Living in Liminal Spaces
What Else Is There?
I wrote this essay for the Center for Action & Contemplation’s journal (Oneing, in an issue about liminality) in late fall 2019, well before any of us had heard the words “pandemic” or “Covid” or “coronavirus.” I anchored my exploration of it in my experience with cancer over the last ten years, but 2020 has unfolded as a time of radical, communal, and often terrifying liminality. We have been pushed into its deep uncertainty—none of us chose it—and only want it to be over so that we can go back to “normal,” a state seeming to recede even as we yearn for it. In the essay I wonder about how to dwell in such a time, a time I could never have imagined when I sat down to write it.
When we find ourselves in liminal space, does it matter whether we are pushed or whether we jump? Either way, we are not where or what we were before, nor do we know how or where we will land in our new reality. We are, as the anthropologist Victor Turner wrote, betwixt and between. In that space — which is mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual — we are destabilized, disoriented. The old touchstones, habits, and comforts are now past, the future unknown. We only wish such a time to be over. We may be impatient to pass through it quickly, with as little distress as possible, even though that is not likely. Regardless of how we encounter it, no matter what we do, such a threshold is a time of suffering and fear, especially if we arrived there because we were pushed — by a cancer diagnosis, the death of a beloved, or the loss of work or home.
But what if we can choose to experience this liminal space and time, this uncomfortable now, as what Turner called “the realm…where there is a certain freedom to juggle with the factors of existence”? He called this ambiguous space “the realm of pure possibility,” a place and state of creativity, of construction and deconstruction, choice, and transformation. I wonder whether it is, then, also the realm of the Holy Spirit, our comforter, who does not take away the vastness and possibility of this opened-up threshold time, but invites us to lay down our fears and discomfort to see what else is there, hard as that may be. With that holy Presence, we can live into it as a potent space where, as Barbara Brown Taylor said, we can ask unprecedented questions about reality because our grasp on life has been loosened. It feels dangerous and hard — and it is — yet my own experience has shown me that this is not all it is.
Two years ago, I received a cancer diagnosis that required the removal of the facial nerve in the right side of my face. Before the diagnosis, I was reasonably healthy, recently retired, and filled with the illusion of a well-lit path ahead. I grasped mortality as a concept, but not its reality. Suddenly, my perspective shifted. I didn’t know whether I’d survive the extensive surgery, how I would look and feel afterward, how long it would take me to recover, or whether I would be able to resume a “normal life.” My previous good health became irrelevant. Instead, I was to dwell on what I came to think of as Cancer Island, a lonely, darkening place where the healthy do not go, where patients are preoccupied with symptoms, treatment, and loss. To my surprise, Cancer Island also turned out, strangely and wonderfully, to be a place where I was not alone, but accompanied by a strong sense of the Presence of the Holy Spirit and by dear human companions from near and far who loved and cared for me.
One transformation in this liminal time of cancer treatment and recovery was my recognition that the staggering vulnerability I was experiencing was not weakness, not shameful, but the source of what would allow me to survive and, eventually, to thrive. I allowed others to see me — not just my broken, lopsided face, but also my pain, sorrow, disappointment, and discouragement, as well as my gratitude, resilience, joy, and recovery. In a poem in my journal, I described a kindred feeling for stone-washed denim:
When that humbled denim is removed,
it is soft, agreeable, its color dimmed
to the pale blue of summer hydrangeas.
It yields easily to cutting and sewing,
becoming garments that slouch and hug
like a friendly old dog.
If you surrender, as you must,
your stiff impervious fabric will soften,
seeing the necessity of stones
as companions of your soul.
I was not “making the best of a bad situation,” not minimizing the darkness of that time, but recognizing that when I crashed ashore on Cancer Island, I could land better. In that ambiguous and threatening time, I was receptive to and found room for transformation, not easily and not always, but in time. I feel different now, and I am told I am different. I am living in the future I feared, a future nested with small disappointments and — I am thankful to say — only slight physical difficulties. This, now, is good enough, because the reality of cancer is that it can always come back. That is more than reason enough to be alive to the present reality of my early 70s, which offers plenty of other liminal spaces: leaving my home of forty years to relocate to a new city, finally letting go of my work as an editorial collaborator with authors and concentrating more on my own writing, accompanying my aging friends and family as we figure out how to live with the diminishments and losses of capacity and agency, sitting with the unavoidable reality of death — our own and that of those we love.
Like Jonah in the belly of the sea monster, we are led where we do not want to go — not once, but many times in our lives. Dwelling in unsettling liminal space, whether we are pushed or we jump, we are led to draw on resources and possibilities we may not have tapped before. In the unknown space between here and there, younger and older, past and future, life happens. And, if we attend, we can feel the Holy Spirit moving with us in a way that we may not be aware of in more settled times. In liminal time and space, we can learn to let reality — even in its darkness — be our teacher, rather than living in the illusion that we are creating it on our own. We can enter into the liminal paradox: a disturbing time and space that not only breaks us down, but also offers us the choice to live in it with fierce aliveness, freedom, sacredness, companionship, and awareness of Presence.
Are you called to vestry leadership? If not, who is called?
As we prepare to finish our three-year vestry term, Priscilla Camp, George Tharisayi, Stacey Alexeeff and I are tasked with nominating new members to take up the torch. It has led me to reflect on the process by which we select officers at our vestry retreat. Considering the question of who will be junior warden or chaplain, we proceed around a circle, and each vestry member states either “I am called” or, if we are not hearing the call ourselves, “So-and-so is called.”
It is at once a powerful, vulnerable, and tender way to listen for the spirit together. It assumes that someone is called, and through prayerful mutual discernment we might learn whom. Whether or not we are called, we all can listen for the Spirit’s movement among us, and we all have a role in selecting who our leaders will be.
Over the next three years, the vestry will nurture and guide our shared work of racial justice, the capital campaign, and the Jordan Court affordable housing project. We will need people with charisms for collaboration, prayerful discernment, and the capacity to connect with, guide, and hold responsibility for the financial, spiritual, and strategic well-being of our shared community.
Practically speaking, the vestry is the governing board of our Church with fiduciary, strategic, and spiritual responsibilities. Members serve for a term of three years, with a time commitment of 2-hour monthly meetings, a 2-day retreat in February, and supporting an area of ministry by liaising with ministry team leads. Vestry members should be members of All Souls who regularly attend worship and have been part of the community for a year or more.
So. Are you so called? If you are not, who is?
The Nominating Committee welcomes your nominations, of yourself or others. If you wish to nominate someone else, please check with that person first! You may do so only with their permission. Please submit your nominations via this 1-question google form. Thank you for being part of our shared discernment of God’s call for the ones who will lead us next.
Christmas Pageant (Yes, Really.)
Christmas Pageant 2020
Let’s face it. The children of our parish have really been carrying the team on retelling the story of Jesus’ birth every year on Christmas by delivering us a beautiful, entertaining, and lively Christmas pageant.
This year, because we won’t be able to be together in person for Christmas Eve, we all need to step up to the plate and help the children of All Souls tell the story of Jesus’ birth in a new way. We need help from the whole congregation to make this happen!
Here’s the vision:
We will create a video that tells the story of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth in various ways.
Each participating family, individual, or group will be assigned a portion of the story to interpret however they see fit. Everyone who is interested in participating is invited, you do not have to have children living in your home! You could do a dramatic reenactment of the scene, you could make a puppet show, you could tell the story using Lego figures, you could make a short cartoon, you could create a song or write a poem, etc. The creative world is your oyster! Each scene interpretation should be made into a video between 60-90 seconds long, and submitted to Maggie for compilation and editing. We will also happily receive visual art representing an element of the story of Jesus’ birth to be used together with the videos, so if you draw, paint, sculpt, or do any other sort of visual art, and would like to create something to be incorporated into the video, we would love to receive pictures of those pieces of artwork. Narrators will also be needed, so if you aren’t feeling creative, you can sign up to read a passage from scripture.
Now, because we will have various people creating the individual scenes, that means we will have multiple people playing the same characters throughout the video. Pretty cool, right? In order to make this work, we need some way of knowing who’s who! To that end, there will be some guidelines in terms of costumes:
— Mary should always be wearing at least one (noticeable) thing that is blue
— Joseph should always be wearing something that is green
— All angels should always have some sort of halo
— Shepherds should always have some sort of staff or walking stick
— Wise men should always be carrying some sort of box/gift
Other than that, please feel free to interpret these characters and scenes any way you’d like using items that you have in your home. Don’t have enough stuffed sheep to make a whole flock? That’s ok, other animals could have been there, WE DON’T KNOW!
Even if you are interpreting a scene using music or poetry, please also incorporate some sort of visual representation of the scene into your video; a costume, a backdrop, etc.
All videos, images, and recordings need to be submitted to Maggie at email@example.com no later than December 15th, 2020 at 12:00pm. Videos should be submitted in MP4 format.
Please reply to this Google Form to let us know how you’d like to participate in the Christmas Pageant 2020, and a scene or part will be assigned to you.
Looking forward to diving into the story of Jesus’ birth with you all!
Update from the Stewardship Committee
All Souls needs your participation in its ministry by making a meaningful financial pledge to the 2021 budget. The circumstances of this year make your commitment that much more important.
As of November 15 we have: 135 pledges for $573,526.
To all of you who have pledged thus far, thank you very much! This is an exceptional response given the current situation. Yet we know that we are not done, and we want to give the Vestry a clear picture of expected giving before the 2021 budget is finalized in December. All Souls’ 2021 budget will rely on pledges of more than $700,000. .
If you have not yet pledged for 2021, please do so as soon as possible by filling out the form found on http://www.allsoulsparish.org/about-all-souls/stewardship-giving/, by mailing in your pledge card, or by notifying our clergy or Giving Secretary Maggie Cooke.
Outdoor In-Person Services on Sundays!
It’s happening. We are gathering in person for the 9am service. You can read more about what you’ll need to know in order to sign-up (and of course, the link to sign-up) on our Regathering page here!
Sunday Live Streaming News
The live stream of Sunday’s 11:15 service can be accessed through our website or by tuning into our All Souls Episcopal Parish Facebook page. Click here to watch on Sunday morning.
Adult Formation Class this Sunday
We have three class offerings this Sunday:
Reading Between the Lines Bible Study. Contact Daniel Prechtel, firstname.lastname@example.org, to join that Zoom call at 10:10am.
Carrying the Cross Together via Zoom at 10:10a, taught by the Rev. Phil Brochard and Wendy Calimag. In response to the reckoning around race that is taking place in this country, Phil and Wendy will be teaching a class exploring racial allyship for three Sundays in November: the 8th, 15th, and 22nd. Using personal narrative, individual reflection, scripture, and discussion we will explore what it means to suffer with each other, what the Cross might mean at a time like this, and how we might be able to live together as Christians as we pursue racial justice, healing, and reconciliation. The class is open for one and all at All Souls and intended to be complementary with the Sacred Ground curriculum. This class will meet on November 8, 15, and 22nd. You can find the Zoom link to this class here: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85268240086
Newcomer Coffee w/Emily Hansen Curran via Zoom at 10:10a. If you’re checking out All Souls or have been coming in the last few months, head over to Zoom Sunday morning at 10:10 to meet up with Emily Hansen Curran, our Associate for Ministry Development. We’ll share our own stories as well as learn more about All Souls. For questions, contact email@example.com. Zoom link here: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83590781549.
Missed the previous week’s class?? Not to worry, we’ve got you covered. We’ll be recording all of the Adult Formation offerings and loading them to the Adult Formation page of our website. Click here to get there and access the class recordings.
Children & Family News
Children and their families can meet in the courtyard at 10:10am for our new in-person Children’s Formation hour. Please be prepared to stay with your children and to keep your children in their own family pod, and also, to be wearing masks. See Maggie Foote (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
If you are looking for some current information regarding Children’s Chapel or the upcoming Kids Book Club – check out the new additions to the All Souls website. The All Souls Website has been updated to include some new information and resources(including the links for all the storybook videos) for families. Here is the link: http://www.allsoulsparish.org/children-youth-and-families/childrens-virtual-formation-during-covid/
This year, the Advent Festival is coming to your home, as we are not able to gather at the church to make our wreaths and do activities together. We will be creating take home kits for making Advent Wreaths, decorating Christmas tree ornaments, candles, and more. Please fill out this Google Form if you would like to participate and receive supplies! Supplies will be available on November 29th.
Stephen Ministry: We are here for you!
2020 has been a challenging year, right?! Most of us have been struggling and overwhelmed. You are not alone. Stephen Ministers understand and are available to listen, support and pray for you. We can offer you a confidential caring relationship or an occasional phone call to help you through these ever-changing times. Contact Maggie Foote at (513) 309-1079 or Madeline Feeley at (510) 495-4512 so we can be there for you.
New in town? New at All Souls? Just checking out churches in the area? Please join us for a Newcomer “coffee”/Meet & Greet with our Associate for Ministry Development, Emily Hansen Curran, via Zoom at 10:10a on both November 15th and the 22nd. For more information, you can email Emily, email@example.com. You can find the Zoom call link here.
Giving Thanks for Tiny Homes
As Thanksgiving arrives, the All Souls Parish youth group and their families are preparing to welcome young people, formerly without homes, as they move into their beautiful new Tiny Homes on November 28. This move-in phase is part of a multi-phase collaboration sponsored by Youth Spirit Artworks for 22 young people. On behalf of our parish, All Souls youth and their families are gathering welcome baskets of socks, shampoo, hand sanitizer, and other items; made Welcome Home cards; put up curtains, plugged in clocks and desk lamps collected last summer; and will help the young people move into three of the Tiny Homes. We are grateful for the generosity and contributions by folks at All Souls and in the interfaith community. Photos will follow soon!
Evening Prayer via Zoom
Here is the link for the Thursday night BCP Compline, which starts at 8:30 PDT:
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 786 3029 4068
Check out Season 2, Episode 11 of the Soulcast! (Spoiler Alert, it’s a special Advent Edition!)
Ongoing Canned Food Drive
The ASP Food Drive continues to pick up and deliver food for the Berkeley Food Pantry on a weekly basis. Food contributors and drivers participate every other week. Please email Cathy: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Wednesday 9am Service
Join the Zoom call here: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86087951049?pwd=THNxbjlqMm5zdjc5RGNLWkFrZk16QT09
Meeting ID: 860 8795 1049 Password: 520218
If you are able to help provide some meals for parishioners in need, please contact Cathy Goshorn to help out! We are in great need at this time to help care for each other––please consider helping other All Soulsians in need by providing meals or gift cards for meals. You can reach Cathy at email@example.com.
Don’t forget to claim your items for our Advent Ingathering! We are collecting new items for our friends living in camps in Berkeley for the first three weeks. Put your name and the number you are purchasing next to what you are donating it and drop it off that Sunday (or the following Wednesday) in the big trash can outside the chapel doors. Week four will be a collection for the Berkeley Food Pantry!
Week 1: 8th and Harrison Wish List:
Week 2: Here/There Wish List:
Week 3: 2nd and Jones Wish List:
Week 4: Berkeley Food Pantry (details to come)
Faith, Compassion, and Healing our National Divides
Washington National Cathedral and the National Institute for Civil Discourse invite you to hear from two of America’s most respected religious leaders on how we find a way forward healing our divisions through faith and compassion.
Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, 8:00am PDT
- The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church
- Dr. Russell Moore, Executive Director of the Ethics & Religious Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
- Hosted by Krista Tippett, broadcaster and host of On Being
As the nation gives thanks for the enduring strength of our democracy, we invite you to draw inspiration and practical tips on how to engage our neighbors with dignity and respect.
This online event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.