From David Green
A few years ago, I picked up a piece of vocabulary that was brand new to me. I was attending a clergy retreat, listening to a talk from a wise colleague. She was describing the importance of paying attention to the present moment. I’ve always sought to impress my teachers, so I did my best to appear attentive to the present moment of her lecture. Unfortunately, my morning caffeine was wearing off, and my mind began doing its wandering thing.
But I would snap back to attention whenever she used the word “liminal.” She must’ve said “liminal” or “liminal space” 40 times, and I dearly wanted to raise my hand to ask, “What the heck is a liminal anyway?” It sounded like an ingredient in a French pastry recipe, which only took me down the trail of wondering what we were having for dessert after lunch. Only the dread of appearing to be a nincompoop in front of fellow ministers kept my mouth shut and my hands folded neatly together in my lap, in proper present-moment style.
I could only gather that “liminal” was related somehow to paying attention. During the next potty-break, I surreptitiously whipped out my phone to Google “liminal.” Glancing around, I spied several of my compatriots doing the same. I took comfort in not being the only unenlightened person in the room. Google was getting a lot of liminal traffic that day.
Liminal, it turns out, is just a fancy way of saying “in-between.” It defines the moment after something has ended but before the next thing begins, sort of like between innings of a baseball game. It’s a term used in architecture and design aesthetics to describe thresholds, hallways, and big empty areas where people pass through. An airport is bursting with liminal spaces. In Tibetan Buddhism, the bardo is a kind of liminal space, a state of existence between death and rebirth.
When I shared my new-found favorite word with Ellen, she graciously feigned interest and said, “Liminal also sounds like it’s wasted space, unless you make use of it.” She’s always been an overachiever with a healthy disdain for laziness.
In the aforementioned lecture, our speaker was encouraging us to be alert to liminal times and spaces in our daily routine. Her message was, “Be alert and aware, because it’s in the liminal spaces where we just might encounter the Holy.”
Alertness to the present requires effort and practice. We often spend a lot of energy focused on the past or we obsess about an upcoming event or goal. It’s as if a past event might define us forever, or as if some future occasion will be the culmination of all our striving. Being aware of liminal time helps us gain the perspective of our journey mattering as much as our destination. In other words, pay attention to the pathway itself, and stop, look, and listen. God just might be up to something in that space.
Liminality now leaps out at me from the pages of scripture. What was the Exodus if not a prolonged roadtrip? The Children of Israel were eager to escape Egypt and they dreamt about the land of milk and honey, but it was during their in-the-moment wilderness wanderings that they became a covenant community. Jesus was always on the move, healing, teaching, and leaving amazed and transformed folks in his wake. Where did Saul – soon to be Paul – encounter the risen Christ? On the way to somewhere. The Bible is a library of liminality, telling our story through the timeless tales of ancients encountering God in-between their past and future.
I’m very excited to join you in person in May. The months since Foothills called me to be Senior Minister have flown by but have also – for me and Ellen – been packed with a dizzying rush of activity in preparation for our move. It’s been a good example of liminal time, and I’ve tried to make the most of it by meeting with Foothills members and committees to get to know you and be better prepared for the work we’ll engage in together.
At the same time, I’m quite sorry to see Jean leave Foothills in early June even as I’m excited for her new opportunity at Plymouth UCC. I know you join me in deep appreciation for her diligent, creative, and faithful work among you during an often-stressful time. She’s been wonderfully receptive and hospitable in making my transition a smooth one.
After I arrive, we will hold a series of small-group gatherings over the course of several weeks. I want to meet every member, hear your stories, learn what matters to you, and listen to your hopes and dreams for our life together as a church. I will also visit our home-bound members and do my best to connect with anyone who can’t attend a gathering, or who’d simply prefer to meet with me one-on-one.
I invite you to think of this as a valuable parcel of time when we can be especially alert to the Holy in our midst. It’s a sacred endeavor we’re launching together as church and pastor, and we should savor the moment even as we anticipate great things waiting for us to discover along the way. It’s a beginning, as well as another step on a sojourn of faith, hope, service, and spiritual enrichment and connection. I’m glad you’ve invited me to join you.
So many good things are happening at Foothills, and we will only do better. In the ministry we share, we will be persistently optimistic, focused, expect the best, have fun, and pay attention to what God is up to as we travel together.
Thanks for your confidence in me. The feeling is mutual. Ellen and I will see you in early May, in person!
My best, and God’s peace and love,
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