Liminality and Transformation pt 1

I have been learning a lot lately about the point, the focus, the how of transformation.

I have to be honest it has been a bit uncomfortable and flipped me into liminal space.

If you aren’t familiar with liminal as a concept, the Latin work limen means threshold. Liminal space is “in between” space that creates an inner crisis usually leading to a new vantage point or a new view of things.

Liminal experiences bring us to essence clarity. Clarity about who we are, what we are about, what really matters. I prefer to say liminality brings “essential clarity”

Recently I spoke on our live webcast SEL (for more information go to the website and click on the SEL icon for details) about the liminal experience of Jonah.

Take a look at this passage in Luke 11.29ff.

Luke 11.29 As the crowds increased, Jesus said,“This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.

Jesus mentions the sign of Jonah. Lots of conversation in NT scholarship on just what that actually is. But not important for this conversation.

Jonah runs from God… and jumps in boat that finds himself in life threatening weather conditions. Liminal space #1

Jonah then confesses he is responsible for the storm. This is where the story of Jonah really shows it’s mythic elements. Superstition assuming someone was responsible for the storm (wonder if they are doing that with the Cyclone in Myanmar or the earthquake in China)? Further the guy running from God…says uh yea…sorry guys I am the responsible one, hey just throw me overboard, it’s all good. Wow that is powerful mythos.

Jonah is thrown overboard presumable to die in the sea. Liminal space #2

And then for liminal space #3, a hungry fish is swimming by. Oops swallowed up.

Jonah has three layers of liminal jarring.

When he is spit out on shore he straight away engages what he was previously asked to do.

No big deal right?

But Jesus moves on to words about light.

The very next verses….

Luke 11.33 “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness. 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. 36 Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines on you.”

I know how our traditional Christian reading of these texts goes. We read v. 33 as a statement about evangelistic light and then somehow ignore or don’t comment on how a reading like that comports with the rest of the passage (vv.34-36) which are highly personal texts about our own seeing, and personal light (insight?) and how that impacts transformation (don’t let your light be darkness…a very zen koan statement)

So what is the connection between Jonah’s liminal experience (and Jesus is talking of judgment in the passage, also a deeply liminal experience) and Jesus’ instant application about all these very mystical and dense statements about light?
More on this next post.


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