Midwestern parent Sarahexperienced the first weeks of pandemic the same way many parents with school age children did, schools closed, kids home, kids still needing to learn. Perusing possible science experiments to try with her 6-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, they settled on one titled “Changing States.” The worksheet began with a photo of an unbroken egg, nestled at the bottom of a jar.
The egg was larger than the opening of the bottle.
The three stared at the image, intrigued. How did it get in there?
Reading further, they learned how. First they must immerse the egg in vinegar for two days. They then watched as the shell gradually transformed from hard and brittle to yielding and springy. The result was a rubber egg they could press their fingers into. An egg and yet not an egg.
Next they needed to create conditions of pressure. Picking up the glass bottle with tongs, Sarah held it down in a pot of boiling water as the air inside expanded, molecules swirling against one another. Sarah then carefully placed the egg-not-egg on the mouth of the warmed glass bottle. The egg began to be sucked down through the opening of the jar, squeezed and contorted. They watched in wild eyed wonder at the spectacle of it all.
Under normal circumstances a whole egg simply can’t fit through an opening smaller than it without breaking. But under the right transformational conditions? A minor miracle is possible.
Betwixt and Between Reflecting on this, Sarah, who is also a Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University, was reminded of the concept of liminality. Liminality is the quality of times people find themselves betwixt and between two more comfortable and recognizable states of status quo.
As individuals we experience liminal spaces betwixt and between two realities throughout life. It happens when –
• We complete that last college assignment, until the diploma is in hand • We’re engaged to be married, until the moment we say our I do’s • Our offer to buy a home is accepted, until the keys to the home are in hand
As a society we can experience liminal spaces collectively, betwixt and between two realities, as well. Arguably the altered reality of pandemic is a really good example of it.
Our children go to school, and yet not school. We attend church, and yet not church. We gather, and yet we don’t.
We look back, at the familiar ways that were, and we miss them. We look around, at the current status quo, recognizing only parts of the whole. We look ahead, at what we hope will once again be, waiting for it to arrive.
Liminal Christ Rituals of our faith are filled with liminal moments. Times ripe with anticipation of the expected, but not yet come. We experience it on –
Christmas Eve, singing Silent Night, before the ultimate gift is symbolically born. Easter Vigil, huddled in the dark, awaiting the dawn of a new Son to rise.
Immediately before the Mark 1 moment there was a cousin, a baptism, a temptation. And a claim, come down from heaven, stating whose this Son is.
And then an arrest. That changed things.
Gone was the Baptizer, the messenger, the voice in the wilderness.
In John’s place was a void, a gap, an empty place; A leadership vacuum needing to be filled.
Following the moment there were:
Disciples, miracles, healings, Sermons, prayers, breaking of bread, Life, death, and life once again.
We know these stories by heart. They make Jesus what Jesus is.
Between the two, After what was gone, Before what was to come,
We see a liminal Christ – Betwixt and between two more familiar states.
We see – A leader no one yet followed; A healer who hadn’t yet healed; A savior who hadn’t yet saved.
A Christ. And yet not a Christ.
The message from Christ, in this liminal moment, was simple.
He proclaimed the time past had been fulfilled, And the kingdom of God, was now near.
A kingdom asking us to confess and believe in this good news.
Now and forevermore.
When those first fishermen dropped their nets to follow Jesus the liminal moment faded away. For in that moment Christ’s ministry, and all the characteristics we recognize from it, began.
Today As the winter of our pandemic slogs on we may be tempted to only see what has been lost.
The people. The spaces. The rituals.
Loss of the ways of being to which we have become accustomed. What we knew before was familiar, comfortable, and we miss it.
But if we only see what isn’t, well that’s our loss. For liminal moments offer almost limitless potential to reveal what is possible in what is to come.
Those too are the stories of – healings, breaking of bread, of life, and death, and life once again.
Those too are the stories of – care of creation, and care for each other, in ways both ancient and new.
Like that egg, we too are being asked to soften our hard, brittle exterior. We too, experience conditions of pressure changing us from within. We too can transform, both individually and collectively, achieving ways of being not possible before.
This is our liminal moment.
Dear Lord, in this time of transition teach us your kindness, your grace, your love. Unite us, strengthen us, mold us. Not back into what we once were, but what you call us to be. Dissolve us, reinvent us, recreate us. Change us into a new state. A state that cares for all of God’s children, without exception. A state that looks more and more, day by day, like you.Amen.