Most of life is lived in the space in-between.
We live in-between what was and what is becoming. We move between the reality of life as it is and the promise for which we hope, between the wound and the healing, the dark night and the dawn’s light. We wait between the uncertain anticipation and the joy of anticipated fulfillment.
In-between can be an uncomfortable place. It feels uncertain, insecure, at times even threatening. The landmarks by which we are accustomed to finding our way have all shifted. Roads have different names; the language in this foreign land is sometimes barely intelligible. None of our accustomed maps make sense. Our GPS has become hopelessly scrambled.
Navigating the geography of in-between there are more often questions and less often clear and comforting answers.
This in-between land is sometimes called “liminal space”. Liminal is a late nineteenth century English word derived from the Latin word “limen” which means “threshold”. Liminal space is “threshold” space, the place between the old familiar room of the past and the uncertain unknown room that lies ahead.
We tend to do everything we can to avoid landing in these liminal places.
We struggle to bring clarity, to establish order and certainty in life. We expend our energy attempting to construct an edifice that might establish the illusion of security and safety in the external circumstances of our lives. But we know, when we are honest, that it is a fragile building we have constructed and that our little fortress could crumble at any moment.
In Christian tradition Advent is the season of liminal space.
Advent is waiting time. It is the time between the miracle of conception and the gift of birth. It is the time of hints and suggestions awaiting fulfillment. Advent cannot be forced; birth will not be rushed. Like death birth arrives in its own time according to a plan no human power can control.
When “the angel Gabriel” came to Bethlehem to announce to Mary that she was about to be catapulted into the in-between mystery of divine expectancy, she replied, “let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
The Advent instruction for inhabiting liminal space is surrender. Liminal space becomes fruitful when we let go of our need to know, put down our determination to be in control, and surrender our demand that life be predictable, comfortable, and reassuring.
When we travel in the land of liminality to we need to start by stopping. Stand still. Open to what is. Take a deep breath. Do not panic. When we rush in liminal space, or resist the awkward uncertainty of not knowing, we lose touch with the potential power and beauty of the in-between times.
When we inhabit liminal geography with patience and responsiveness, new possibilities open. Patience in the in-between places enables us to discover a deeper connection with the birthing energy that is the presence of Christ at work even in the midst of our unknowing, doubt, confusion, and fear.
Advent calls us, in the midst of uncertainty, to the place of calm within ourselves where the beauty and tenderness of Christ reside. The Advent practice of patient waiting has the power to open our hearts to an awareness of the steady Presence who transcends all the thresholds of life and will sustain us in whatever the future may bring.