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The Liminal Life

The first several paragraphs are taken from the “Epilogue” blog written on the return of our last Africa Trip. Read that original blog here.

About seven years ago I came across a book by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch titled, The Faith of Leap. It was in this book that I was first introduced to the term "liminal."

Liminality is defined in the book as, “the term we use to describe a threshold experience. It is composed of any or a combination of danger, marginality, disorientation, or ordeal and tends to create a space which is neither here nor there, a transitional stage between what was and what is to come. As a result, it is experienced as a place of discomfort and agitation that requires us to endure and push into what is to come.”

Richard Rohr in his excellent book, Adam’s Return, The Five Promises of Male Initiation, defines it this way, “It is when we are betwixt and between, have left one room but not yet entered the next room, any hiatus between stages of life, stages of faith, jobs, loves, or relationships. It is that graced time when we are not certain or in control, when something genuinely new can happen.” He continues, “Nothing fresh or creative will normally happen when we are inside our self-constructed comfort zones, only more of the same. Nothing original emerges from business as usual.” Wow.

This to me, sounds like the definition of Biblical faith. Almost every story in the Bible of someone being called by God, involved them finding themselves in liminal space. God has spoken – and to respond means signing up for – who knows what? It is the ultimate invitation with a most uncertain outcome. You see God never gives us all the information that will be required for the journey to which He invites us. “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land I will show you” (Gen 12:1). That’s it Abraham, you will either have to say yes to this single directive or forfeit the journey altogether.

All through the scriptures God is inviting people to a journey and the promise is that He will be our guide. Abraham, Moses, Joshua and so many others. They get the invitation, the first step, and little else. If they got the whole journey up front it is doubtful that any would have joyfully signed up. Hebrews, chapter 11, is a list of many of those who answered yes, to the Great Adventure.

Liminal Space = Faith

Liminal space sounds very much like the space God calls us to when we are in relationship with Him – it is an invitation to trust the God in whom we say we believe. To trust Him means to follow Him even when we don’t know where we’re going or what the next place will look like. We have no idea what will be expected or what the outcome of our obedience will bring. It is the place of true faith. The kind of faith we should be living in all the time, not just in times of crisis.

The crisis is simply to show us the way to the daily faith that should be the hallmark of the life of every believer. Hebrews tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6). Notice that its not unlikely or highly improbable – it is impossible to please Him. I’m not sure we believe that. We are told in Heb 10:38 that “My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back from it My soul has no pleasure in him.” I don’t think this means necessarily that God is angry with us, it simply means that if I shrink back from a life of faith, I can only shrink back to my own understanding, thus saying, I don’t really need God, and there’s the crux of the matter.

We walk by faith and not by sight

I often say that God is waiting for us – just beyond our grasp. Just beyond our comfort zone. He wants to meet us in a liminal space so that we are completely uncomfortable and not in charge. We find this space so unfamiliar and unsettling that we begin looking for God in earnest. We need Him to ‘show up’ and lead us. This is where God does His finest work of transformation. He must usually bring us to the literal end of ourselves before we are fully open to the work He wants to do in us, so that He can further His work, through us. Rohr maintains that this is the ultimate teachable space, “In some sense, it is the only teachable space.”

Follow Me

“Follow Me.” Right? That’s the invitation that Jesus still extends to us today. We have no idea where the journey will take us. Will there be adventure? Excitement? Danger? Joy and blessing? Yes, absolutely. If not, I think you’re doing it wrong. I’m certain we rarely think of following God as being the ultimate adventure, but He surely is.

What Now?

What did Hirsch say?

“. . . a transitional stage between what was and what is to come. As a result, it is experienced as a place of discomfort and agitation that requires us to endure and push into what is to come.”

Sounds very much like the situation in which we now find ourselves. This is a time to find God in new ways – I would encourage you to not ignore this opportunity. It is a great time to learn about faith – easy Bible word to talk about as a theoretical proposition – much harder to walk out when there is a crisis. But this is as Rohr says, “the only teachable space.”

Let’s determine to lead well during this time and learn all we can. Let’s truly exercise our faith, grow in our faith, lead our families in faith and encourage others by faith. Perhaps in these times, especially in these times, God is refining and growing His children – let’s not miss it.


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Grreat reading your blog post

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