Alicia Davis Porterfield: Liminal Space

In these last days of 2014, I find myself in liminal space. I’ve been in such space before, but didn’t know what to call it, until I learned the word “liminal” back in my chaplaincy training (CPE). As so often happens for me, finding the word empowered me to claim the reality I’d felt for years.

The word liminal comes from the Latin for “threshold.” In liminal space, we are in between what has been and what is coming, on the threshold of something new that God is doing, but not there yet. It’s the bend in the river, where what has been is over and what is to come is yet unseen.

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In my own experience, liminal space brings great learning and stretching–and usually, plenty of anxiety. I’m not so good at waiting. The in-between usually feels hard.

But sometimes, being on the threshold is exactly what I need and it feels like it.

As 2014 winds down and 2015 is yet to begin, I am in the in-between. In the church year, this is the sixth day of Christmas (six geese a-laying, anyone?), smack in the middle of the full twelve. I am at my parents’ home in the North Georgia mountains, where I am both child and mother, caregiver and care-receiver.

Several years ago, my parents retired to the valley where my mother grew up and built mom’s dream home on a piece of land owned by her father. From their sunroom, I can see the house where my mother grew up and where my sisters and I (and the other dozens of grandchildren) visited throughout our childhoods. One of the many cousins lives there now.

For me, being here in my parents’ house at this time of year is a good physical space to match my experience of liminal space. I am not in charge here. I am not THE mama in this house. I am not responsible for everything (which is how it often feels in my own home). I assist, I suggest, I lend a hand, I help cook and clean up, I do a few projects my mother has put on hold. My sister who is also here does the same. We work and laugh together, remembering and retelling family stories.

In these days of Christmas leading to the New Year, here in this house, my daily anxieties are at bay. I am not haunted by closets that need organizing or writing assignments I need to complete. I do not worry whether I am adequately contributing to God’s kingdom and using my gifts as I “ought.” I have no to-do list. The push of preparing for Christmas is over and the rush of resolutions and back-to-the-grind has not begun.

I just get to live into these relationships that are here now. I visit with cousins who drop by and another whom my sister and I stopped to chat with on our afternoon walk. I snuggle my three year old niece and we stay in our pajamas until late morning playing with blocks and making cookies. I listen to our children laugh together at the kitchen table eating the delicious meals we have cooked together.

Tomorrow, we head home. The miles will roll under our wheels and the hours in the car will slowly tick past. The bend in the river will stretch out into a new set of rapids and deep pools we’ll need to navigate by the grace of God. But not yet.

Now, in this liminal space, in this small sacred place and time, God offers the chance to be. And be at peace.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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Alicia Davis Porterfield is mother to three boys, half a clergy couple and grateful for every moment of rest she receives. She edited A Divine Duet: Ministry and Motherhood (www.helwys.com) and is the midwife of this blog. Contact her at aporterfield@ec.rr.com to claim your spot for a post.

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