Seeing Beyond Ourselves — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Seeing Beyond Ourselves

Liminal Space

Seeing Beyond Ourselves
Friday, May 1, 2020

After decades of observation, I can honestly say that the United States is a ritually starved culture. We are too easily satisfied with making a sign of the cross or blowing out candles on our birthday cake. True rituals create liminal space (from the Latin word limen, meaning threshold). We need them to help us consciously spend time at the thresholds of our lives.

Without some sort of guidance and reframing, we don’t understand the necessary ebb and flow of life, the ascents and descents, and the need to embrace our tears as well as our triumphs. Without standing on the threshold for much longer than we’re comfortable, we won’t be able to see beyond ourselves to the broader and more inclusive world that lies before us. In liminal space, we must leave business as usual and voluntarily enter a world where the rules and expectations are quite different. Wise elders, like the ones I’ve shared this week, help us to recognize and embrace such spaces.

Sadly, our Christian churches often fail to create such liminal space through authentic ritual. Perhaps that is one of many reasons people are leaving churches in the West. You could even say today that the institutions of Christianity themselves exist in liminal space. Author and pastor Brandan Robertson examines the threshold moment of our current religious institutions:

We are entering a truly liminal space where, for a multitude of reasons, many are leaving the ways they’ve historically worshiped and entering into uncharted territory. On one hand, this is an exciting time in religious history, as we participate in radical and fundamental reforms of our institutions. On the other hand, this process can cause great anxiety for those of us who have devoted our lives to teaching, practicing, and guiding others in a particular spiritual or religious tradition. . . .

What are we to do at such a threshold moment? . . . In moments of transition, we are simply to be. We are to pause and acknowledge that a transition is taking place. Instead of seeking to abruptly pass through a threshold, we are to tarry. . . . A new reality is emerging, but we cannot see beyond the threshold. All we know is that we exist in this moment, where everything is in transition. We may experience a new way of being, but we cannot yet sense what it will look like. [1]

Not one of us has a reliable crystal ball. We don’t know what lies ahead in this uncertain moment in history. Yet we know we are called into relationship, with our Creator and with each other. It is through liminal space that we may taste—however briefly —experiences of divine union, recognizing the radical oneness we all enjoy with everything—simply by being born.

[1] Brandan J. Robertson, “On the Threshold of Tomorrow,” “Liminal Space,” Oneing, vol. 8, no. 1 (CAC Publishing: 2020), 58—59.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Introduction,” “Liminal Space,” Oneing, vol. 8, no. 1 (CAC Publishing: 2020), 17–18, 20.

Image credit: The Swan (No. 17) (detail), Hilma af Klint, 1915, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Do we know that within each one of us is the unspeakably beautiful beat of the Sacred? Do we know that we can honor that Sacredness in one another and in everything that has being? And do we know that this combination—growing in awareness that we are bearers of Presence, along with a faithful commitment to honor that Presence in one another and the earth—holds the key to transformation in our world? —John Philip Newell
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