When everything is turned inside-out, a jumble of items cascading from a moving box or a partially rearranged room in upheaval, then you can picture a bit of the chaos of a liminal space or season.
Rites of passage move people from one stage, through a liminal stage, and into another stage. You are not yet baptized; you move through the season of preparation for baptism; you are baptized. This progression took early converts from pagan, to neither one nor the other, to Christian, with the preparation for baptism often tracking alongside Lent.
You have completed your college classes, you sit, but you haven’t yet received the diploma or turned your tassel. (Maybe even the best of commencement addresses are hard to listen to because there is inherent discomfort and impatience with in-between stages.)You are no longer undergrad, not yet alumna, simply an in-betweener sitting in the hot sun sweating under your graduation robe.
You are no longer one thing but you are not yet another: like Tom Hanks’ character in The Terminal, sociologically speaking, developmentally speaking, you are stranded in a terminal between places.
Liminal times of no longer one thing-but-not yet another are intensely uncomfortable. Humans are creatures are habit and routine. Like hobbits, we prefer predictability, place, and order. We prefer not to have our nice dishes taken out of our cabinets by a bunch of hungry dwarvish miners who wish to return to their dragon-infested mountain. Even those of us who claim boredom often find security in it. Then something happens to shake us out of our comfortable state of being: perhaps not Gandalf on the doorstep, inviting to an adventure, but something equally unexpected. A diagnosis; a calling; a birth; a death; a move. Sometimes even smaller things can uproot us when we don’t want to be uprooted: a building is torn down; a familiar street closed down with a grassy bank instead; a friend moving away; an arm or leg that doesn’t work well anymore.
Like Bilbo Baggins, we become quite irritable at the disruption, mess, and change.
And yet, like Bilbo, there is that pesky part of us that relishes the invitation to something new. For Bilbo, when Gandalf and Bifur and Bofur and the rest arrived on his doorstep, he was a resident of Hobbiton. While they invaded his hobbit hole, he was in a state of upheaval at the unexpected guests and the proposed adventure. He argued about his identity: who he was, what was reasonable to expect of him, what was very unreasonable to expect of him. But then, at the moment he stepped foot out of his door, running after them without even his favorite things packed, he exited the state of uncertainty and became an adventurer. From quiet hobbit to unsettled hobbit to adventuring hobbit, the arrival of upheaval gave him space to become someone new.
The Holy Spirit loves upheaval, I think. Not chaos – that’s different. But in times when a half-rearranged room is in disarray, the Holy Spirit waltzes in and smiles with possibility. We don’t like liminal states – no longer being one thing, but not yet being another.
But the Holy Spirit specializes in using upheaval to rouse us from sleepiness and get us out the front door, even if we forget our pocket handkerchief on the way.
Are you in a season of upheaval? Do you squirm at being no longer one thing, but not yet another? Do you long for resolution of uncertainty? Is there part of you aching to answer the invitation to become something new?
Good. Those are marks that the Holy Spirit is at work. Now be ready to give in to the adventure of becoming someone new.