But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isaiah 43:1-3)
Over the past 8 summers, I have had the honor of leading groups of GS pilgrims on journeys to Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota. Some evenings, sun and moon are suspended directly across from each other, bathing the prairie in light. The open spaces keep your head and heart walking a tightrope between feeling completely lost and finally found. The trip is a crash course in living liminally.
The most liminal moments occur when we first arrive. As the bus pulls into the driveway emotions are high. Returning travelers are excited. New pilgrims are anxious. People are ready to be off the bus. Everyone wants to jump into doing something but it’s unclear what needs to be done first.
As the trip leader, I dread this half hour. Everyone’s looking to me for answers, and I have yet to gain my own bearings. I can see the anxiety, fear, and eagerness on people’s faces. Without direction, I know those feelings can easily melt into regret, anger, and confusion. It’s a time for clear leadership but, in reality, I have little more information than they do.
These 30 minutes are a microcosm of the feelings and experiences the week will certainly contain. If we can navigate this time with patience, grace, trust, humor, and mutual care – as individuals and a community – we are well positioned for the week ahead.
But how can we do that? By year two, I figured it out! After our first trip, I realized that these first 30 minutes were in fact the pivotal moment of the trip.
We needed to call it out. Name it. Claim it.
Now, on each trip, we spend the last 20 miles of our approach in silence. We let our eyes take in the new terrain, while our hearts and heads gather themselves. As the Dream Center finally comes into sight, I say something like…
“These next 30 minutes are going to be, for most of us, the most uncomfortable parts of this whole trip. Despite our months of preparation, in this time you may feel unprepared and vulnerable. You’re gonna want me to tell you what to do and where to go, and I can tell you right now, I don’t know. It’s a time that’s ripe for us to be short with each other, to be defensive, and to be overly and overtly fearful. BUT, it’s only 30 minutes. If you can stay present, kind, and patient as I get our directions, and if we can each participate fully and kindly in what needs to be done, I can almost guarantee that 30 minutes from now we’ll feel more settled…and we’ll eat some homemade cookies.”
So…I get off the bus, go meet the emotional whirlwind that is Lori, get our instructions, bring them back to the team and we get to work. 30 minutes later we’re waving goodbye to our bus driver, Paul, and settling in to listen to Lori over those homemade cookies.
By naming and claiming the discomfort of that liminal time up front, we enter more gracefully and communally into it. It loses its power to scare us and assumes a power to transform us.
Liminal times show up in our relationships, our work, our families, our congregation. All around me I see people living in life’s liminal experiences. Experiences that leave us in that in-between place for an unknown amount of time. They can be disorienting, maddening, scary, and exciting.
In our baptism we are named and claimed as Children of God. As God’s children we are living in the ultimate in-between time. The time between Jesus’s resurrection and his coming again. It is a time ripe for fear, discomfort, and confusion. But if we name and claim our identity each day, we call out that liminal space we live in. Perhaps we can stand more confidently and hopefully in this betwixt time, offering ourselves up for continual transformation as we await Christ’s ultimate arrival.
by Sarah Iverson
This post is part of a series of Advent Reflections – “Joyful Expectation”
Learn more about the series at gslcwi.com/advent