One of the things that I quickly learned in my first semester of seminary is that there is an entire set of words unique to the seminary setting. I was introduced to a lot of words that even if I knew them, I never used them in conversation. Yet in seminary these words took on profound meaning. One of these words I was introduced to was “liminal.” It’s OK if you have never heard that word, I had to look it up the first time too. The dictionary definition of liminal is “relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.” For an example of a liminal time, consider the butterfly. At the start it is a caterpillar making a cocoon. At the end it is a butterfly. The middle stage, the chrysalis, is the liminal space. It is the time of transition.
In seminary there was a dual reason why several discussions had an emphasis on liminal space. First, like the butterfly, liminal space is often where transformation happens. Faith by its nature is life changing and transformational. My professors wanted me to think critically about what exactly is happening during that liminal time. Not all transitional time is part of a dramatic transformation. Sometimes liminal space is just that, it is space. It is a time in between, and it can be a time of waiting and anxiousness. In classes that dealt with spiritual development or pastoral care, liminal space was discussed in this second capacity. Often when we are in a period of transition, we want to get out of it quickly and get on to what is next. However, I was taught to consider and emphasize just how God is at work and present within this liminal space. One of the things that came up again and again, is that often we find God most profoundly in liminal times, and we might have missed those blessed times if we just rushed to what is next.
I mention this because November tends to be a liminal time of the year. The month is a period of transition. November tends to be when the seasons move from Fall to Winter. Culturally, November is smashed between the juggernauts of Halloween and Christmas. Within the greater culture, November 1st seems to mark an automatic turning point where pumpkins are replaced with ever greens, Halloween costumes with matching Christmas pajamas, and candy with ginger bread. If you are the type of person who breaks out Christmas decorations on November 1st, then that is fine. However, I do think if we rush too quickly into the “most wonderful time of the year”, we can miss the liminal time of November.
November is a liminal space that we should be aware of and that we should claim as a time to intentionally give thanks. In November we remember those precious saints who have gone before us, we pause to give thanks to all of the brave men and women who have served in the armed forces, and we give thanks for all that God has provided. November is a time of transition. We can rush through it or we can pause and claim the liminal space. We can use this liminal time to give thanks to God for who God is and what God has done. This November, may we join together in Thanksgiving.