Did you know the plates in the earth’s crust are always moving slowly past each other? In California, they move about two inches every year.
Things are always shifting, always changing, whether we realize it or not. It’s just that some shifts are so powerful (seismic) that they cause the ground beneath us to literally shake.
We also feel shifts physically – with age. We feel shifts with births, deaths, children growing up and culture changing around us.
As things shift, we can’t go back to the way it once was, or the way we once were. We either move forward into the new configuration or we try to relive – or recreate – a past that will never come back.
While many people are trying very hard to make things what they once were all over again, the Bible urges us to “forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead … to press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3).
So, do you spend most of your time looking backward or forward? Are you dwelling on the way things used to be or on the possibilities for newness?
Of course, it’s important to remember the past, to cherish the past and to appreciate it for what it can teach us. But none of us can hold onto the past or make the past come back again.
So, we live in between what once was and what will be – a liminal space most of us find very uncomfortable. And yet, this is precisely the space where we most often grow, learn and experience transformation.
The word liminal comes from the Latin word “limen,” meaning threshold – any point or place of entering or beginning.
A liminal space is the time between the “what was” and the “next.” It is a place of transition, waiting and not knowing. Liminal space is where transformation takes place if we learn to wait and let it form us.
Author and theologian Richard Rohr describes liminal space as the place “where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown.”
“There alone is our old world left behind while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin,” he said. “Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible. … This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed.”
Rohr continued, “If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy. The threshold is God’s waiting room. Here we are taught openness and patience as we come to expect an appointment with the divine Doctor.”
The time to lament what once was – regarding culture, church, society, even family – is over.
To paraphrase Paul: Whatever “gains” we once had – or thought we had – we must regard as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ in the now.
It’s time to shift from a posture of looking backward to what once was to a posture of leaning forward into what lies ahead.
It’s time to embrace whatever liminal spaces we find ourselves in – both personally and collectively – and allow God to transform us into something new.
May it be so.
Dennis R. Atwood is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Mount Olive, North Carolina.