by Marjorie George
We are all in liminal time just now. The old markers are gone, and new ones have not yet arrived.
If you listen closely and the house is quiet on a winter day, you may catch the sound of the gas heater coming on. First the click, then the hissing of the gas, then that long moment of suspense when you wonder if the pilot light really is going to respond. Then whoosh as the flame connects to the heater’s waiting portals.
In the spiritual world that moment of uncertainty is known as liminal time – a time when something has ended but whatever is coming next has not commenced. Metaphorically, it is a flying acrobat having let go of her swinging trapeze, suspended in nothingness, before she grasps the hands of her waiting partner.
It is a time, says theologian Richard Rohr, “”When you have left, or are about to leave, the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else . . . when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer” (from the book Everything Belongs).
And that is where we often find ourselves in this season of life. Many of us have recently retired from careers where we had a place and a title and deadlines to meet. We always knew what the next step was and what was required of us. We had purpose. Now we are often adrift. What is next for us? What are we supposed to be doing? Or not doing?
The Israelites, at the end of their desert journey before they entered the Promised Land, wanted direction. God’s faithful servant leader, Moses, had died and Joshua was in place to take the people forward. The message God had for his chosen people at that moment was this: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). In fact, the phrase “be strong and courageous” is repeated four times to the people assembled in the first chapter of Joshua.
We do not easily embrace or happily hold this foggy cloud. We are wandering in a foreign land, and we seek the assurance of answers. The psalmist instead calls us to wait and hope and trust with Joshua-like courage and strength.
Instead of focusing on despair and disillusionment, the psalmist recalls God’s past faithfulness and looks toward the future with hope.
Instead of focusing on despair and disillusionment, the psalmist recalls God’s past faithfulness and looks toward the future with hope. While fully one-third of the psalms can be classified as laments, they most often end with a call to remember that God has promised to not desert his people forever.
Says the psalmist:
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope (130:5)
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord! (27:14).
And the writer of proverbs adds:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding (3:5-6).
Even the mournful Psalm 22, that Jesus called on from the cross, ends with the wide view. It begins with the psalmist’s lament.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?”
Then he remembers it’s always too soon to give up on God.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame. (4-5)
Eventually the psalmist recalls God’s goodness and declares his own hopefulness.
All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!
This week, immerse yourself in the psalms of trust. As you read:
– Recall when you have relied on God in the past and remember how God was with you.
– Remember your heritage. What are the stories you have been told about God’s saving grace from your family or scripture?
– Make reliance on God your first response, not your last. God is not merely the default, not where we turn when we have exhausted our own resources. (Although God will surely meet us there if we choose to do it that way.)
In each of these psalms, make note of what resonates with you and determine what you will recall the next time you need to be reminded to trust in God.
Psalms of trust
Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To
Many of the 150 psalms are totally or partially about lament. In an essay published in Time magazine, March 29, 2020, religion scholar N. T. Wright says lament is rightly part of our relationship to God. Lament, says Wright, is what happens when people ask, “Why?” and don’t get an answer. This article was written at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. It still applies.
Link to the original essay in Time.