Liminal space, where the kingdom of God somehow reaches us, calls out and touches us where we are. These thin places of sacred longing and knowing happen often in prayer, but we may also simply stumble upon them. This needn’t be on a windswept beach in the grey light of nearly dawn, they can hit us during the most mundane of moments. Even in the most awful ones.
I felt I beheld such a holy space recently in the middle of the night, our twelve-year-old cat sitting on my chest. She has a tumour and is near the end of her life, during which she has rarely condescended to sit on either myself or my husband. And here she was, just lying on me, purring, our breath mingling, our hearts beating next to one another. It felt as though we understood one another’s love, and that this and our existence is both of this world and the next.
Jesus created a liminal space when he pronounced the coming of the Kingdom of God. “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) As well as this being the point where his ministry officially began, he may well have been helping us to understand that the Kingdom is right with us, in us, beside us here and now.
Everything, in the end, feels just beyond us, is a between time. We are always both there and not yet. We are always waiting for something. The post, the test results, the big birthday, the opportunity, the paycheck. As a chronically ill person who is weak and housebound, mostly I wait and rest between the small amounts of energy that enable me to write or paint.
Liminality is where we exist, perhaps especially as Christians. We are always waiting for Christ to be born in us, waiting for our calling, waiting for healing, walking the via dolorosa, waiting at the foot of the cross, waiting for Resurrection, waiting for the Ascension, waiting for Pentecost, waiting for the Second Coming, waiting for heaven here on earth. This is bookended in the Gospels poignantly for me by two Marys. The one, waiting as she hosts the saviour of the world in her very flesh, and the other, preparing spices, going to the garden, sat in wondering grief at the sight of an empty tomb.
As someone who writes for children, I find it telling that their literature features so many portals, doors and rabbit holes. These are not necessarily a means of escape in as much as they are gateways into a deeper reality. For what is the spiritual journey of this life, if it is not an adventure? Children tend to understand this better than we do (I believe many children’s authors do too).
Entering those threshold spaces is often a sensory experience. When I am praying, I often see pictures and occasionally smell roses, strawberries, incense or beeswax. It is no coincidence that Narnia is snowbound. There is something cleansing and magical about the tang of ionic air and the heavy, whirling cloak of not-quite-white. The back of the wardrobe and the lintel of the secret garden are always calling to us.
Sometimes the holy feels so close we think we might reach out and touch it. At others, we may only realise later that we held it purring to our breast the whole time.