April 28, 2024 Essay: Betwixt and Between

Apr 19, 2024

The predominant themes of the Easter season are joy and new life, yet these 50 days between Easter and Pentecost can also teach us something about being in liminal space. Richard Rohr, the Franciscan spiritual writer and teacher, says of such times, “All transformation takes place here. There alone is our old world left behind, though we’re not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin.”

To be in liminality is to be betwixt and between. These threshold moments require us to hold with integrity a variety of emotions—hope, joy, relief, anxiety, confusion, fear, grief, impatience, among many others. Change can be terrifying; it’s understandable that one would want to go back to the familiar, to the way it used to be. Consider Mary Magdalene: The Gospel of John reports that on Easter morning, Jesus had to tell her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father.” I’m sure she wanted to believe that the Jesus she knew was back and everything would be as it was. God’s dream, however, was for something unimaginably greater. And this would require time and patience on the part of the disciples. Between resurrection and the coming of the Spirit, they had to go to the upper room.

Through these remaining days of Easter, I invite you to reflect on the liminal places in your life, your personal “upper room”. Perhaps there is a child who will be graduating next month, preparing to leave home for new adventures. Perhaps a loved one has died, and you are still navigating the stages of grief, waiting on a sense of acceptance and peace. Perhaps you are newly retired and still searching for a routine. For my family, our liminal space at this moment is the loss of family homes. The houses that belonged to my grandparents and to my wife’s grandparents are both being sold. Generations of memories were made in these special places, but now we must let them go. This transition has taught me to consider anew what it means to “come home” because the day inevitably arrives when you can’t come home anymore. I know, however, that new memories in new places are waiting to be fashioned. A new chapter of our families’ stories is going to be written, but right now, we are on that blank page between the two.

The spiritual masters tell us that these liminal moments are spiritually rich times. I have found this to be true. I think this is because there is vulnerability in beholding new life, in coming to grips with a new reality. Oftentimes, when we’re off balance, when our defenses are down, when we’re feeling bewildered, God can do God’s best work! Again, think of the disciples—after the liminality that came with the first Easter, they were instilled with the courage, zeal, and resolve to carry the good news to “the ends of the earth.”

The lectionary readings this season, especially from the Acts of the Apostles, affirm that beyond liminal space awaits something new and life-giving. When Pentecost came, the Spirit moved the disciples from a place of waiting to a place of courageous journeying, witnesses, and ministering. They “left home”, whether it was the confines of the upper room, the precincts of the Temple, or the city of Jerusalem itself, and were sent to places they could never have imagined, to a future that was unknowable but ripe with hope and promise.

As we journey toward the close of the Easter season, my prayer is that God gives us the courage to attentively, hopefully behold the power of the resurrection, savoring the moments in our “upper rooms” of liminality, whatever and wherever they may be, as we prepare to follow the Spirit to a grace-filled future.

— Brian Pinter, Pastoral Associate