Many cultures have rites of passage which can be demanding experiences for the candidate. After a period of separation from his or her community, and faced with seemingly indomitable challenges, the candidate returns home a changed person. Most often the change is for the better as intended by the initiation. The candidate is ready to be an adult, to assume leadership for the community.
Based on the work of anthropologist, Victor Turner, Diarmuid O’Murchu, the Irish theologian, this rite of passage has been called, “liminality,” from the Latin word, “limen” which means threshold. The candidate emerges from the separation and the rigorous challenges of initiation and stands at the margin between this experience and the community. The candidate now represents the new frontier, the cutting edge. Interesting, says O’Murchu, that because the candidate has changed, the community which now embraces him or her, will change as well. Think about this in simple ways. Are we not changed when a loved one returns from the military, or college, or living abroad, or even walking the Appalachian Trail?
This has become very real to me in reflecting on the experience of the disciples of Christ as they sat alone in the “upper room,” wondering what to do next. Don’t you wonder about the time after Easter to Pentecost? Just what did they do? What did they talk about? What plans did they make? I believe this was the end time of their initiation. They had been through the sufferings of their Teacher; they had been challenged by authorities. They fled in fear. Now, after seeing Him as risen, they gathered to make very difficult decisions to continue the momentum of His teaching, to deepen and expand the message of the Gospel, not yet formed in writing. They created a strategy of who will go where to do this important work. They stood at the threshold of a revolutionary movement secured through His crucifixion, death and resurrection. They would now carry on. This was the moment of liminality. Without believing in this new faith, first-century historians, like Tacitus and Josephus, agreed on the new paradigm emerging from the ministry of Jesus: “…there was a movement, there was an execution, there was a continuation, there was an expansion.” (John Dominic Crossan)
Obviously, there are faith and religion concepts which germinated during the enclosure of the disciples at that time. But on another level, I am wondering if our own current isolation might be analogous. I am wondering if you and I, and maybe all global citizens, will emerge from this time creating new paradigms of human relationships, human safety, human concern. I am wondering if we are standing at a threshold, a liminality of change for the better. Several questions come to mind:
How can I emerge from this pandemic more positive about the essential goodness of people?
How can I understand the loss of economic activity and creatively offer something to resolve it wherever possible and following the guidelines and intelligence provided by scientists and physicians at the forefront?
How can I emerge from this a better person, someone concerned about others more than my own wealth?