. Morally, by his own account, all of the commandments he has kept since his youth, he tells Jesus.
At this point in the story, the New American Standard version of Mark 10:21 renders a moment so beautiful and telling, a moment that I would imagine everything in space and time stills and all of creation listens and watches as the truth unfolds, “Looking at him, Jesus showed love to him…”
If the love of God is the reckless, raging fury that Rich Mullins sings for us, then we are watching the eye of the storm. See what follows, the words of Jesus, to the rich young ruler:
“One thing you lack…”
What possibly does this man lack? He has amassed all he could want or need and has lived a good life in a corrupt world.
“One thing you lack…”
Into the mass of all this person has and is, Jesus stirs around and finds the void.
“One thing you lack, go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Now the eye has passed and we are back in the storm. What does it feel like for this man? What does it mean to discover that the one thing you lack… is lack? “It isn’t true I will die but it feels like I will die.” Is that how he felt?
The two invitations hang there, in liminal space, for an undisclosed amount of time. The man stands there, “deeply dismayed.” Then we are told the man leaves, grieving.
My life metaphor has morphed, much like the man of seven faces Shakespeare revealed. What naturally plays out on life’s stage are the various stages of life. Life presses onto us needs and fears, hard-wired from infancy and changing slightly along the way. We are, after all, smushy, vulnerable, covered in skin and not scales. We’re constantly in need of both nutrients and shelter just to survive; we meet those needs and adopt more sophisticated needs. We all work for security for ourselves and our posterity. Yet even when we amass what we need, we still long for more, for the eternal, for transcendence. Kudos to the rich young ruler who felt the lack and went straight to the Source. Even Solomon in all of his wisdom allowed his riches to lead him into soul-crushing lack. But this young man seeks Jesus. “Good teacher, what must I do…”
I take note of this as I sit in a comfy coffee shop with a steaming mug of latte and a cinnamon roll, my fake transcendence for six whole minutes, a window into my little daily storm, an outgrowth of my life metaphor’s expression to be satiated, entertained. How do you control the masses? “Give them bread and circuses.” Well, I am placated, a loyal subject of the rule of my simplest metaphor: life is a rich experience.
How can I throw off my own saddlebags from this camel that needs to fit through the eye of a needle, that liminal passage in the middle of the storm I live? Because, despite the cinnamon roll and the circus, I do long for the Divine, for truth, beauty, light, love, for an existence that transcends the physical yet takes the physical and bends it, subdues it, transforms it.
And here, in this space of longing, I know. I hear that voice that called Mary’s name. It calls my own name. Cue the well of my soul. It rises. The Holy Spirit has entered the coffee shop and the little napkin that wiped cinnamon roll crumbs from the corners of my mouth is catching fresh tears. And this human Jesus reminds me of His own life metaphors:
I am the Light.
I am the Word.
I am the Truth.
I am the Way.
I am the Life.
I am the Good Shepherd.
I am the Bread of Life.
I am the True Vine.
I am the Resurrection.
I AM WHO I AM.
Now I touch ground. I am walking with the One who walked on water. I can’t bend water, light or air. My desire to change the physical is met with the One who changed the physical. Holy realization! This is the One who actually assembled the physical, atom by atom. And for now, He redeems the moment and He redeems me. When we walk together, He shows me little dark pockets where I can take my candle, a little point of light, often into my own soul, sometimes into the world at large. He points out the places that could use some geraniums, light absorbed and unfolded in vibrant petals. He shows me a face that needs a smile and a warm word. I take the invitation, the Spirit, and proceed along the way as far as I can get until the next storm.
For the moment, the Spirit is here and I know it. It’s not true that I am complete, completely complete, but for this moment, I feel complete.