In Our Liminal Space
Rabbi’s Message – December 29, 2020
“We plan, God laughs.”
An easel sits in the corner of my office, filled with a year of programing plans. It is as useful as a paperweight today, but it remains to remind me life’s ephemeral nature. We naturally make assumptions that certain things will always be the same. 2020 challenged this theory and this week we enter 2021 with tentative plans at best.
This pandemic has left us in a constant state of change – a lot of being “in transition.” We entered what is known as “liminal space;” we crossed the threshold into a period of intense transition and “becoming.” While the term “liminal space” may identify physical areas like stairwells and lobbies, it also represents the span of time between major parts of our lives. It is the place between “what was” and “what will be,” and it is uncomfortable.
Father Richard Rohr, author of Falling Upward: A spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, describes liminal space as “when you have left, or are about to leave, the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.”
This week we complete the book of Genesis and prepare to read Exodus. We stand between the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021. Our government is transitioning leadership, completing one presidency while simultaneously preparing for another. People who have received a Covid-19 vaccine are waiting for their second dose. Others of us are waiting to learn when our first shot will be available. We are stuck with uncertainty.
The Torah teaches us that transitions are inevitable. In this week’s Torah portion Jacob passes his legacy to his children, is gathered to his ancestors, and taken out of Egypt to be buried in the cave of Machpelah. And then Joseph dies and his bones are brought out of Egypt. This part of our Joseph story reminds us that we are always in transition – eternally “becoming.” And it can be both frightening and beautiful.
Father Rohr explains:
There is much evidence on several levels that there are at least two major tasks to human life. The first task is to build a strong “container” or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold.
But we need to leave ourselves open to the changes around us.
The familiar and the habitual are so falsely reassuring, and most of us make our homes there permanently. The new is always by definition unfamiliar and untested, so God, life, destiny, suffering have to give us a push — usually a big one — or we will not go. Someone has to make clear to us that homes are not meant to be lived in — but only to be moved out from…
This is the essence of liminal space. It puts our identities up for grabs. It can force us to question all of the areas of our life, including our purpose. Perhaps this is why people are responding so strongly to Disney’s “Soul.”
Father Rohr tells us:
…we have to allow ourselves to be drawn out of ‘business as usual’ and remain patiently on the ‘threshold’ where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown…This is a good space where genuine newness can begin…It is the realm where God can best get at us because our false certitudes are finally out of the way…
There is something spiritual about being in a situation that is ever changing. As deeply troubling and uncomfortable as things are, it is also a time to find hope and self-efficacy. My hope is that this uncertainty allows us to open ourselves up to beautiful new things, rediscover the things that matter most to us, and realign our priorities. Let’s not let it pass us by.
Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year.