I’ve never experienced an actual “swirly” – you know, when someone holds your head in a toilet while flushing it – but life has lately brought that image to mind and I think I may know how it feels.
Another image has come to my mind during this particular stage of life – one of being stuck in a spin cycle (as in washing machines) that never ends. Do you wait for it to stop spinning and then go about your business? Or has something gone wrong with the machine and will the spin cycle continue until you somehow intervene? And then, this illustration reminds me of those dark, late nights when I’ve been stopped at a light for a really long time (probably 20 seconds) for absolutely no good reason because no one else is on the road. I know what I do in that scenario, but what do you do? Sit and wait, or get on with it despite the red lights in your face?
If you know me, you know I love theological reflection and making connections to life as it really is. (I add “as it really is” as a nod to my upbringing which paid constant homage to “life as we think it ought to be.”) When my mind begins conjuring images, like the swirly and the spin cycle of my washer, I know it’s time for me to pay attention to the Spirit of God. Something life-giving is happening and God is trying to help me understand it.
There is a Latin word, limen, which means “threshold.” From it, comes two terms you probably have encountered before: liminality and liminal space. The concept has been applied to literature, anthropology, psychology, theology and other “‘logies” because it is so rich metaphorically. Basically, liminality and liminal space both take the concept of a threshold and apply it to times of transition, ambiguity and waiting. In theological terms, it becomes a time of growth, learning and spiritual transformation if the person experiencing it embraces the opportunity.
So, what do you do in liminal space? If I make the comparison in my own life to stoplights late at night, then I “bust” through without any regard to legalities in favor of my own comfort and perceived safety. If I compare it to being stuck in a spin cycle, then I apparently stay, hoping and praying that the spinning will stop soon. I don’t think the swirly comparison applies … that one was probably allowed through just to grab my attention. 🙂 What I can’t ignore in either comparison is the presence of fear.
Fear can either cause us to run impulsively (stoplight) or it can paralyze us (spin cycle.) I suppose for me, this particular liminal space is designed to help me work through some previously unnoticed or unnamed fear.
Today is still early in this year’s season of Lent. If you find yourself in a period of liminality in your own story, I encourage you to embrace this opportunity to pursue the freedom that comes in working together with God to become the man or woman you were created to be. Whether you are wrestling with fear, or an unforgiving spirit, or an unloving attitude, or whatever else, this could be just the space you need to transition to the next phase of your life.