Neither here nor there

Throughout the month of June, we will be focusing on a theme that I’ve called “on the cusp.” As we enter this month, we are on the cusp of summer. We are approaching the solstice when the days begin getting shorter again. And, as we enter into summer, we are also on the cusp of having millions of people arrive in our city for the Olympics. 

So often in our lives, we recognise we are on the cusp of something new – it may be good or it may be bad or we may not even know how to think about it – but we do know that it will be new and we know that it will be different from what came before. 

In fact though, whether we realise it or not, we are always on the cusp between the past and the future. The past will never return. The future is a mystery. We stand on a tiny threshold between those extended paths – one fading in our memories behind us, and the other – unknowable – reaching out before is for an uncertain distance. 

Such transitional places are important. 

In many Native American cultures, the transition between childhood and adulthood is the occasion of an important spiritual ritual. When an older child is ready, he or she is prepared through ceremonial purification – washing, sacred smoke, special clothing - and then goes off alone, far out into the wilderness. A special place is marked out. The child will eat and drink nothing for several days and sit and pray in solitude for a number of days. During that time, a Guardian animal is expected to come to the child in a vision or dream and gives guidance for the child’s future. The child returns to the tribe in a new status. 

The vision quest is but one example of the rituals that we humans use at the in-between times of life. There are many and they are found in every culture and every civilisation. 

Ours in this country and this tradition are rather tame compared to the vision quest, but we do mark transitions from unborn to born, from single to married, back from married to single, from child to adult, from adult to elder, and – of course – from life to death. 

These rituals have come about because of human need. I remember when my wife or I would drop our son off at his nursery and he would cry in a heart-wrenching way. It was painful to leave him in that state. 

And when we’d come back to pick him up? He’d cry all over again. This time, because he didn’t want to leave! But it wasn’t necessarily missing us or having to leave his game or his friends that caused the huge upset, it was the change – the transition between spaces and states. 

To some extent, this is something we never outgrow, and this is where we feel the need for rituals or ceremonies to set aside special time and space to mark and explore our transitions. 

And we need these spaces not only for ourselves individually – we also need a way to help all of us mark a change in another person. We need a public display to show that a marriage has occurred. The ritual helps us make that transition personally, and it helps others to recognise and accept the transition. 

Thus we create ritual spaces – we create those in-between places that are neither where we were nor quite where we are going. You enter the vision quest as one thing and leave as another, but while you are fasting and praying, you are in what has been called a liminal space – a space between. Liminal comes from the Latin word “limin”, meaning threshold. The liminal space is on the threshold between here and there. 

We need more opportunities in liminal spaces to mark and recognise the transitions of our lives. This, in particular, can be such a place. Out there, the world continues but, for at least one hour, you’ve left it behind. You have stepped outside of your life in a way and into this special ancient place. 

Out there, the traffic is swirling, people are shopping, exercising, arguing, eating, sleeping, working... They rush directly from place to place, from activity to activity, from here to there. But in this place, at this time, we have an opportunity to be apart and outside of that frenzied dance. 

How will each of us use this time. Yes, you can spend your time listening to the words of another brilliant sermon. You might even take home and chew on some interesting tidbits you’ve picked up. But there is more opportunity here than that. There is the opportunity – if we are prepared to seize it – to prepare ourselves to face the future in a somewhat different way. I want to suggest three things that we can and should do before going outside to take the next step of our future path: 

The first is to prepare ourselves for the challenges ahead. The unanticipated struggles of life take us by surprise and find us nearly defenceless. There are many challenges we cannot know, but many more that we can be certain of: we will all have to wait longer than we’d like in a queue. It will rain. We will get sick. We will not have as much money as we would like. We will be frightened. We will be sad. We will be angry. We will encounter conflict. 

Know that these challenges are coming, but know it without fear and dread. Know that these challenges are there so that you can maintain your balance when they come – so you can bend with them rather than let them break you – so you can be strengthened rather than weakened by them. 

The second is to open yourself to the opportunities ahead. Dotted all along that uncertain path into the future are gifts and wonders. They may be as small as a brilliant wild-flower hidden among the leaves. A cuddle from a cat – a kindness from a stranger... And there are people out there in your future standing ready to meet you and to love you. 

And don’t forget that among the wonders waiting for you is the opportunity to give to others. Be prepared and open to all of these. 

And thirdly, as you go out to join your future, you can carry this special place and its extraordinary people along with you in your heart. You can know that - if you bring us – we will be with you to strengthen and warm you through all of the journeys to come. 

I invite you now into a time of silence. We will spend 5 minutes now simply being together in this liminal space, letting our hearts and minds prepare us for the challenges and wonders ahead, and absorbing what is special and nurturing about this place into our hearts. 

The silence will end with the sound of a chime, and then we will rise for our final song, Blue Boat Home.