editor's note: This article was first published in the January-Febuary 2002 issue, only months after the attacks on September 11, 2001.
"They sat there on the ground beside him for seven days and seven nights. To Job they never spoke a word, so sad a sight he made." —Job 2:13
IN RECENT STUDIES of initiation rites, which seem to have been strategic for human survival in most of human history, I have discovered from Victor Turner the concept of "liminal space." He says that it is very hard to come by in the modern and now post-modern world. We are now too strategic, functional, and hurried to easily seek what the ancients sought above all else. Only pain is now strong enough to lead us into this unique place "where all significant transformation happens."
I suspect America is in a unique liminal space [post-Sept. 11]. Our attitudes are numbed, absolute, and strange. The old constituencies are unpredictable and misshapen. There is something new afoot, not only politically but also somehow archetypally and on the level of the psyche and soul. We are tipping on the balance, and usually God is an opportunist in such situations—waiting at the bottom of the slide.
Let me first explain what I mean by liminal or sacred space (I will use the terms almost interchangeably). "Limina" is the Latin word for threshold, the space betwixt and between. Liminal space, therefore, is a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when you have left the "tried and true" but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are in between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. It is no fun. Think of Israel in the desert, Joseph in the pit, Jonah in the belly, the three Marys tending the tomb.