Reflection: Liminal Space

by | Nov 18, 2019

God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of God’s beloved Christ Jesus, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Colossians 1:13-14

Tomorrow evening is the last Presbytery meeting of 2019, and so there are several items that mark the end of this fading year and plans for 2020.  It is a scheduled time of liminality, as we report on and preserve what was and consider what God has in store for us in the coming year.  I’m glad that we have a fairly comprehensive slate of candidates for new Presbytery leadership, and a budget that begins to reflect some decisions you have made recently that impact use of property and grants for innovative new missions.  We will also note some endings, while we also look ahead to new friends and initiatives, such as meeting our new regional representative with the Board of Pensions, Rev. Kristin Leucht, and we hear from Rev. Tom Erickson about New Theological Seminary of the West.

Lately the concept of “liminal space” has become popular in certain circles, especially among those who reflect on the transitional nature of society and the church, and the dismantling of old rules that makes room for new ways of being. 

Wikipedia defines liminality this way:

In anthropology, liminality is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete.

In addition to the manageable rites of transition such as electing new leaders, this weekend I’ve become aware of much more profound transitions in the lives of people in our community.  On Friday, a group of us including Steve Wiebe of PPC and I went to Adelanto Detention Center, led by our Immigrant Accompaniment Organizer Kristi Van Nostran.  Steve and I were moved by our meeting with a young man named Bertrand, who had been a youth organizer in Cameroon before the government decided his work empowering young people was threatening to the status quo.  He fled Cameroon at the end of February, and spent the last six months on an often perilous journey through Panama, Chiapas, and Tijuana before being put in the ICE detention center an hour and a half away from us.  What was remarkable was the faith-filled spirit Bertrand displayed, especially as he spoke of his desire to serve God and people.  Even in the detention center, he helps other inmates to acclimate people new to the system, and though he has no idea what will happen (his only connection in the United States is a relative with no financial resources, living in the Midwest), he is grateful that at least he feels safe at Adelanto.  Steve and I were amazed at the perseverance, intelligence, and spirit of this young man, convinced of the gift he would be if he is allowed to stay in the United States.  [Kristi will resume Adelanto visits in January, perhaps scheduling a trip the last Friday of each month; keep your eyes open for the new schedule, or contact Kristi at] 

Yesterday, several representatives of San Gabriel Presbytery met with Alhambra True Light Presbyterian Church, who have been trying to figure out how to respond to the changes taken by the PC(USA).  While some will point to the decisions made about sexuality as a breaking point, there have been significant transitions made over the decades that have caused some Christians to feel we are abandoning God’s will, transitions that may seem settled for some such as reconciling the theory of evolution with God’s design for Creation, or the Presbyterian Church’s modifications of the most condemning statements in the Westminster Confession of Faith.  The permanent condition of Christians is change, as we discern whether and how to reconsider tenets of the faith in light of scientific and social changes in every generation—we call this “Reformed, and always reforming.”

In our worship tomorrow, we will focus on our relationships with indigenous peoples in our lands.  To be honest, the concept of “First Peoples” can be elusive, due to the constant migration of humans through the millenia.  For instance, we consider the native people of the Los Angeles area to be the Tongva.  Though they covered much of Southern California, they have a special connection with San Gabriel Valley, as the San Gabriel Mission became the detention center of the day for the Tongva, who are also called Gabrieliños.  What’s interesting is that the Tongva arrived here about 3,000-5,000 years ago, but ancient human-made tools from 8,000 years ago were found near Azusa, so there were people here before the Tongva.  But by the time the Spanish and later the Euro-Americans came to this area, the land was certainly controlled and inhabited by the Tongva, and they have weathered many calamities and persecution to survive today.  Consider all the peoples who have called San Gabriel Valley home over the centuries!

In the Christian liturgical calendar, this Sunday is the last Sunday of the year, and as such it marks the triumph of Christ’s reign.  The following Sunday, December 1, is the start of Advent, when we start the new liturgical year by anticipating the coming of Christ.  What is so intriguing about Christ as King is his depiction in Revelation as the lamb who was slaughtered for the salvation of the world.  So even as we foresee the ultimate triumph of Christ, the marks of his transition from humiliation to glory have not been totally erased. 

So in this time of every kind of change, may we accept the liminality of life, knowing that our transformation does not erase all of who we are, but fulfills God’s will for our new and fulfilling life in Christ.  May we pray for—and be gentle with—all who struggle through the birth passage to this new life, and all who take the initiative to seek out the promise of freedom, safety, faith, and service.

See you tomorrow evening at Trinity church,