Liminality of grace

There is a moment when you stand on the shore, having left the comfort of the beach camp and before you’re truly swimming, where you are between worlds: fearing the cold of the water and missing the familial warmth and comfort of the sand – at least that is how one person described the concept of liminal time to me this week. Unfortunately, as a year-round cold-water swimmer (mostly in rivers) this analogy does not really hold true; to embrace the cold waters is pure joy 🙂 So I must find my own point of reference…

Standing on a large boulder at the quarry and looking into the forest green waters, the moon is reflected right back up at me as though carved into the granite. The sun is dimming, and the water will of course be cold, but we have come to receive this much needed ‘therapy’. I suddenly see two huge leeches, both around 13cm long in the shallows! We know as the water begins to warm these favoured lockdown spots become a no go but had hoped for one last dip. So we stand – in the liminal time – and we hesitate.

The liminal time is a space of uncertainty, a place of unknowing. Our forthright, dive straight in approach had been stopped in its tracks. What should we do? Should we chance it? How many others were lurking? We hover in our cossies, getting cold, peering into the sunless habitat below and talking through our options. We have never let anything stop us before, not wind, rain, ice, snow. Having built up a local knowledge (particularly of the moor) we find safety in our planning and preparation. But what do we do when the unexpected happens?

We stood. On the edge. Almost paralysed by the unexpected.

We were laughing and chatting, but wholly inactive until we realised we needed a new plan, and so drove on to the river Bovey for a short and shallow dip, now under the cover of darkness. That night I dreamt of leeches and swimming in water so deep no one knew what lay beneath…

The pandemic has meant that we find ourselves in a liminal time, where the old familiar ways have had to cease, but the path ahead is not yet visible. For most of us this is deeply uncomfortable, and our primary objective will be to move on, get back to normal or put this whole mess behind us. It is at this point that I want to consider the impact that the pandemic has had on our wildlife.

While we race to ‘put things back as they should be’ and make plans to return to the new normal, it is a contrasting story for our wildlife. In the height of the first lockdown, we were regularly shown footage of Kashmiri goats in Llandudno, deer sauntering down the bigg market in Newcastle and beyond, to Indo-Pacific humpback (pink) dolphins returning to Hong Kong. The irony of our being locked down, while finally, the wildlife could thrive, should not be lost. The peregrine falcons at Corfe Castle are not hoping for a return to normal – nor wild bees benefiting from the reduced levels of air pollution (something that we humans can relate to) for them, normality will mean loss of habitat, noisy tourism… What would happen if we used this liminal time to listen?

When we listen for God’s heart, we hear birdsong
When we listen for God’s heart, we hear willows cracking on the river bank
When we listen for God’s heart, we hear young otters playing
When we listen to God’s heart, we hear all of creation

We are reminded in John 10: 11-18 that the good shepherd has come for everyone and everything; Jesus does not put the limiter on faith that we Christians so often impose, as we try to boundary and covet our belief system. The life of Christ and the gift of grace are gifts of extreme abundance and exaggerated wonder for the whole universe. This passage is a primary example of the depth and breadth of God’s love for her diverse creation:

‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.’ (v. 14-17 NRSV)

Diversity is the key – equality is embedded into this gospel truth – we are drawn into Christ’s love from all denominations, ethnicity, sexuality, class, race, gender, age, species, religion… to Jesus, everyone is family:

‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’ (Mark 3: 35 NRSV)

Surely this gospel message cannot be meant only for the few, or even just for humans? For Jesus clearly states that not all the sheep belong to this fold, but that he will bring them also! To bring life in abundance sounds like an expansive, bottomless ocean of inclusive living and loving in justice: a sea of grace unimaginable to our walled and limited exploration of the divine. We find ourselves in a season of waiting, in that liminal place where God resides and grace saturates the shores of our unknowing, in our vulnerabilities, our displacement, our disorientation and our pain.

The Liminal Wall

I perch,
on the liminal wall
awaiting –
to be fed?

Waiting for the scraps
of a
past life –
now dead?

The birds peck,
at the seeds sown
from their perch,
on the liminal wall.

I pray that we can learn to be a people who embrace this season of waiting with curiosity and wisdom.

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