As I write, these stacks of books and boxes surround me.
Various piles of things to be thrown away, recycled, or shredded lie scattered around my office. Church folks stop by to wish me well, have one more goodbye, or just hang out while I prepare to leave for a call I have accepted at another church.
Sharing the news I am leaving has felt a little like breaking up with 570 people, which is the size of my congregation.
“It’s not you, it’s me.”
“No, you didn’t do anything wrong; my life and call are taking a different path.”
“Let us be grateful for the ways we have shaped each other and honor the role we have played in each other’s journeys.”
We have been able to thank and bless each other in beautiful and healthy ways as the weeks since my announcement have passed, and we have all adjusted to the news.
But it is not easy.
Most change, no matter how wonderful, is perceived as a loss by someone – even if it is marriage, the birth of a child, a great new job – there are tinges, if not broad swaths, of loss.
Yet that is life, which is nothing if not continual successions of transition.
As Buddhist teachings remind us, everything is impermanent. We are, to some degree, in a constant state of liminality – the betwixt and between – whether it be an actual life transition involving making major changes, or something more internal that we are working towards (or being forced to work towards) growing into, or accepting.
The word liminal is a derivative of the Latin word limen, which most closely resembles the word for threshold. Being on the threshold is an experience we all know.
At times it is something dying, something we are shedding and are moving on from.
At other times it is something asking to be born – within you, around you, but whose impending debut is asking something of you. A door is waiting to be opened, and you have been given a key, whether you like it or not.
The Bible is in some sense a collection of stories about liminality; the actual physical wandering and looking for a home; people and communities moving from one internal state to another.
The Israelites, the early Jesus movements, the continual calls to realize that God’s grace and realm are sometimes uncomfortably bigger than our own hearts. So how do we navigate such spaces?
What does it mean to follow our compass?
Over the years I have found the following helpful for myself, as well as many people I have had the privilege of serving.
- Embrace the space.
Space is crucial; just ask child development experts. British psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott, helped show us how crucial transitional space is—it is necessary soil for creativity, for one’s sense of self. Space is where our creativity, a huge part of our essence, spreads its wings and flies.
- Stay curious.
There is great power in changing anxiety and fear into curiosity. I wonder what will happen now? Will it be x or y, or something I totally could not have predicted? Something new and different will always happen. And if that isn’t something you would have chosen, well, something new will happen after that too.Transform anxiety into curiosity.
- Have a mantra – one that is healthy.
Not something like “win or go home,” but something that quickly gets a core truth for you. I think of mantras as burst prayers –boom they get at the core of great spiritual power quickly. These can be verses, teachings, songs, poems, or whatever works for you.One of mine that a mentor taught me years ago is, “Yes. Thank you.” Meaning whatever happens, I accept it as part of what life has brought me. Whether I define it as good/bad, it is what is in this moment. I add a thank you for whatever the gem is that will eventually emerge from the situation.
- Use your memory.
That’s what scripture is – folks saying let’s write these things down so we can look back and see how God has shown up. Our lives are as sacred as any scriptures.The stories you have, or what you have witnessed, of how God has shown up for you. The moments of grace and transcendence you can’t explain. Look back and remember the ways that God has labored on your behalf, and lean on these memories as the new unknown is navigated.
Rev. Barbara Lea Callaghan is the Second Minister at Hancock United Church of Christ in Lexington, Ma. and a licensed psychotherapist. Barbara is passionate about building communities of depth and love that are engaged in liberative social transformation through the power and grace of God. Barbara is a runner, cyclist, hiker, writer and general lover of life. When Barbara is not working she can be found outside exploring near and far with her wife Kate and their dogs Bela and Cuzco.