Thursday 1 May 2008

The experience of liminality

A chaplain colleague/friend of mine from Kansas City, MO, sent the piece (below) to me today as encouragement for Carole Anne and myself as we prepare for this major transition in our lives. It is so relevant and I'm sharing it here for the benefit of others who may find themselves dealing with similar dynamics. Tim sent this in response to something I had shared earlier today with extended family members and a selected list of friends -- most of which I will include as a reference point at the end, below these very pastoral words of wisdom. -Clair

Thoughts for the Week: 04-28-08

The experience of liminality

My title this week sounds like a fanciful and complicated word. It is also a word with which I was unfamiliar until I read an article recently in one of my professional pastoral care journals. Not knowing the definition, I did some more reading. I found that while many of us may be acquainted with the words “preliminary” and “subliminal”, most of us are not as familiar with the experience of being in a “liminal state”. All of these words have at their roots the word “limen”, or “threshold”. Upon reading a number of definitions of both the word and the experience, the phrase that most often came up was the state of being “betwixt and between”.

To experience liminality is to be in a position of transition. One example is being engaged to be married. No longer really single but not yet married, it is a period of being in between. Using this definition it seems to me that in some ways we are always in this state. We are not who we were yesterday and are yet to be who we will be tomorrow. Life is always changing, moving, taking us though one “threshold” after another. Some transitions are voluntary and enthusiastically anticipated. Others are shocking, painful and unwanted: death, divorce, a significant move, leaving a current job. Each of these life events and so many others that we experience each day push us from one stage of life to another. Even when changes are chosen, they can still be rife with confusion, anxiety, and feelings of being “betwixt and between”.

As I have reflected over my own experiences of liminality, of which there have been many, retrospectively I have been able to see times of considerable personal growth. One of the most significant was the four months of recovery at home after my back surgeries. For much of this time I was limited to resting and doing very little other than taking a daily walk. Even with the support of family and friends, I had times of feeling very alone and vulnerable. In a number of ways I was not who I had been and I had no idea who I would be. I was in what Dr. Seuss described in Oh The Places You’ll Go as “the waiting place”.

My growth came as I allowed myself to be present in the moment, rather than yearning for the past or fearing the future. I began to feel the feelings, name the fears, search through the myriad of thoughts and determine what was truly important. I also discovered that even during my lowest times, I was not alone. There was One who had with me and even whispering to me throughout my transition. Caught up in the “what had been” and the “what might be”, I could only hear my fears. Growth took place when I began to listen. Isn’t it the way with much of life?

As you begin another week...
-May you consider points in your life when you were truly betwixt and between.
-May you reflect upon what helped you to both move forward and grow from the experience.
-May you think about in what ways you might be in a “waiting place” even now.
-And May you know that whenever such times occur, there is One who knows the way through.

Chaplain Tim Brooks, MDiv, BCC
North Kansas City Hospital
2800 Clay Edwards Drive
North Kansas City, MO 64116


The above was shared in response to my request for prayers (and counsel, if people felt so moved to offer it) which I had sent out earlier today...

Wed, April 30

Dear extended family members (and discerning friends)

I've decided to forward (see below) a copy of a reply I sent to a local pastor friend in Goshen this morning, in response to his question about when we are actually moving to Australia. We are mainly asking for your prayers (and counsel if you have it) regarding what comes out of my interview - via another Skype video connection - this coming Saturday evening. We want to be candid about some concerns regarding the challenges we have been facing connected with our current transition to Canberra.

Also, Carole Anne continues to struggle with some physical pain and limits in the functioning of her legs, in the long process of recovery from knee replacement surgeries last summer and fall, and they say it takes up to a year to get back to normal. Our recent travels really stretched her endurance levels, though her "oasis" of rest for 12 days near the end, in New Zealand, while I traveled on, did help a lot. The grueling 36 hours of being awake during all the flights home kind of unraveled her for a while, but she's in a better mood now.

Please join us (in a spiritual and emotional sense) for the next couple of weeks in what has turned into an ongoing exercise in patience, faith, and fortitude -- and pray that we can pace ourselves appropriately to protect our energy levels, as we surround ourselves in a sea of bubble wrap and boxes -- and piles of things we MUST give away!

As the byline says in the email signature of another of my pastor friend's: "What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us."


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Clair Hochstetler <>
Date: Wed, Apr 30, 2008 at 10:30 AM

Well, John, I never seem to take on "simple" transitions, for some reason...

I still won't have my work permit in time, but since we finalized the sale of our house yesterday, and agreed to turn over possession of it by the end of May (renting it from the buyers until then) we will move to Australia at that point with our valid visitors visas which are good for another three month stretch. We plan to settle into a place we can "house sit" through August, make some friends and adjust to the new environment, instead of wait around here - but it has become a real exercise of faith that "things will work out somehow." When Carole Anne has waned I have waxed, and when I waned recently, she has waxed -- so we pull each other along!

But, this means Carole Anne and I have only a month left to finish sorting through all our earthly belongings (including many files and books of mine) and get it all sold, shipped, stored...or surrendered! It's becoming quite the emotional/spiritual experience.

Keep praying on our behalf -- that the Australian immigration officials will see the light and give me a "case number" requested by The Canberra Hospital upon which I can build by submitting the documents I want to give them and which are needed to complete the process -- which, reputedly, takes a couple of months to gain the needed work visa. It's only when I have that permit in hand that I can actually get paid by the hospital, or a church there, as well. I really hope it won't take that long, yet, but it realistically could. That Chaplain Manager hospital position currently only has a salary enough to fund three days a week - though the work really could and should be full-time. But that is a goal: for the funding base to be further developed, over time.

Meanwhile, this Saturday evening, I am also being interviewed by the Deacons Board of the ______ Church in Canberra. (____ ... and their senior pastor is affiliated with the Anabaptist Network of Australia and New Zealand) This interview is in regards to serving them for a couple days a week as their interim associate pastor.

Actually, there is considerable risk involved, especially financially, as food costs there are double what they are here in Indiana, and housing costs are at least triple. The salary structures can't possibly make up for all that difference, and this means there are implications for Carole Anne, as well, so we are "counting the cost."

From a mere secular perspective we are absolutely crazy to be doing this. But, we are growing a lot in our faith through this thing, for reasons not yet fully understood, which we continue to feel called to pursue -- to extend ourselves beyond our comfort level and be in ministry in this part of the world...

Thank-you in advance,

No comments:

Post a Comment