“In the universe, there are things that are known, and things that are unknown,
and in between them, there are doors.”
(William Blake, late 18th/early 19th century poet)
Blake’s words are visceral, evoking muscle memory as well as emotional memory. We know what it is to move from one space to another, opening a door, crossing its threshold. We normally do not think anything of it in our everyday lives. But when we speak of the meaning of liminal, “of or pertaining to a threshold,” when we think of liminal space in our lives, in our souls, we receive Blake’s image with a powerful punch. The crossing from known to unknown (and perhaps, back again) may be exciting, quick, full of fiery imagination. It may be excruciatingly slow, inch by inch, from light into darkness, before there is the possibility of finding light again. Or something in between.
Whatever it is, to be in liminal space is to stand on the threshold just before taking that next step into the next room. It is a place of grace that usually does not feel particularly grace-full, but often hard, dangerous. As Father Richard Rohr has written it is a place of such vulnerability and openness that there is room for something genuinely new to happen. “We are empty and receptive—erased tablets waiting for new words. Liminal space is where we are most teachable, often because we are most humbled.”
In this global pandemic, we are all currently in liminal space. We have been sheltering in place for two months or more. “Staying safer at home” has become known to us. It’s become our routine. And now there is talk of re-opening society. Finding, hopefully, safe ways to come together again in person. For some of us this is such welcome talk! For others it is terrifying. For others it just creates a low-level sense of dis-ease. And some of us are in the lonely place of knowing we will not re-enter society until there is a vaccine….and when will that be?! All of these reactions to moving into the unknown of what our new “normal” will look like as we continue to grapple with this pandemic leave us in liminal space.
I want to reassure you that your pastors and church staff are considering ALL of the reactions above as we move from the “known” of sheltering in place, livestream worship, and Zoom meetings into the “unknown” of what is next. We do not yet have ready answers or safe formulas that can make the “unknown” of re-opening feel entirely comfortable or doable. We are using the scientific data and the health precautions from trusted Colorado and national institutions of health, as well as research and models from national church leaders in multiple mainline denominations, to fuel our vision for Plymouth’s re-opening.
The bottom line is that “church” is going to look different from here on out. It will never look entirely the same as it did in February of this year. What has not changed is the Love of God that brings us together, calling us to worship, to care for one another, to deepen our spiritual lives in study and prayer, to minister beyond our walls to those who are in need. You all know that the church is not the building, as beloved as it may be with its memories of fellowship and worship. The church is You. It is US held in the creative container of God’s love.
So, know that as your pastors and staff, we miss you all!! Know that we are here for one another by phone and Zoom and livestream. Know that the connection of our sacred bond as community is not broken and cannot be even by a global pandemic. Be patient with yourself, with your family, with your church leadership and community as we move from our current “known” across the threshold into the “unknown.” “Known” and “unknown” – it is all held in the heart of God.
With you on this journey,
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, Associate Minister, is a writer, storyteller, and contributor to Feasting on the Word, a popular biblical commentary. She is also the writer of sermon-stories.com, a lectionary-based story-commentary series. Read more