In Godly Play training I learned about taking time to introduce a parable. Holding a golden box that contains a parable, we share and wonder about the parable box itself. We note the golden color because parables are worth even more than gold. We share that it looks like a present, but different than a present that we would receive for our birthday, a parable is a present to us from even before we were born. In Godly Play, parables also have a lid, because sometimes, it is hard to get in. But not to worry – if you keep coming back, one day the parable may open up for you. When hear or tell a Godly Play story, I am often struck by how I process the story – and the story I take with me, is different depending on my circumstances or emotion. Today, I get to share with you what the parables of the lost opened up for me. An opening that is different than how I have opened this parable before.
Our text today includes two of three parables of the lost: the lost sheep and the lost coin. There are three parables of the lost written in Luke 15 – which includes the parable of the lost son (not included in our liturgy today). All three parables of the lost have similar structure. Something precious is lost. It is found. There is great celebration. The celebrations are extravagant – perhaps even outlandish! Many of the parables Jesus tells are paradoxically over-the-top in one way or another. In today’s text, we find a celebration with friends and neighbors in response to the finding a lost sheep and a lost coin.
However, as I prepared my time with you today, something new opened up for me... This time, it was the space between lost and found.
Perhaps this opening in the parable of the space between what is lost to what is found comes from the breadth of my experience and work outside our church community. Perhaps this is particularly relevant in my experience here at Royal Lane in our in-between time.
As a professional chaplain and now a Clinical Pastoral Education program educator, I have a breadth of experience with the space between. This liminal space is the time between “what was” and “next.”
Liminal is from the Latin word ‘limen’, which means threshold. A liminal space is a place of transition, a time of waiting and not knowing the future. A Liminal space is a space often experienced as “free fall,” where the securities of what is known, what can be controlled or certain, is out of reach. In my experience, liminal spaces are spaces that people feel challenged by and uncomfortable with the liminality, regardless of their previous life experiences, education, background, or culture.
When a person or group is in a place of liminal space, the work of the chaplain is to learn the art of holding the space. Holding space is important, because a rush to fix, lighten, or move too quickly out of the liminal space is of detriment to persons receiving care. In these liminal spaces, an act of care and support is to instead: hold space for the other person and acknowledge and normalize the deep vulnerability it takes to truly feel their pain, discouragement, fear, or dismay.
It took liminal space to take the time to search the wilderness for a lone sheep, or to sweep and search every crevice of one’s home for a small coin. Holding space requires time, energy, and a capacity to lean into the unknown.
Richard Rohr writes about liminal space through the Center for Action and Contemplation. Rohr states: “Liminal space is where we are most teachable, often because we are most humbled. Liminality keeps us in an ongoing state of shadowboxing instead of ego-confirmation, struggling with the hidden side of things, and calling so-called normalcy into creative question. It’s no surprise then that we generally avoid liminal space.”
In my experience, avoidance can take many forms. Sometimes, avoidance can be celebrated in the American culture of productivity and action, rather than the embrace of a liminal space that needs time, and reflection.
What I can also tell you from my experience of sitting with patients, families, and clergy in the space between, is a common thread – a reaching back to what feels secure and safe, and resistance to moving toward something new or different. In times of great grief, chaplains normalize resistance and reaching back as grief response, and supporting others includes helping families to take one small step into the space of the unknown – their personal liminal space – as they leave the hospital without their loved one for the first time.
When clergy are training in the hospital setting through the CPE program, resistance can look like reaching back to what feels secure by holding on to a faith or a belief system as they have known it to be, even when their experience is inviting them to expand their faith to a wider, deeper knowing.
My theorist in my education practice is Richard Rohr, who states (and I agree!): “You normally have to let go of the old and go through a stage of unknowing or confusion, before you can move to another level of awareness or new capacity.” That sounds like a vulnerable free-fall in liminal space.
Holding liminal space takes strength and vulnerability. It goes against the instinctual human nature to protect ourselves and prove ourselves. It takes effort, courage, and trust in one another. Liminal space cannot be taken lightly. It must be fostered and nurtured.
As one of the many in-house chaplains here at Royal Lane, from my experience, I invite you to embrace this liminal space that we are in. A liminal space in the church is a meeting at the intersection of who we were, and who we are about to become.
Church, how is liminal space – and the anxiety that unendingly comes along with it having us reaching back for what is secure and known? Where is our expression of hope for the future of the church for our babies, children, and teens?
Perhaps, another way to frame the question it is to ask: where are we allowing ourselves to dream, imagine, and hope – and what are we resisting?
On August 7, 2022, Wake Forest Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina voted to dissolve after 66 years of ministry to the Wake Forest University and Winston-Salem community. Rev. Rayce J. Lamb, the Interim Pastor of Wake Forest Baptist Church wrote these words to share with the Alliance of Baptists community:
“There is something profoundly holy about holding space in the in-between—that time where tomorrow is uncertain, but the past has already slipped out of our reach. My time as Interim Pastor has been a bit unique. When I was installed, Wake Forest Baptist Church was not actively conducting a pastoral search for a new senior pastor and it knew there was a possibility that they may never do so again. Rather, they were in a deep discernment process, consciously hitting pause in order to have the capacity, space, and time to listen to where and to what God might be calling them to next even if that meant death.
When a person or a faith community is faced with the possibility of dying, holding space is a profound act of love. It is a way to say, you are not alone and whatever tomorrow may bring, I will be here with you just as God is with us now. Your presence is holy and more often than not your main task is to simply be. But the time of the in-between can also be a time of liberation. When yesterday is gone and tomorrow is uncertain, there seems to be a new freedom in what can be done today. For (Wake Forest Baptist Church), this freedom came in the form of a renewed energy around the call of the local church to community.
…I’ve learned a lot from my time as Interim Pastor at Wake Forest Baptist Church, but perhaps the biggest nugget of wisdom I’ll walk away from this experience with is that when we are presented with the opportunity to enter into a time of the in-between, we should welcome it. It grants us space to rest, to imagine, and to do things just for the sake of doing them. It frees us to move alongside the Spirit, embracing today as a gift and leaving the realities of tomorrow, for tomorrow.”
In our parable today, the space between the lost and found required the woman and the shepherd to be fully present in their reality. To enter the liminal space of unknown. In these parables, they come to the other side with great rejoicing and celebration. But the celebration comes after the time and challenge it took to set aside all other things of importance, and enter the space between, and searching for what was lost.
My challenge to you: Consider the season you are in personally, and the liminal space we are in congregationally. How can we hold space in the in-between, so we can be prepared for the: what is to come?
I must also say that my professional role as chaplain and educator is not to identify the answer, but to ask the questions. Good, intentional questions are supportive and helpful. Good questions can help persons, institutions, and congregations identify what is the most true within themselves. A good, creative question might lead to new awareness or capacity.
What do we do with our space between? What will Royal Lane be in five years, fifteen years, or when the leaders of the church are our children? When embracing liminal space, there is room for questions like: What can we hope for, dream of, and grow in new awareness during our own space between what was, and what is next?
My hope is that it will end including a great celebration. Perhaps one of outlandish proportion!