This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed
I’ve been struck this advent by how much it invites a surrender to the unknown. The characters of the advent story all have their lives unexpectedly and monumentally interrupted and from that moment of Divine interruption, they are never to be the same again.
Mary and Joseph experience visitations, the Wise Men suddenly see a star that they know they must follow, the shepherds, whilst going about their lives, encounter a host of heavenly beings telling them of the boy that’s been born, Elizabeth and Zechariah find themselves pregnant when it seemed impossible. And then there are the unnamed – the families of Mary and Joseph, the wider community of which they are a part, lives forever changed as the story unfolds. This unfolding continues from Jesus’ birth always rippling outwards offering change to a broken world.
The ever-shifting river of what it meant to be part of Jesus’ world continually opened a doorway into the unknown to those that journeyed with Him. It is this Divine river that we find ourselves in with ongoing invitations to surrender to wherever it takes us.
The word liminal comes from the Latin word ‘limen’, meaning threshold – any point or place of entering or beginning. A liminal space is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next.’ It is a place of transition, a season of waiting, and not knowing. Liminal space is where transformation takes place, if we learn to wait and let it form us.
Richard Rohr describes this space as…
“…where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible…This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed. If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealising normalcy.”
Liminal space sometimes open up as we intentionally move through a time of transition – the ending of a job, a geographical move, an intentional change in life- rhythm. It can also open to us in a suddenly moment – unexpected and uninvited, as it did for Mary and Joseph. Either way liminal space becomes present every time change occurs.
With every movement of the soul towards surrender, with every deeper yes to Divine invitation we enter liminal space. As Richard Rohr says – be there as often as possible by whatever means. It is the place where we’re changed, where what was falls away (as we open our hands and let it go). In the old world crumbling, we make space for the new, we make space that enables us to step over the threshold into a world that we have thus far not inhabited.
The in between is the place where we’re invited to accept the unknown. We leave what has been familiar and enter a place where we’ve never been before. This can be scary, it can feel disorienting, perplexing and sometimes as if we’ve been cast adrift. It is here that we’re invited to surrender to what is as we transition to what will be. In the liminality we lean more deeply into becoming ok with the unknown as we trust the One who is there with us. When we step over the threshold into the new world, we are more willing to receive it and the gift that it contains.
Jan Richardson says…
“Think, after all, of Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, the shepherds, the Magi—how each one receives their own particular annunciation, their own custom- made invitation to enter into a realm they do not already know… What might those who inhabit the stories of Advent and Christmas have to tell us about crossing from the life we have known into the life that is waiting for us—the life that becomes possible only when we choose to say yes to it?”
Liminal space isn’t an easy place to be, transitions are hard, even when they’re good and expected. The grace to trust, yield and be courageous are vital. We’re invited to offer ourselves tender-care, kindness and rest as we receive the same from our Beloved. We can take comfort knowing that we’re not alone in this space, we’re accompanied every step of the way just as those from the advent story were, both by God and those who have traveled this way before us.
Mary and Joseph’s lives changed forever, they took a leap into the unknown and entered a whole new world. Jesus himself left one world and transitioned into a different, broken, muddy, aching reality saying yes all the way to the cross. Perhaps we can find comfort in these advent stories as we find ourselves between worlds. As we open our hearts to welcome the gifts of liminality may we know the grace to receive them and be changed by them.