Through the Next Doorway

Last week, my colleague Peter Stube wrote a fine meditation on liminal spaces. I cannot improve on his good advice! But he got me thinking, so here are some images to add.

I first heard the word liminal in my very first class in seminary. The professor looked at all of us priest-wannabes and said, “You are all in a liminal space, and that is a dangerous place to be!” We were between being layfolk and ordained clergy—neither fish, nor fowl, nor good red herring. It sure felt dangerous. With family adjusting, field work parishes making judgments, and bishops having the last word on—well, it seemed like bishops have the last word on every little thing in a seminarian’s life.

I remember bringing my first child home to the Parish House (that is now being prepared for the arrival of baby Szczerba). My husband was the property manager of St. David’s, and we were privileged to live in that house—with its four stories and, at that time, only one bathroom. The transition to motherhood was joyous, desired, and absolutely frightening: a liminal space indeed!

Two years ago, I retired from full-time ministry, and Bill and I moved home. For months we house-hunted with little success. When I worried aloud, my spiritual director asked me to imagine what our new home would look like. All I could picture was an entry way—a fitting image for such an emotionally liminal time.

English professor and theologian C.S. Lewis wrote a series of children’s tales called the Chronicles of Narnia. In the very last book, he gives us an image of the ultimate liminal space; a door appears in a beautiful garden. Just a door:  those who approach it do not see any structure into which it leads. When the heroes go through the door, they enter an even lovelier garden. Gradually, they realize that they have come home. The battle they fought was not just a fight, it was The Last Battle, the end of the world of Narnia. It is the beginning of a new time.

But there are other characters in the story—creatures who fight with one another, who do not look each other in the eye, who do not hear words of forgiveness when they are offered to them. These characters go through the door, and see a dark and smelly hut, where they are huddled together, struggling, and fighting for fresh air and a chance to look one another in the face. As the heroes walk into the heavenly garden, they walk right past this small huddle of pain and sorrow. Some of them try to get the folks there to look up and around, but they cannot do it. They have perished, right there in the doorway to Heaven.

May God give us the strength to forgive, encourage, and stand with those who feel threatened in the liminal space. May God give us all the eyes to see the beauty in the landscape that we glimpse through the doorway.

Blessings,

The Rev. Nancy Webb Stroud
Priest Associate