Thursday, September 05, 2019


I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,
Driv’n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world
And all her train were hurl’d. 
Henry Vaughan, from 'The World'
Time and eternity are not the same thing at all, which may seem like an obvious kind of a thing to say, except that we are too often tempted to imagine eternity as an endless progression of time; rather than, as Vaughan, I think rightly, pictures it, endless, resting light.

Like Vaughan, too, I have caught glimpses, at times especially when death has seemed closer than otherwise, of a state where time has no longer any dominion, any more than what we commonly imagine as death: a state of peace and limitless love, which seemed the same thing as light, for all was light. This is a condition more to be longed for than feared, and profoundly welcoming, accepting, healing.

We sometimes seem to worry, to wonder about judgement, and about Christ as our "advocate in Heaven" (1 John 2.1), and yet Paul's words in the first chapter of his letter to the Colossians seem closer to my own heart:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together... through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. 
Colossians 1.15-17,20
Christ is our peace, and he is himself the love and mercy of God (that aspect of the triune God that is all love and mercy). Perhaps the very pain of prayer is the means of that mercy in us for those for whom we pray, our own small participation in the work of the cross. But we are at the edge here of what human language can do, and I am no apostle. All I do know, and that for certain, is that his love and mercy are in all and through all, and that we can never fall out of that love - and that through that love we cannot be other than loved into eternity itself.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

On the edge...

Limen is the Latin word for threshold. A “liminal space” is the crucial in-between time—when everything actually happens and yet nothing appears to be happening. It is the waiting period when the cake bakes, the movement is made, the transformation takes place. One cannot just jump from Friday to Sunday in this case, there must be Saturday! This, of course, was always the holy day for the Jewish tradition. The Sabbath rest was the pivotal day for the Jews, and even the dead body of Jesus rests on Saturday, waiting for God to do whatever God plans to do. It is our great act of trust and surrender, both together. A new “creation ex nihilo” is about to happen, but first it must be desired. . . . 
Remember, hope is not some vague belief that “all will work out well,” but biblical hope is the certainty that things finally have a victorious meaning no matter how they turn out. We learned that from Jesus, which gives us now the courage to live our lives forward from here. Maybe that is the full purpose of Lent. 
Richard Rohr, Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent, Saint Anthony Messenger Press, 2010
...the post-liminal is the changed state. The re-emergence, blinking, into the daylight from the shadows. The postliminal is a transformed state, it is the time when we come down from the mountain with our faces bright. When we walk among our friends, unrecognisable. When we return to the tribe as an adult, having left as a child. When we arrive at our destination unknown, amid the acrid stench of whale vomit. Because the liminal state cannot last, it cannot be properly sustained over a very long period of time, except perhaps by cats. The intensity is too much, it is too draining. 
One of the keys to surviving the liminal stage, despite its troubling lack of ritualised rites of passage, is to look for someone who has passed this way before: a guide, a supporter, a teacher, coach or midwife. Someone with the ability to understand the difficulties of the liminal stage, and to help us through them. They help us not to rush the process, a child is should be born only when it is ready, and a key Christian metaphor has long been that of being ‘born again’. While this has been taken to mean many things, it’s worth consciously reflecting on in the context of liminality. Those of us who dwell on the threshold, slipping and winding like black cats through the shadows of the in-between-time, must be looking for the way through, that moment of re-birth. That point when we come out of the darkness, and out in to the light. The process of birth is markedly helped by the presence of a midwife, and/or a doula, just as so many of the rites of passage in our lives are helped by those with the subtle skill and experience to help us navigate them. If you find yourself in a liminal space, as you will inevitably do at various times in your life: dwelling on another threshold, look for help from those who have already passed that way, you may recognise them from their shining faces, their rough desert clothes, or from the overpowering smell of whale vomit, or maybe even sometimes from the holes in their hands and feet.
Simon Cross, Dwellers on the threshold. (August 2019)
This passage from Simon Cross' essay (do click through and read the whole thing) reminds me how I have often thought that the cross is the final liminal place, the very edge between heaven and earth, death and the endless life of God. I say, "the cross is" intentionally: for, as Thibault explained to Peter Abelard, the cross goes on through all time, like the grain in a tree. It is there in the grief of those who have completely lost their way, in the death of the innocent, in the tears of the betrayed.

Paul the Apostle wrote, "for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3.3) The liminal space is a kind of death, and the dead are our companions there, which is perhaps why we pray along with "angels and archangels and all the company of heaven", amongst "so great a cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12.1). Our own dying will be into liminality again, into the still cross-shadowed presence of our Saviour, and accompanied by the prayers of those who have gone before. And even though all these crossings of the in-between time are necessarily made in solitude, we are not alone.