In an assortment of conversations, I have listened to family members and friends use a variety of words to attempt to describe the last ten weeks. Words like disorientation, surreal and nightmare have rolled off the lips of more than one person. Given this unprecedented season of life, it seems impossible to reconcile with just one word that could begin to describe or explain the experiences of everyone. In fact, it seems unlikely and inconsiderate to settle on just one word.
Given the opportunity to label the last ten weeks, what would you name this season of life? In other words, what title would best identify and describe your experience? Is there a way to conceptually describe it without attempting to summarize or explain everyone’s experience? Fortunately, we are not the first to experience an unexpected season of confusion and disorientation.
In John 21:1-19 we find the disciples in a new space – an unexpected season of life. I assume they had difficulties describing the season in which they found themselves. Most certainly they found themselves hopeless, perplexed and confused. Jesus was crucified and resurrected, but the disciples were in what we might call limbo, caught in-between and disoriented. What were they to make of the last three years of life? They didn’t know what to do, so they go back to what they know, fishing. They couldn’t see or comprehend it yet, but they were on the brink of being invited into something new.
One of my favorite authors, Richard Rohr, calls this space liminal space. He describes it as an inner state and sometimes an outer situation where we can begin to think and act in new ways. Rohr states, “It is where we are betwixt and between, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the next. We usually enter liminal space when our former way of being is challenged or changed.” Insert any number of circumstances…a tornado rips through your city, parents’ divorce or we experience a relocation of a job. Regardless of the circumstances, Rohr says that in this space, “we are not certain or in control.” According to him, the global pandemic we are facing leaves all of humanity experiencing “collective liminal space.”
For Rohr, “the very vulnerability and openness of liminal space allows room for something genuinely new to happen. We are empty and receptive.” It is here, in this space that we are most teachable, often because we are most humbled. In other words, it is in this space that “we have the opportunity to call so-called normalcy into creative question.” Many refer to this space as the wilderness. Whatever you choose to call it, “time spent in this liminal experience can help us reenter the world with freedom and new creative approaches to life.”At this point, the disciples had yet to fully comprehend Jesus and His mission. Their nets were not the only thing bare; they were empty, receptive and teachable. Caught between two worlds, Jesus invited them into a new experience, a new stage of life. He simply says, “follow me.” Perhaps returning to what they thought was normal wasn’t really an option. What would it look like to use this liminal space that we find ourselves in to listen for Jesus’ invitation? Whether we are currently perplexed, confused or disoriented, we might just be on the brink of being invited into something new. May we reenter the world with freedom and new creative approaches to life!
Jon Micah is the Minister of Christian Formation: Discipleship at Hendersonville Church of Christ. He is the husband to Jenn and dad to four amazing children, Christine, Lara, Jack and Luke. He’s an avid Houston Astro’s fan, occasional action chef, loves camping and spending weekends with his wife in Chattanooga.