Liminal Spaces and the God who Hides

May 30, 2022

A liminal space is a place between two worlds.   A liminal space can be a cave which is both on top of the earth but also in the earth.  It can be a beach which is the physical space between ocean and land.  It can be adolescence which is the temporal space between childhood and adulthood.  It can be  moving back in with your parents after your freshman year of college for the summer feeling like a new person but coming back to a familiar place that no longer feels the same.   It can be an airport which is the space between two destinations.  It can be moving to a brand new city that doesn’t feel like home yet but eventually will. When a close family member passes, it is the emotional space between feeling like they should still be walking on the earth and accepting that they are not.

I have often lived in the space between two worlds.  There is my home country, the USA, where I have spent about half my life and then there are my host countries (Canada, Turkey, Italy, Austria, Nigeria and Kazakhstan) where I have spent the other half of my life.  When I’m in one, I miss the other one.  I don’t think my experience is unique to me.   We all have places set vividly in our minds where we no longer exist but are still very vivid to us, whether it be our elementary school, our old neighborhood, a previous job or many other places and/or times significant to us.

I had an interesting insight not long ago.  I know that I often seek out new places to go and new people to meet.  I’ve always thought this was because I like adventure and I get bored easily.  But recently I have begun to wonder if part of my desire is to situate myself in liminal spaces in order to gain new insights and revelation.

Liminal spaces are to be embraced, for they come infrequently but with the potential for great insight.  We do not always live in liminality.  Often our lives are routine, normal and comforting.  But when we find ourselves in a liminal space, that can be an amazing opportunity.  It is like a portal into understanding through which we step outside of our normality and examine what is often too familiar to be recognized.  When we travel, we frequently  find our senses heightened and insights begin to enter our mind.  We see our existence with fresh eyes and realize new truths.  We perceive our home that we have left in a different way.  But this liminality is fleeting.  We are wired as humans to get used to our surroundings.  So after a few weeks or months, what was once new begins to feel normal and we lose those special senses.

It’s like God.  He is all around us, permeating every minute of every day.  Yet we don’t perceive the meaning of each moment because it is just too much to take in.  It takes special intention to find Him many times. I have my students do an exercise called “Fifty Things” in which they pick a random hour they were awake the day before and make a list of fifty words or phrases to describe that one hour.  Students are stunned when they slow down time to find out how much actually occurred during that one hour.  Being limited, we cannot possibly take in this level of understanding of every waking hour of every day.  So meaning stays hidden from us.

We don’t often talk in our Western Christianity about God hiding Himself.  Usually we focus on how clear His presence is from His creation, that the heavens declare His glory.  But what of the verses entreat us to seek what is hidden?  I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. (Isaiah 45:3)  Later in that same chapter, Isaiah writes Truly, You are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, Savior! (Isaiah 45:15).  God isn’t always obvious.  Sometimes He hides Himself and His truth and calls on us to seek it out.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  (Jeremiah 29:13).

Why would God hide Himself?  Why does it take special effort or circumstances to gain insight? As is written in Proverbs 2: 3-5:  Indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of GodIt must be that the seeking causes us to value the treasure more, as with the man who found a pearl in a field and sold everything he owned to buy that field (Matt 13:44-46).

When we find ourselves in a liminal space our immediate inclination is often to try to find a way out of it.  We don’t like feeling uncomfortable and uncertain.  We don’t want to question what we used to be confident of.  However, I would urge you to consider viewing this space as an opportunity to be embraced.  Don’t distract yourself by trying too quickly to make the place feel like home.  Don’t numb the strangeness only with comfort.  Instead, press into it.  Write down your questions and your insights.  Ask God what He is speaking to you in this new place.  Dialogue with trusted people about how this liminality is affecting you.  There is great treasure hidden in these times, just waiting for you to seek it out.  The liminality breaks up the soil that usually covers it making the ground much easier to dig through to uncover the riches.  Don’t waste your discomfort.  See what God has for you in the liminal space.

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