This morning, January 3rd, I was at barre class. Unlike usual, the number of attendees was fairly small, there was less chatter, and it still felt like the world was on holiday.
I realized as we were warming up that this was a liminal space. According to an organization devoted to such space, “A liminal space is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next.’ It is a place of transition, a season of waiting, and not knowing.”
Some liminal spaces are obvious, like rest stops on highways, airport waiting areas deep into the night, stairwells, and schools between sessions. These can feel uncomfortable because they are neither here nor there; they aren’t like the past and aren’t like the future.
The space right after Christmas and New Year’s Day can also feel strange, as many people may not be back at work or school, and those that are may not yet be fully engaged with the next thing.
Theologian Richard Rohr writes:
We have to allow ourselves to be drawn out of “business as usual” and remain patiently on the “threshold” (limen, in Latin) 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. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible. It’s the realm where God can best get at us because our false certitudes are finally out of the way. This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed. 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.
It is difficult to claim such a space for your own. You may want things to go back to how they were before, or you may be ready for things to settle into a new normal.
The fact is, though, that this space, perhaps a little unsettled and cold, is where you can make things happen.
I can remember being on the running track one winter night, mostly in the dark, when I saw two young women (perhaps high school age) practicing volleyball on the side. I assume their season was yet-to-start and they were honing their skills. They were taking advantage of a liminal space.
And I recall the story about how Sylvester Stallone, out-of-money and with little prospect for lucrative acting jobs, sequestered himself for three days and worked for 20 straight hours to write the script for Rocky. He would be nominated for an Academy Award for this script. Those three days were a liminal space of his own creation.
How we approach the in-between times is determinative of the life we’ll have, and characteristic of our approach to life. If we are no longer and we are not yet, then who are we? The way we answer that question is up to us to decide. Do we wait and see what happens? Or do we make something happen?
You put your resolutions into place on January 1st. In that case, the calendar is driving you. You can wait until it warms up before you start exercising outside. You’ll be depending on the weather. You can wait until your injury heals, or you can build up those aspects of your health that you are able to do.
Two questions, then, to guide you through this space between no longer and not yet: 1) Where do you want to go? 2) Who do you want to be when you get there?
Your answers to these questions, indeed your belief that you ultimately have the answers, will determine the rest of your life.