Liminal Space (Sermon) December 29, 2013

The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin, KY
Preached at the 8am Service, Washington National Cathedral
December 29, 2013
First Sunday After Christmas

In the beginning…. John 1:1

Please be seated.

Especially this Christmas season, I’ve been thinking about liminal space.  The word “liminal” comes from the Latin word limens, meaning literally, “threshold.”  A liminal space, the place of transition, waiting, and not knowing. 

Just eight days ago, we witnessed the shortest day of the year.  We witnessed the changing of the season from fall to winter.  Liminal space as the days grow longer. 

In two more days, 2013 will come to a close.  It is a time we look back and take stock of all that has occurred, like there is some strong line of demarcation between one year and the next.  Newspapers, news shows all look back over the year.  The top news stories…the top movies…the top books.  We look at the year to come.  Some of us make resolutions.  Some of us already have plans that we know will change how we live our lives.  Some of us know that unexpected things will happen in the year to come.  The liminal space of what was, what is and what is to come.

As some of you know, I am now a priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Corbin, Kentucky.  On Christmas Eve, a parishioner called me to say his 94-year-old mother was in the hospital and in a coma.  I awoke Christmas morning to a text from him saying his mother was dying.  The first thing I did Christmas morning was go to the hospital to say the prayers and service for people nearing death and anointed her with oil. 

We were in that liminal space between this world and the next.  I worked in hospice as a social worker, so that space is very familiar to me.  I am comfortable with it and in wonder and awe of that transition.  Christmas morning and I was celebrating the birth of a baby Jesus and praying for the transition of a human soul, Ruby.  Liminal space.

Often in our services we say,

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: * 
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

And in our Gospel reading today, what is called the prologue to the Gospel of John, in beautiful language we hear a description of liminal space.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

 Liminal space feels thin… the veil between here and now and eternity is thin.  The sense of time is different.  Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again

According to Richard Rohr, a liminal space, the place of transition, waiting, and not knowing 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. 

You see, this liminal space is useful and necessary…. Because we usually don’t like change nor eagerly seek it. We want to hold on to our life as we’ve known it, even if that life is killing us – think the Exodus where the people wanted to go back into bondage rather than be out in the wilderness.

Helen Keller said, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”

A door opens into the liminal space, but all we can do is long for the closed door…the life we’ve left behind. Like Richard Rohr says, we are anxious, afraid of the ambiguity, want to be in control, and want the answer right now.

Instead, we find ourselves grieving over what was behind us. Even if it wasn’t perfect or caused us pain, there is still grief and even fear in leaving it behind.

In my own experience, I’ve come to know that all God ever gives me is the next step.  I don’t see the end point, only the next step.  That’s what God calls us to…. That liminal space…where we must hold our anxiety, live with ambiguity, entrust and wait… Not run.

Over the next few days, consider what closed doors are you longing for?  Where is God calling that you are refusing to go?

And rest assured in these words of John:

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. …From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.


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