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Inviting The Liminal

Updated: Feb 3

"There has to be something different and daring—even nonsensical—to awaken us from our comfortable sleepwalk." — Richard Rohr

Liminality refers to the transitional places in our lives where we have left the familiar and stepped into the unknown. Most often, liminal space is forced upon us by some external change beyond our control—the onset of illness, the loss of a job, a failed relationship. All of these feel like intrusions to our otherwise familiar and at least somewhat manageable lives. Yet these liminal “intrusions" are actually critical to our journey toward wholeness, and even our happiness as human beings.

The wisest among us not only welcome these liminal intrusions as transformative gifts, but also actively seek out liminal experiences as a means of regular ongoing personal growth.

Liminal space is the space of change; in fact, no meaningful change can happen without it. This is a fundamental law of physics as well as of the soul. If you take a glass jar filled with cold, clear oil, and you carefully layer hot oil of a different color across the surface, a beautiful thing happens: the colored oil will dive into the clear oil in streams and tendrils of energy that form beautiful new shapes, full of swirls and patterns it is difficult not to call Art. The initial state of the two oils is said to be a “low entropy” system, because of the highly-ordered polarity between the hot and cold oil. The line between them is the liminal boundary, and the polarity forces a transformational interaction between the two oils.

(Photography by Engin Akyurt.)

In a similar way, the liminal spaces in our lives also contain a high-polarity boundary that catalyzes a fresh transformation between—

  • the familiar “now,” and the unknown “not yet,”

  • the comfortable ordered existence we have built, and the disordered chaos of the new thing that’s just arriving,

  • the practiced competence we posses in the current world, and the total incompetence we feel the moment we cross the threshold into something genuinely new.

Liminal spaces are always uncomfortable—that’s why we call it stepping out of your Comfort Zone—but they are essential to all human growth, and therefore, all human thriving. We can never become all we are meant to be if we choose to stay tucked away inside our comfort zones.

Yet, that’s what many of us do. Some of us, in fact, turn it into an art form, even going so far as to say that being “comfortable” is the definition of a successful life. In reality, it is discomfort that we need, not ease, in order to grow up into truly successful humans. Comfort promotes complacency and entitlement. Discomfort promotes fresh discovery and expansion.

Why do you think God repeatedly told the Israelites that only those parts of the Promised Land they actually walked would become theirs? “Every place where you set your foot will be yours” (Deuteronomy 11:24*). To become all that we are capable of becoming, we have to not only accept the liminal spaces in our lives, but befriend them, and even pursue them.

“Get used to different,” as the catchphrase goes.

Every liminal space—whether you asked for it or not—is an invitation to become more whole, and more wholly yourself, than you have been up to now.

What are the liminal spaces you are currently facing in your life? Take a quick survey of the Wheel of Life below, and jot down all that come to mind.

Once you have a list, here are a few questions to ask yourself as you explore each one:

  • What is this liminal space asking of me?

  • Who must I become to master this challenge?

  • What must I learn that I don’t currently know?

  • How must I change my thoughts, attitudes, or habits to navigate this well?

  • What is the gift that lives in this liminal space, beckoning me to claim it?

  • What’s one small but courageous step I can take this week to continue my exploration of this invitation to grow?

One final note: If you reviewed the wheel of life and couldn’t really find any significant liminal spaces in your life, then maybe it's time you stepped out of “comfortable” and tried something daring.

*See also Genesis 13:14-17 and Joshua 1:1-3

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