We find ourselves in the midst of what church geeks refer to as a liminal time, drawing from the Latin word limens, literally meaning threshold. I say this for several reasons. One is, we are in between last Thursday’s celebration of Ascension–when Jesus physically departed from the disciples for the last time—and the Feast of Pentecost this Sunday, when the Spirit enlivened the church in new and powerful ways. I suspect, however, that hasn’t been top-of-mind for most of us. That said, there are other ways this time is liminal—many are transitioning from the school year to the summer season; still others are adjusting to life with a child, or without a job to go, with a new physical limitation to or any one of myriad adjustments life brings to us. And as if that weren’t enough, the world around us continues to change at a mind-spinning rate as we humans collectively continue to learn and grow, sometimes gracefully but more often than not awkwardly, into what we hope is deeper maturity and wisdom.
For most of us, liminal times are uncomfortable, if not altogether challenging. It isn’t easy to be between times, when we’re between what was familiar and not yet comfortable with the new normal—in some cases not even sure what the new normal will emerge to be. And what we are called to do in the threshold seasons of our lives is a balance of waiting and questioning, experimenting and trusting. As Richard Rohr puts it, this liminal space and time is
…a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.
So while we can acknowledge the discomfort, can we also embrace the potential for spiritual growth and transformation that is inherent in these transitional seasons of our lives? What does it mean to know that the biblical God is leading us in and through this time, both personally and collectively? What if, instead of giving in to the enormous temptation to grumbling and resisting, we embraced the liminal time as a time of deepening—of spiritual selves, of our relationship with God, of our wisdom as human beings? What if we listened not to the fear and chaos that is truly present, but instead to the promise and faithfulness that is also present but not as loud?
On Sunday, we celebrate the Spirit descending with tongues of fire and a loud rushing wind. This does not in any way diminish the fact the Spirit was active all along and is still active now! The liminal time the disciples endured was when the Spirit’s work was quieter but still very much present—perhaps softening them up from the box of their own expectations so that they might be open to receiving the more dramatic leading of the Spirit into the future. The Spirit is still very much at work in our lives, in our community, in our tradition and in our world—even if some of the time we don’t have eyes to see.
Recently, the Episcopal Church presented some glimpses into where the Spirit is at work within our tradition in a document called New FACTS on Episcopal Church Growth and Decline based on an extensive 2014 survey. Insights into how church growth is influenced by factors as diverse as location, variety of worship, average age, openness to change and amount/kind of fellowship activities provide a powerful insights of how and where the Spirit is moving, nudging, inviting us to trust in the future Love draws us into. Would you have guessed that parishes with occasional percussion instruments are 47% more likely to grow? I had not!
There is a lot to ponder here, and it may raise fears or be encouraging or some mix of both. But fear not, the Spirit has us in her embrace even as she draws us into our future. I hope you’ll take some time to review the insights captured here and share your thoughts with me. In the meantime, this liminal season, I pray that we may support one another in love and exercise trust in the Spirit at work within and among us.
May 21, 2015