Youth Ministry and Liminal Spaces (part two)

by Mike Rutt March 11, 2022 A

In the previous article we looked at what a liminal space is, why it’s felt like we’ve been in one for the past 2 years, made comparisons between youth ministry and the Israelites in the desert, and asked whether or not we have the confidence to linger in the space without panicking – without looking back and glamorising the past, or rushing into the future – but to sit, and wait…

 

Why is it important to sit and wait in the liminal space..?

 

Because it is in that space we have the opportunity to be provided for, an opportunity for for presence –  to encounter God, and an opportunity for imagination and creativity. 

 

An Opportunity to be Provided For

 

In the previous article we’ve already touched upon the Israelites grumbling in the desert about the lack of food (or the better food they had in Egypt), in Exodus 16. 

 

The story continues with an example of provision from God in the liminal space.

 

9 Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’” 10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud. 11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’” 13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer[a] for each person you have in your tent.’” 17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.

 

We’ve said already that the liminal space is a hard space to be in – the in between space between the end of the old and the start of the new. It’s no wonder then that the Israelites were prone to a spot of grumbling. (How many of us have been guilty of grumbling throughout the pandemic!?)

 

But God hears the Israelites grumbling and God provides for them what they need. 

 

Living and waiting in the liminal space is an opportunity for us whinge and to moan to God. To lament what was before and what has been lost. And to allow God to provide for us what we need.  

 

An Opportunity to Encounter 

 

As we’ve already said, but I think it’s worth reinforcing, liminal spaces are confusing and disorientating. They can be marked with frustration, disappointment, and grief. What was before had come to an end – we might be disappointed or sad that it has, and it is frustrating that we can’t rush into the next thing and that we have to wait. 

 

But, we must remember and hold onto the reality that the liminal space is God’s waiting room. It is here we patiently wait to encounter the Divine. 

 

It’s here we must return to Moses and the Israelites wandering in the desert after escaping slavery in Egypt. They were expecting a quick transition into the next, into the Promised Land, but they were stuck in their liminal space, (im)patiently waiting to encounter God, waiting for the divine to speak…

 

…and speak God did!

 

We read about the encounter beginning in Exodus 19. 

 

3 Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

 

God speaks to Moses at Mount Sinai. God asks the Israelites to imagine a bigger and better future, one where the Israelites are a holy nation, God’s treasured possession, a confirming of the convent God made with Abraham. 

 

And in this liminal space Moses (and the Israelites) continue to encounter God. God continues to speak and creates a new covenant with the Israelites passing the 10 Commandments (and many other rules) to them, setting out how the Israelites are to live as the holy nation and to be in relationship with their Creator. 

 

This is just one of many examples of God speaking in the liminal space in the Bible…

 

Abraham and Sarah leave their homeland. 

Jacob has to run away from home. 

Joseph is thrown into a pit before heading to Egypt.

God speaks to the prophets whilst the Israelites are in exile (a great example of a liminal space!) and asks them to imagine a bigger and better future, a return to Jerusalem and the coming of the Messiah. 

Paul’s liminal moment is the blindness he experiences on the road to Damascus.

And Jesus begins his ministry by entering the desert for 40 days and nights after his baptism. 

 

Each liminal experience and encounter with the Divine paves the way for a deeper relationship with God, a wider understanding of who God is, and a space where a new, bigger reality can be revealed. 

 

As Christians who work with young people are we prepared to wait in the liminal space we have found ourselves in and wait for an encounter with God?

 

What practices can you engage in that will enable you to create the time and space you need to hear from God? 

 

(CONCRETE are hosting a day retreat in June – you might want to sign up and use the space as an opportunity to hear from God)

 

A Creative Opportunity 

 

Finally, liminal spaces are a creative opportunity.

 

Rev. Susan Beaumont puts it like this. 

 

Liminal seasons are also exciting and innovative. The promise of a new beginning unleashing creative energy, potential and passion. All truly great innovations are incubated in liminality. God’s greatest work occurs in liminal space. (How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season. Susan Beaumont. p.2).

 

We’ve all had pretty good practice at being creative and innovative during the COVID-19 pandemic. As we tried to continue to engage young people we’ve had to be agile and reactive as we’ve responded to restrictions and regulations as they’ve chopped and changed, at what times felt like, week by week.

 

Whilst important throughout the pandemic, this agility and reactiveness isn’t sustainable – nor is it an effective way of being, and continuing to be, creative. It’s energy sapping and frustrating – both for us and the young people we work with. 

 

Just as we need to not look at the past though the lens of rose tinted specs, we need to be honest about the reality of the present. We need to remember that lots of the things we tried and tested in the liminal space need to be left in the liminal space. As look to the future of our work with young people we need to remember that,  just as we need to not rush back to just doing what we were doing before the pandemic, we need to not just think all the answers lie in what we’ve been doing in the last 24 months. 

 

But as we emerge from the pandemic we need to be asking ourselves, our teams, and the young people we work with what the future of work with young people looks like moving forward. We need to imagine a bigger and better future for both the work and the young people we work with in the context we find ourselves in. (The CONCRETE Academy Fellowship is offering 2 year space in which you can ask these questions and do this work). 

 

And we need to trust that God will speak.

 

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