“Creative Waiting:” An Invitation of Lent (and the Times)

ruminations, liminal cover (wider margin)Ruminations
is the name we have given to a Seasonal/Quarterly Spiritual Formation Resource especially designed as a guide for personal or small group retreats-devotions.

Our first issue in December, 2018 focused on “Advent’s Call to ‘Creative Waiting’” — with a focus on the inevitability of “liminality” in our lives… and how we might best navigate these threshold times.  The bigger issue is yours, free by clicking here.  Still, a “sound bite” from the cover article might convey our reason for returning to that issue at this time of the year – at this time in our lives:

Liminal.  Though the word was foreign to me (at least up until a few years ago), the concept is one I know all too well—even if I don’t really enjoy it.  From the Latin word, limen (threshold), it captures the notion of things “in between,” of the space between the old and the new.

Writes Richard Rohr:

[Liminal space is] 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 in 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 from this terrible “cloud of unknowing.”

All sorts of ”doorway” moments qualify here—where we engage all sorts of questions about what’s next, what’s on the other side, what we need to leave behind,…  There’s pregnancy, the loss of a loved one, marriage, divorce, a mid-life crisis, a radical medical diagnosis and treatment, an empty nest, graduation, career discontent and/or transition,…

Truth is, by its very nature, life in this world is liminal.  Much as we’d like to ignore it, we all live on the threshold of Death.  And then, there are the myriad, lesser deaths we navigate — each thrusting us into a waiting room. 

Given this “in between” nature of our lives, it’s no surprise that the architects of our Faith would choose to elevate seasons and saints whose witness would be, in part, a healthy navigation of the liminal in our lives.  In their wisdom, for example, the early church preserved a rhythm and sense of waiting in its calendar.  While there are certainly high, holy days (marked by outward flair), the bulk of our days are ordinary–marked by a less spectacular devotion that works at deeper recesses of heart, mind, soul…

If, from current events, there’s anything to add to the issue and its discussion, it is that threshold moments are not just a personal (or a family) thing.  Some times of liminality are thrust upon us as a total community – as we are now experiencing in a pronounced, world-wide–village way… in this day of settling into a “new norm.”  The majority of ancient Israel (among so many other cultures of old) knew and experienced it – as their daily norm.  Now’s the opportunity for us to live in their skins a little.  Now is the time to confess with songwriter Rich Mullins that “we may not be as strong as we think we are.”

But, if such times of disorientation provoke songs of lament (as Bruggeman reminds us in his exploration of the Psalms), we are not left without hope… or songs thereof.  Here, I leave with you with what I’d call a modern “Psalm of Reorientation” from Richard Rohr in a 2002 sermon, entitled “Days Without Answers in a Narrow Space” [printed in The National Catholic Reporter]:

Liminality is a special spiritual place
“where all transformation happens.”
It is when we are betwixt and between,
and therefore by definition “not in control.”
Nothing new happens
as long as we are inside
our self-constructed comfort zone.
Nothing good or creative emerges
from business as usual.
Much of the work of the God of the Bible
is to get people into liminal space,
and to keep them there long enough
so they can learn something essential.
It is the ultimate teachable space,
maybe the only one.

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