Liminal Space

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Milwaukee Art Museum (2007)

I learned a new word this summer – liminal – as in liminal space. As so often happens, once I learned its meaning, I noticed the term in several books that I had been reading. And, about that time, I received an email from a friend in which he used liminal space in ordinary conversation. I was impressed!

What is a liminal space and why am I thinking about it on Labor Day? Liminal comes from a Latin word that means “threshold.” A liminal space is a place of transition, waiting, and not knowing. It is an “in-between” place.

The website inaliminalspace.com quotes Richard Rohr’s definition of liminal space:

…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.

Most of us recognize the big transition points in our lives, e.g., leaving home, graduations, marriage, changing jobs, retirement, or loss of a loved one, and the consequent changes they bring to our lives. There are also smaller, less recognizable liminal spaces. For me, Labor Day represents one of these in-between places.

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Mountain Retreat (2013)

Traditionally, Labor Day marks the end of summer and the beginning of a new academic year. Even though summer will continue for another few months now that I live in Florida, Labor Day still means packing away the things of summer and getting ready to start new programs and projects for the coming academic year. I am sad to let go of the joys of summer and a bit anxious about being unprepared for the new programs at church this fall season.

As I stand on the threshold of a new year, I also experience a need to make new resolutions that will help me to move beyond my comfort zone. Most people make resolutions on January 1st. I make resolutions at three different points each year: the start of Advent (the beginning of the Church year), the start of Lent, and the start of a new academic year. My resolutions today on Labor Day call for a change of attitude, and not necessarily a new direction or yet another list of tasks and projects.

I am re-committing to the resolutions I made last November. There are six, two of which need special emphasis now in this liminal space of Labor Day:

  • Concentrating on doing well what God wants of me in the present
  • Being still and humming with contentment

Where are the liminal spaces in your life?

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4 thoughts on “Liminal Space

  1. Love your thoughts.  I never thought to make new resolutions any other time then Jan 1.  I like your choices it will give me something to think about.  Take care.  Love to you.

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    1. Thank you, E, for your comment and for following my blog. Just to clarify: I usually make resolutions at the start of Advent, then review them at other times during the following year. I try not to do this exercise more than once a year! That would be compulsive, even for me!

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  2. I sometimes wonder if our entire lifetime isn’t a liminal space punctuated by the “in-between” transitions you address so eloquently. Many thanks for a beautiful, thought-provoking post.

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    1. Thank you, Susan, for your own thought-provoking comment. I guess we have to learn to live with uncertainty and a certain level of anxiety. Looking forward to continuing this conversation.

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