I’ve long been fascinated with the concept of liminal time—those thresholds in life, the portals that usher us from one stage of growth and awareness into another. My word for the year, in fact, is Thresholds: metaphors of birth and rebirth, sleep and waking, change, transition, transformation.
In my experience, Ash Wednesday is such a time, a potent moment of transition that leads us into the darkness of Lent.
A lot of people don’t like Lent, I know. It’s seen as a bleak forty days in the wilderness, a long mea culpa, complete with hair shirt and fasting, beating the breast, and bemoaning our sinful state. But I don’t see it that way at all.
I see Lent as an opportunity to learn from the darkness. To pause and listen to the sounds of the desert at night, to see new stars and hear the night birds calling. Not to give something up, but to take something in—new truths, new practices, new insights.
Most of us don’t care much for the in-between time. We’d rather be here or there, then or now, not hovering somewhere in limbo. We prefer light to darkness, answers to questions, open doors to mysterious veils that sway on the breath of the Unknown.
And yet, if we think about it, the span of our lives is carried out in liminal spaces. We are always on the verge of something, transitioning between Who We Are and Who We’re Called to Be. We are ever in the cycle between darkness and light, and no matter how fervently we shut our eyes and pray for the dawn to come, night must run its full course.
So perhaps a better approach to Lent would be to step fearlessly into the darkness, to breathe the night air and feel out the path, one step at a time. To take with us, into whatever dawn may come, the blessing and trust that can only be garnered in the dark. To walk by faith, and not by sight.
In the space between Here
and Out There
lies the infinite, dizzying
fear of the Fall,
the dark Abyss
that threatens my need
In the time between Now
lies the looming, unanswerable
question of Tomorrow,
the myth of Certainty,
the sweet deceptive fairy tale
that promises berries without thorns
and a future without heartbreak.
Always, always, the liminal time,
teetering on thresholds,
pausing at portals,
testing every sill and doorstep,
holding my breath at dawn,
exhaling at dusk.
Teach me, Great Spirit of the Holy In-Between,
to trust the darkness,
to trust your keeping,
to pry open my fingers,
cup my palms,
the blessing of the night.
©Penelope J. Stokes