So let’s pick up on the question we ended with. What is the relationship between liminality and transformation?
Well this is the big learning for me the last number of months.
Liminality creates shifts in our perspective. Or another way of saying it, our vantage point gets altered or our mental models destabilize.
What do I mean? For a long long time personal growth in the modern world has been classified essentially as horizontal bandwidth expansion. Grow your skill sets, your knowledge base, your relational IQ. Take the same basic model into the church and we have said development or spiritual formation are a function of acquiring more biblical knowledge and doctrine (hence going to church umpteen times a week for yet more informational dumping) and an increase in our response repertoire, be more loving, more kind, more patient etc…
In short both are about horizontal bandwidth. But what happens when all the data in doesn’t answer some critical questions or provide the resources in the most difficult situations? What happens when a crisis hits (liminal space – think Jonah, think tragic accident, think job downsizing) and the typical learnings don’t compute, of the mastered principles no longer work or apply. How many times have you heard, how many times have I preached, “obedience brings the blessing of God?” Well that is nice, that is trite and that sounds sort of true, until you turn to Hebrews and find obedience can get you sawn in half and a host of other pretty horrible things. Maybe these are in a broader definition of “blessing,” but my guess is the platitude is misleading. Until we have some liminal experience those “universal truths” seem workable, trustworthy and certain. But that is the problem. The biblical material doesn’t describe or prescribe a predictable, certain, mechanical world, because that isn’t how life is or the bible or God.
Liminal experiences are jarring. They bring us outside of ourselves to examine the blind spot assumptions we hold to determine if those assumptions (now no longer in our blind spot) are in fact good assumptions or if they need adjusting.
Do you see what has just happened? The transformation being experienced at this juncture isn’t about horizontal bandwith acquisition, it is about asking questions about the material that has been acquired. Instead of asking what principles do I need to learn to master the life game so God will bless me, we instead ask questions about our questions. In this case, is it a good idea to think there are principles that once known and applied will enable me to master life?
Questions about our questions are what we call meta-questions. These questions cause us to shift our mental models of how the world works, how we think God is, and how we think the bible is “used.”
Liminality is the catalyst for the opening up a new vantage point from which we ask questions about our questions. It is a higher altitude so to speak. Instead of it being horizontal bandwidth expansion it is vertical perspective shifting.
What would happen if we determine to make horizontal and vertical development part of our definition of transformation? My sense is it would alter spiritual formation forever and cause us to think about the bible, God and life in entirely new, fresh and life giving ways.