Beauty Betwixt and Between
What do we do when we aren’t quite there yet? Do we worry? Do we push studiously onward? Do we dream about the future and reminisce about the past? There is a preciousness in the moments of in between. There is a beauty to be explored. We will explore the beauty of liminal spaces this Sunday, Beauty: Betwixt and Between.
Sermon: "Beauty Betwixt and Between"; Antonia Bell-Delgado
I was sitting in my room thinking of how big liminality is and how I would bring it to you today. I had at least seven different half sermons circulating each with its own merit and open space to develop, yet none of them seemed right. I turned to my phone, in frustration. I was thinking, “Why is this sermon so freaking hard to write. Why didn’t you just give a sermon blurb for a sermon that you already wrote. I have sermons they haven’t heard. Who chooses to work so hard in the summer and learn to be a Chaplain”. I thumbed through the phone and boom; I was on FB. After all of the cute kids, puppies and kittens, food pictures, and funny quotes I could feel the anxiety melting away. I decided what was really wrong with the idea of liminality was that I was a UU and I generally only get 15-20 minutes to deliver a homily. Most UU churches don’t want to listen to me wax poetically about liminality for two hours.
Liminality. Liminality as introduced in 1902 by Arnold van Gennep and ethnographer and folklorist was focused around the three stages in Rites of Passage ceremonies. These stages are: Separation, Marginality or Liminality, and Union or Incorporation. His theories were based on his belief that human rites of passage were tied to the understanding of fixed or changeable forces such as, age or social structures. The first stage, separation is when the person separates from the perceived social structure, the initia is said to stand in a space of ambiguity, which is the entrance to the second stage, liminality. In Latin the root Limin means a threshold or boundary, therefore the travel from known to unknown, from social bound by a group of characteristics to the space unbound and not yet ready to move to the third stage, Union in which the person returns to a status that has been raised and they are restored to the institution. (Ratini n.d.)
The idea of Liminality has been built upon through the centuries and has been defined and redefined by people in other fields. Theologically speaking, Liminal Space is in between. It is the space where spirit speak. It is the womb of transformation. Sufi Poet, Rumi speaks of liminal space in the poem:
This We Have Now
This we have now
is not imagination.
This is not
grief or joy.
Not a judging state,
or an elation,
Those come and go.
This is the presence
Do you remember when you experienced the presence that doesn’t. There are so many. Some are looming and represent vast joys and sorrows some are a blip and hardly noticed. They last seconds.
In liminal space I often feel anxious. I like things to be “just so”. I wouldn’t say that I am controlling but I could admit to being, “tidy in my thoughts and ideas of how things should be”. You can imagine the opportunities that I experience to encounter liminality.
Every time before I preach I enter liminal space. I sit in the pulpit praying before I walk up to the microphone. Sometimes it is deep and meaningful like help me to speak truth with love. Other times it is as simple and anxiety ridden like, don’t let me forget my reading, please let all of the pages of my sermon be here and in order, "May no F bombs cross my lips”
The first time that I preached my mother in law told me a story about an arrogant minister that would stroll to the pulpit in his very expensive suit looking stunningly manicured and pious. One Sunday he approached the pulpit as he always did and when he got there he realized that he had forgotten his papers. He had a hot mike moment in which he said, “Que Mierda! Se me olvidaron los paples” or in English, “Oh shit! I forgot my papers”. This lesson has stuck with me. First don’t act so pious, secondly, double and triple check your paper, third make sure the mic is off until I am ready to speak. Fourthly, if none of these things work do as the pious minister did and get my papers, humbly.
Sometimes it feels like I live my life in liminal spaces. To put it simply, liminal space is the space that exist between one thing and the other. Living in liminal space has never seemed simple to me. I often feels restrictive, anxiety ridden and I feel out beyond the norms. Early on in childhood I learned that I was “not like the other kids”. Not because of the reasons that most people could readily point to about me, but because of my budding theology. I believed that there was spirit in all things. Spirit in the tiny piece of dust that floated down from my bookshelf, spirit in the stuffed lion at the bottom of my bed, spirit in the railroad rocks that I picked up along the train tracks and spirit in the birds I chattered at when I was outside. The world was teaming with spiritual insights and vantage points. It was beautiful how my world offered spaces where I could discover and assign my own meaning. Most of my experiences were positive and joy filled. Later the world became more complicated for me when I learned of evil.
I faced evil early. My first memory was of my brother, Yusuf, disappearing. He was later found murdered. He was 9 years old. I was told that he was in heaven, and heaven was in the clouds. Being a child who was always questioning, I asked my mother about walking to heaven when it was foggy. She assured me that I couldn’t, but that didn’t stop me from trying. In the question of clouds and heaven I entered my first memory of liminal space.
My worshipful nature carried me through my grief. I was taught that God was in each of us. That was translated in my mind to mean that the spirit of God was everywhere, and if God was a spirit there was no reason that my brother’s spirit couldn’t also be everywhere. Once I came to that understanding, coping with his death was easier. This experience encouraged me to help people who were struggling to cope with the hardships of living. In this lesson of death I also found the lesson of liminality. Liminality comes right before transformation.
I was an evangelical believer of Animism (this is the belief that all things have a spirit). I would offer people rocks to touch and feel the healing vibration of earth. I suggested they talk to birds to discover their own answers because the birds listen. As long as I was in nature with my feet touching earth and my face turned toward the sky, I was at peace with the world.
My mother had different religious beliefs, yet she encouraged my beliefs. She gave me access to her diverse group of friends who understood my belief system and talked to me about it. They explained metaphysical properties of crystal, transcendental philosophy, and much more. To put it gently, I was untraditional even for the people who were untraditional. My view of myself as “different” allowed me to push aside the call that I received on my life to be a minister, instead I became a social worker. When you live inauthentically, you will eventually crack under the stress. Rev. Lee Barker said that, “A call to ministry is like throwing up, you can only put it off for so long.” I vomited in a major way. I died for twenty minutes. The “hows” are not important but the experience of in between became life affirming. In this experience I entered liminality peacefully. This peace allowed me to see the in between for what it is. It is a container for you to be. If you can breathe and be, when you enter your known liminal spaces you will be able to witness the beauty that lives there, the knowing that lives there and the grief that lives there. When I came out of that liminal space I was transformed. I was unafraid to be me.
(set up the tone for mediation)
Let us all practice taking breaths and holding space. Breathe with me. Now let’s mediate on our liminal spaces. Someone is this room is experiencing the grief of a loved one dying, the grief of an unwanted separation, the grief of addiction, the grief of a lost spiritual community, the grief of a child going off to college
(and so on…list what you feel is in the room, spirit will guide you)
Now I want you to say quietly to yourself, I can be here. I am safe here. This is my container of peace. I will be transformed. There is beauty here, and then open your eyes and sear this into your brain. Liminal space is here for us to stop, breathe, experience the moment and transform.
May you fill your space with the beauty of possibility and the knowledge of the divine.