Life In Liminal Land

It has been an interesting past 7 or so months.

  • We “closed the doors” of our church plant, Common Table. (Aside: doesn’t that saying give away our dominant metaphor of seeing the church as a building?)
  • We had our third daughter.
  • We jumped into another local church plant with some of our friends from Common Table.

Ever since these things began to occur, we had a sense of calm as we’ve entered into a season of rest. In many ways, it has felt like a sabbatical as we haven’t had to plan, organize, teach, etc. However, it has also been a bit unsettling, especially at the beginning of this period. As such, it has become rather confusing and tended to make us feel uncertain.

These are hallmarks of what has come to be known as liminal space. Liminality carries the idea of entering into an in-between period; a time when the old ways of doing things has come to an end and new ones are emerging. The word is derived from the Latin limen which means “threshold.” In anthropological terms, it refers to standing at the threshold of a new time due to an initiation or rite of passage, yet still maintaining our place on the threshold. In other words, it is a middle state between changes – politically, religiously, ritually, economically, etc. – in which we have an eye on the past but an ear to the future.

Having sensed this reality for the Church in the West for some time now, we have been engaging in cultivating ecclesial practices that attempt to stay true to the tradition handed down to us while creatively moving into the future. The challenge of harmonizing innovation and tradition with humility and hospitality is daunting yet necessary. Doing this on a personal level, however, has (somewhat surprisingly) been disorienting.

The questions that have come along with this uncertainty and confusion have primarily revolved around the selling of our house. From there, they have naturally lead to levels of second and third results and furthering questions. What happens if we don’t sell the house? Perhaps, more importantly, what happens if we do sell the house? Should I stay in my current job? Is now the time to pursue more education? If so, should it be a PhD in theology or another Masters, this time in Education? If we stay 30 minutes away from our larger Jesus-community, how does proximity play into community? The list goes on.

In the midst of life in liminal land I have  noticed a few recurring thoughts and have been given a few through my friend Andrew.

Life in liminal land has the potential to freeze us in our tracks. Doubt, confusion, and uncertainty are potent. They have the strength to pull us out of being aware of what is happening around us. Together they redirect our attention, thoughts, and ultimately our actions to the future ahead of us. As Andrew has said, they form a concoction where we merely exist in life instead of living life. I have seen this play out in varying degrees over the past several months. Rather than being attentive to the people and places we live our life with and in, we bypass them for the unknown future ahead of us. Neighbors, co-workers, and friends become shadows of themselves as we overlook and neglect those among us for what lies on the horizon. We need to be self-aware and cognizant of this propensity.

Life in liminal land can give us permission to rip the beauty out of the short-lived. Here in America, we have been taught, whether explicitly or not, to be utilitarians. Usage of things is what they are for. People, neighborhoods, jobs: we suck the life out of them for our own maximized gain. Combine this with consumerism and individualism and we have a cocktail of misuse and abuse where neglect, power-wielding, and brokenness are left in their wake. In short, we are formed to see things as our own personal tools made for our personal gain; beauty is a bygone characteristic.

Moreover, we favor the short-lived, making it our main mode of existence and thus become blind to its beauty. It is like telling a fish to identify the water it is swimming in: we have become so accustomed to the short-lived and rootless that it has become the water we unconsciously swim in. To continue the water imagery, rather than diving in to our present situation, we get out of the water by isolating ourselves from our places and people. Presence and availability wane: two of the vital structures of community.

What I have been learning in our liminality is the beauty of change. I have been given fresh eyes to the beauty of our particular neighborhood. Now is the time of year when mayflies come out, followed by the annual return of the swallows. Their aerial dance reminds me of the grandeur of our shared ecosystem and interconnectivity. Neighbors begin to emerge from our long winter, changed from the months of snow and cold. Internally, the process of liminality has opened up areas of my own life that would have continued to hide in the dark. All in all, liminality offers me (and you) a chance to see the beauty of the ordinary in which we swim as move towards the future.

Life in liminal land reveals the interdependency of life. One of the main areas this time has revealed from its hiding is the reality of the interdependent life. The numbing effect of the everyday can fool us into thinking we are living life as independent beings. We lose sight of our interdependence and interconnectivity to the ecosystem we are a part of as we roll through the rhythms of the ordinary. Unconsciously, we assume we are autonomous beings without need of community found in God, neighborhood, and creation.

This becomes obvious to me when decision making becomes a solo act. Within the familiarity of my regular days, weeks, and months I see no need to confer with friends and family because I assume the ordinariness of everything will continue.

I’d rather remain in the presumed safety of my own decision-making than move into the messiness of communal life.

Yet in this in-between time (and, obviously, it should be all the time) I’m much more aware of my limits and the need for question asking, wisdom seeking, and conversation engaging. This manifests itself in prayer, chatting over coffee, and late night talks with my wife. Discussion and dialogue in community gives clarity as I begin to see that I’m not alone in this liminal life, but that we all share in limitations. My eyes and heart become more open to our need for each other and how God weaves us together and how this liminality actually forges community.

In the midst of life in liminal land, my main prayer is that I will stay attuned to the work of Jesus in me and through me for the sake of others. I pray I will not run away from it, but allow this time to do its work. Of one thing I am sure: I must remain present within this liminality so it can do its Spirit-filled work.


So, how about you? What have you noticed about life in liminal land? How have uncertainty and confusion contributed to your life? In what ways has the regularity of liminality built community?


6 thoughts on “Life In Liminal Land

  1. liminal land, I don’t I’ve ever heard this phrase before. But I understand it. I have my own unique perspective when it comes to things like this. The uncertainty and unsettled feeling don’t actually come from God, but He uses them to his purposes. I know, “been there, don’t that”, removing all the hindrances from life can take you there. It forces you to come to grips with “who am I”, what the heck I;m I doing here. When I went through this period I let go of everything that I thought was important, definitely liminal land. But like you spoke peace comes and God gets to see you just as you are, “HIs”, it took me from wandering to purpose, from proud to humble. Our existence is not to fulfill our wants but “His”, know I see with HIs eyes and not my own. It’s refreshing to hear someone in the states speaking this way.

  2. I’m in a bit of a liminal phase myself due to some reshuffling in ministry responsibilities at my church. I’m very good at tying myself up into knots when I don’t know what’s coming down the pipeline. It’s good sanctification but I don’t like these phases very much.

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  4. Pingback: Your treasure is right under your feet…look where you stand. | Storied Community

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