If you listen closely 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 will 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 often portrayed as 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 Everything Belongs).
We are all in liminal time just now. The old markers are gone, and new ones have not yet arrived. It’s the morning after graduation, the day after the retirement party, the house after the funeral when everyone has left and you are alone. It is the moment after the hospital called my mother to say my father had died, and Mom’s response was, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next.”
We are the Israelites at the end of their desert journey before they enter the Promised Land. God’s faithful servant leader, Moses, has died and Joshua is in place to take the people forward. The message God has for his chosen people at that moment is 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.” 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 have questions: Will we have a job next week, or has a 30-year career just ended? Will we ever again be comfortable eating in a restaurant or going to a movie or watching the Spurs play in person? Is school going to start in the fall, and what might that look like? Back in march we thought this virus would sideline us for a few weeks and then we would return to normal. Now we know that we can’t even define normal any more.
We are adrift, and we seek the assurance of answers. The psalmist instead calls us to wait and hope and trust with Joshua-like courage and strength.
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).
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.
Even the mournful Psalm 22, that Jesus called on from the cross, ends with the wide view.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” it begins. Then after a long lament, the psalmist reminds us it’s always too soon to give up on God.
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.
All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it (27-31).
This week, immerse yourself in the psalms of trust. Be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
Psalms of trust
For an introduction to the psalms with previous posts and a bibliography, click here.
Marjorie George serves the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas as a consultant in Adult Christian Formation. Reach her at email@example.com. Or leave a comment below.