Liminal Space

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I stood between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean recently, watching an ocean liner passing through the Panama Canal. The giant ship was moving slowly, almost unnoticeably, between the narrow banks. With the help of locomotives, the gigantic body of the ship was moving forward within 60cm of the banks on each side. Yet the liner needed to trust the water to uphold her body and the locomotives to take her through the narrow canal. During the 8 minutes of waiting between the gate to the lock and the valve, she patiently waited for the water to gradually reach another level. She did not stop moving forward – however painfully slow and helplessly depending on the water below and the need to trust the engines beside. She envisioned the wide-open sea ahead that would eventually embrace her after this bottleneck and then 8–10 hours of transit on the canal.

For me, this is a perfect image of a liminal space. It is an in-between space, a transition and a threshold. It is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next’, a place of waiting and not knowing, a place of now and not yet. The wise tell us that it is also a place of transformation. In the waiting, we let it form us. However, we often find ourselves caught in the process and still waiting for the moment of transformation. We can experience various degrees of uncomfortableness, disorientation, dizziness, grief, vulnerability and even bodily reactions like tears or tiredness in this space. We may feel restless and disorientated. We may feel lonely and that we have got into a dark hole not being able to get out.

Like a hen hatching an egg, the egg has been broken yet life is yet to be formed. We don’t know what it will become. There are mixed feelings of grief and hope, fear and uncertainty, waiting and expectancy. Like on a stormy sea, we feel dizzy and sick, not being able to survive, left alone holding the wheel and steering the ship. Like Tom Hank’s film Terminal, we are caught between two countries, rejected by both and stuck in an airport going nowhere.

This is the world we live in – global displacement, refugee camps, migrant movement, political trauma of native people, villages overtaken by shopping malls. People are on the move globetrotting yet don’t talk to the neighbours across the street. Despite the ever-increasing speed of technology, we find ourselves more and more isolated and lost. Anxiety and frustration creep in and continue to fill this age, as if we are ‘waiting for Godot’ who will never arrive.

How do we navigate our own lives of transition? How do we live in an age of postmodern displacement and dislocation? As we open the pages of the Bible and lift our gaze to the Crucified one, we find a God calling his people out of comfort zones to a place of discomfort again and again whether it is in Exodus or in Exile. It is the same God who woos them to the place where they truly belong, somewhere they call home. This paradoxical place they stand on is the biblical liminal space, somewhere between the wilderness and the Promised Land, between homelessness and home. In the New Testament, the disciples were called from a self-assured life to the way of brokenness. In the light of the Cross, they wrote the Gospels and Acts, which heralded a new human history. The Spirit of love breaks in, speaks to the womb and brings the darkness to the light, brokenness to transformation, nothingness to everything.

This awareness gives us hope and vision to live here and now fruitfully and welcome the invitation to go deeper in our faith – to listen attentively, struggle genuinely, and question authentically even with our uttermost nihilism. The liminal space is the richest mine to explore this treasure, and trust courageously the hidden fingers that guide us.

Liminal Space

invites us
to put our ears
on the ground
to hear the sound
from the basement
of our hearts

to enter into the room
with courage and curiosity
to push darkness
to touch the unknown
to dance in-between the gap
though our senses are numb
our eyes are blind
our voice has no sound
till we are used to this hollow ground

nobody, nothing, nowhere
breathless
sleepless
restless
timeless
thoughts tangled in a mass
sweat intermingled in a pool

our bodies move
struggle
exhaust
collapse
…………..let go

whatever comes
whatever emerges
whatever settles
the divine surgery
…………..let come

℘℘℘℘

Xiaoli Yang is a theologian, poet, and spiritual director. She lives and plays on Wurundjeri land and in the Middle Kingdom. Details about her latest publication can be found here.

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