When I wake in the early morning I am always struck that our home is silent. There are no voices raised in conversation; no arguments, no agreements. There is no music, no sound of chopping or mixing from the kitchen, no sound of running water.
Of course if I really listen I hear noise from the traffic on Memorial Drive a few blocks away. I hear noise from household helpers – a refrigerator’s hum of activity; radiators spluttering, working hard to bring heat to the house, the low-pitch of an electric heater.
Actually, it’s not really silent at all. There is activity, there is movement, there is work being done.
It’s this I think about when I think about what I’ve always thought to be the 400 years of silence between the Old and New Testaments.
Was it really 400 years of silence?
I don’t think so. Just because we aren’t privy to details and many recorded conversations does not mean that God was silent. God did not stop working, because he never stops writing his story.
People were longing for the Messiah, but in their longing they continued to hear God. Priests in the temple continued to serve faithfully, to pray, to worship God and seek to know more. The human heart continued to long for God, continued to seek God, and continued to find God.
Those four hundred years were a beautiful, liminal space; a threshold to a new beginning. It was the time between what was, and what would be.
In my life I am too quick to dismiss liminal spaces, too hasty in wanting the next thing. But so much can happen in the space between.
Richard Rohr, a theologian and Franciscan friar says this about liminal spaces:
“We keep praying that our illusions will fall away. God erodes them from many sides, hoping they will fall. But we often remain trapped in what we call normalcy—“the way things are.” Life then revolves around problem-solving, fixing, explaining, and taking sides with winners and losers. It can be a pretty circular and even nonsensical existence.
To get out of this unending cycle, we have to allow ourselves to be drawn into sacred space, into liminality. All transformation takes place here. We have to allow ourselves to be drawn out of “business as usual” and remain patiently on the “threshold” (limen, in Latin) where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin.
Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible. It’s the realm where God can best get at us because our false certitudes are finally out of the way.
This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed. If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy. The threshold is God’s waiting room. Here we are taught openness and patience as we come to expect an appointment with the divine Doctor.”*
Simeon and Anna were two people that lived a long time in that liminal space. It was this space and seeking that allowed them to know the Christ Child when they saw him.
Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”**
Many of us are in the liminal spaces right now, the time between the “just ended” and the “not yet begun.” I think of this as I sit beside a tree, lights glowing, providing a protection against the grey of the day. Is this the sacred space of God’s waiting room”? I wait to see.
*Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1999), 155-156.