Anthropologists describe liminal space as the precarious place between statuses in life. Between pregnancy and birth. Between childhood and adulthood. Between life and death. These transitions are filled with potential and uncertainty.
How can we not describe our society’s current situation as something of a liminal space?! We feel vulnerable and don’t know what is ahead. There are labor pains. The dramatic changes we are experiencing make us uneasy and knock us off our feet. Physically, economically, and socially, we are at risk. All of us have lost something in this disruption. It’s a harsh reality…and all of us are still at risk!
The change we have experienced has made us feel that we are between the times. Some have been forced into extended isolation. Many will be confined to their homes for a month or more. We are developing new buying practices, new entertainment habits, and new hobbies. We are finding new ways to work. The change we are experiencing is significant and will be far-reaching. It will shape us.
It’s no wonder that we view these times has sacred.
Because we’ve experienced the divine in these liminal spaces: in the birth of a baby and in the precious moments before a treasured family member passes away. We have seen it in smaller transitions, too, like leaving one job for another or buying a home. (Those who have experienced it know that escrow is definitely a liminal space!)
If this is what our society is going through now, then how should we expect to see the divine in it? In our coronavirus liminal space, how might God show up? A multitude of ways come to mind:
In our vulnerability.
In our family and friends.
In our unresolved questions.
In the kindness of a stranger.
In our hunger.
In our hope.
In all of these things, we learn to pray. Out of our yearning comes words that we have desperately wanted to say but never knew how to voice.
And as we do, something amazing happens: this uncomfortable space becomes the place of transformation.
Why? Because praying helps us understand ourselves and live more authentically. If we are going to pray, we have to be honest with ourselves. That authenticity leads us to greater understanding of others, because having seen ourselves, we gain compassion to see others as they are, with strengths and weaknesses. Finally, praying helps us to understand what is going on in the world. As we get in touch with the one who works in all things, we begin to see what he is up to in the cosmos.
This understanding of ourselves, our neighbors, and the world cultivated through prayer is the first step through the liminal space: it prepares us to walk on the solid ground on the other side. In the midst of the bad, there is good as well.