Living through liminality

It is a truism to say that we are living in liminal times. The times that fall between what-was and what-will-be. In one of the best books on Christian leadership to be published in recent days, Susan Beaumont in How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going urges leaders not to power through liminal times with busyness, with striving to increase productivity, with trying to force the what-will-be to appear. Instead, she points out that these are times for deep discernment, for coming to understand again who we are as God’s people in this place at this time.

Liminal times are hard – times of deep questioning, of uncertainty, of grieving what was. Yet liminal times can also be wonderfully life-giving – times of creativity, of emergence, of new birth.

Think of the Hebrew people in the wilderness – not enslaved anymore, yet not rooted in the land they’d been promised by their God. Or the followers of Jesus in those days between Ascension and Pentecost. Times when God’s people did not truly understand who they would become but knew that something else was most definitively behind them.

In the liturgical calendar, this is the week between the end of one year (with the feast of the Reign of Christ last Sunday) and the beginning of the next (with the beginning of Advent this coming Sunday). Perhaps, then, this might be a week in which we think about liminal times and how we respond to them.

I would be bold enough to say that all of our churches are currently in a liminal state, both in the macro sense (who are we post-Christendom?) and in the micro sense (who is this congregation as we emerge from a pandemic that has changed so much of what we do?). Some of us are hoping to go back to who we were, whether that was a healthy place or not – let’s go back to Egypt where at least we knew what to expect.

Liminal states also come to us in our personal lives. Times when the doctor has raised a concern and we await the results of the medical tests. Times when we have left behind one home, one career, one sense of identity and begin to discern what comes next.

Beaumont advises a series of postures and practices, deeply rooted in our traditions, to help us in these days. Attentiveness to what God is doing in these liminal times – personal practices like a daily examen, working with a spiritual director, returning to what is core in our sense of who God has created us to be. And as leaders of Christian communities, she writes of ways we can help those communities together to embrace the gifts that come alongside the hard things.

In this liminal week of the Christian year, may we seek to embrace God’s gifts of liminality.

Heather McCance
Director of Pastoral Studies

This message was written by Heather McCance for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.