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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

August 23, 2020 | Rev. Dr. Blake

On the Threshold If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me Even the night shall be light about me... The darkness and the light are both alike to Thee. Psalm 139:11-12

Presidential candidate Joe Biden began his acceptance speech Thursday saying:“Ella Baker, a giant of the civil rights movement, left us with this wisdom: Give people light and they will find a way.”  He continues: . . . I will be an ally of the light not of the darkness. . .. United we can, and will, overcome this season of darkness in America.”  The words are refreshing. And, we must also understand the darkness in order to truly be an ally.  When it comes to this nation, it means understanding that this is not “this season” of darkness but season upon season, at least since 1492. For Ella Baker, the light was not something imposed upon the darkness.  It came out of the darkness. A champion of justice and full humanity, she understood that there was light in darkness, that societal transformation is born within social injustice, trauma, oppression, and darkness. “Enroute to the floor of the ocean the diver first passes through the “belt of fishes.” This is a wide band of light reflected from the surface of the sea. From this area he moves to a depth of water that cannot be penetrated by light above the surface. It is dark, foreboding, and eerie. The diver’s immediate reaction is apt to be one of fear and sometimes a sudden spasm of panic that soon passes. As he drops deeper and deeper into the abyss, slowly his eyes begin to pick up the luminous quality of the darkness; what was once fear is relaxed and he moves into the lower regions with confidence and peculiar vision.”—The Luminous Darkness, Howard Thurman

There is another concept that sometimes enters contemporary conversations about light and darkness, past and future.  It is called liminal space. The word liminal comes from the Latin word ‘limen’, meaning threshold – any point or place of entering or beginning. A liminal space is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next.’  It is a place of transition, a season of waiting, and not knowing. It is a waiting time. It is the reality where transformation takes place, if we wait and let it form us.”For the waiting is readying us for a new beginning. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31 Fr. Richard Rohr describes this space as: “. . . where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible…This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed. If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy.” We have all been on the threshold of a new reality, beginning, start. And, that reality can be an anxious time; but, does not have to be. Last week, I was interviewed because of my affiliation with Gus Newport.  It was a wonderful time of reflection.  Memory led me back to a time of liminal space for me.  It was the time after graduation from seminary and the direction of my ministry was not clear.  Seemingly out of nowhere, I was selected to be the first full-time Black male faculty at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.  I had not projected my ministry as one of teaching.  The only formal teaching experience under my belt was a semester of teaching Black History to high school students at a private, religious school. However, there was not much time for me to be anxious for I had less than two weeks to move to Alabama and begin teaching two courses, one an advanced course.  I had to call upon all that I had absorbed in the past and put it at the disposal of the new venture. Those few days between being offered the position and teaching were days of liminal space. One thing we all have in common is that we have all experienced liminal space.  Perhaps, it was the space between engagement and marriage. Liminal space was leaving one position for another, leaving one place for another. It was the threshold of leaving any intimate relationship or beginning a new one. Or, maybe it was leaving one faith community and joining another. It was that profound time of parenting parents and with their passing becoming the elder, or at least a member of the generation of elders, ready or not. Liminal space is that space between apprenticeship and practice, preparation and presentation. Dr. Thurman writes in The Search for Common Ground “. . . it must not be thought that life is static, something that is set, fixed, determined.”  The key word to remember always is potential: “that which has not yet come to pass but which is always coming to pass. It is only the potential, the undisclosed, the unfinished that has a future.” Liminal space is the chrysalis. In its darkness, metamorphosis takes place, a new creature is being equipped with what it needs for the new life awaiting it. We don’t curse the darkness of the cocoon, don’t pity the entombed caterpillar.  For what is happening within is necessary for its future.

The shedding of the old opens into newness. What is happening today in our world is necessary for our future. In many Black churches during Easter season you will hear ministers powerfully raise Jesus from the tomb of Good Friday (the first day) on the third day, Easter Sunday.  Often omitted is any articulation of the second day, that day between Good Friday and Easter.  That was liminal space in which the darkness of the tomb conversed with his disciples.  Bewildered they were! Afraid they were! Their leader had been ignominiously executed; and, they had abandoned him even as he had left them.  Yet, it was this darkness in their lives, this liminal space that opened them the next day to see farther than they had ever seen, to envision beyond previous imaginations. They were on the threshold of their resurrection that would transform their fear into audacity, anointing them to be emissaries of new abundant living. The invoking of the name Ella Baker must be followed by incorporating her words and work within the agenda for going forth, beholding a new nation. She clearly stated that: “In order to see where we are going, we not only must remember where we have been, but must understand where we have been.” Baker worked tirelessly to build power among life’s disinherited so that they could implement solutions to the problems of the nation. “The major job was getting people to understand that they had something within their power that they could use, and it could only be used if they understood what was happening and how group action could counter violence…” (Ella Jo Baker)  Vice-Presidential candidate Kamala Harris spoke passionately about the America that must be.  Today, we stand within the various pandemics that are afflicting us at the threshold of that America. We have been here for a while.  It has been elongated liminal space. We have been on the verge of the new nation so many times.  We must now consummate the relationship. O, let America be America again— The land that never has been yet— And yet must be—the land where every man is free. The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME— Who made America, Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, Must bring back our mighty dream again. Sure, call me any ugly name you choose— The steel of freedom does not stain. From those who live like leeches on the people's lives, We must take back our land again, America! O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath— America will be! Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies, We, the people, must redeem The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers. The mountains and the endless plain— All, all the stretch of these great green states— And make America again!   ( Langston Hughes) O Faithful, creative, fearless Ella Baker, let us not escape the words that embody so much of your awesome life: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.” 

“Today’s mighty oak is yesterday’s nut that held its ground.”  (Rosa Parks)

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