On Friday, July 15th, 2022, Micha and I returned from a nearly 8 week sabbatical / pilgrimage which we used to drive to Alaska and back. We drove around 8,700 miles living in our camper on and off grid. This was the first time since joining the staff full time in August of 2006 that I have been away from the valley and (mostly) free of the constant call of instantaneous electronic communication. It was a time of recreation – literally – re-creating. Stepping away from entrenched patterns of being myself, and imagining a different way of being.
The first time I had ever heard of “liminality” and “liminal space” was in a message that Charla preached. The concept immediately took up residence in my way of thinking about life and my response to it. In a way, a sabbatical is a type of liminal space. It reminds me of the way that you toss a ball. The ball goes up, then the ball comes down – but in the middle is this moment where the ball hovers in space and time in its transition between upward and downward motion. 8 Weeks seemed like an absolutely luxurious amount of time – so it was very startling when I realized that 2 weeks had passed, and then 4 weeks and then 6 weeks, and then there was only a week left. In retrospect, it feels almost as transient as that moment when a ball hovers in the air.
Liminal space represents that period of transition in our lives – that threshold between an event and our response. There is a moment of creativity and possibility before we cement our destiny with an attitude, word, or action. Most of us have a value system that bypasses the liminal space and predicates an automatic response. But as we become aware of liminality, we may realize that we actually don’t have to respond to a particular stimulus with jealousy, anger, fear, shame, blame, guilt, regret, etc. There are a host of options available to us from which to choose in that moment of grace – if we can get past our stubborn attachment to being the person we have always been! Let me give an example that came to me during my time away. Whenever we are faced with loss – whether loss of life, property, independence, relationship, opportunity, etc. – the most automatic response is an inner tightening fear, probably coupled with regret and sadness. But it is also possible to choose love and gratitude at that threshold of creation. And what we choose creates patterns that become habits.
It was hard to see my sabbatical come to a close. I love my work, but when I left on May 22nd, I was exhausted. I wasn’t sure if I had the necessary ambition, creativity, and well of personal time and attention to give. I braced for the constricting fear. And then I realized that I could choose love and gratitude instead. I am full of love for the people who share my journey and who covered for me in my absence and I am grateful for this precious time to be away from my responsibilities and the pressure to perform. My hope is that, after a lifetime of choosing gratitude during times of loss, that when I am faced with THE BIG ONE, the response will well up from a lifetime of training. The liminal space will arrive, and I will think, “What a privilege it has been to share this time and these resources with these precious people who I love. I am so incredibly lucky and grateful.”
Beautifully said, Paul, thank you. I admit I am poor at allowing myself liminal space, but thanks to this note will be redoubling my effort!
I love the way you phrase that, Esteban – “Allowing yourself liminal space.” That makes me wonder if there are ways to increase the space that we give ourselves for creativity in considering alternative responses and paths forward? Thanks for your insightful comment!
Dear Paul: Absolutely thought provoking. I don’t remember hearing about liminal space. How wonderful that your sabbatical had such a profound effect on you! Praise God for you and Micha!
Dear Donna, “thought provoking” is one of my favorite compliments – because I don’t want to form opinions for other people, but rather engage in dialogue. I’m curious if you will have any thoughts that arise that you will want to share. In the meantime, it’s always great to hear from you and I praise God for You and Roy as well. Much love and many hugs ~Paul
I am so grateful you and Micha were able to share this space you created on your travels. I am so grateful you are back with us to continue to share your beautiful gifts of music and selves. I believe that liminal space is coming through in your music. Thanks for bringing your gift back to us.
Deb, I’m not at all surprised that you understand the importance of making use of the grace offered us in liminal space, because that is very closely related to the centering prayer practice that you teach and practice. Thanks for your “welcome back” – I always know that I’m in the right place when I feel like I am at home when I come back from vacation. We are so grateful to call this beautiful creation “home.”