Monday, June 18, 2007

Liminality

The seashore is one of my favorite places to visit. I fall asleep every night to a CD of recorded crashing surf--augmented by overflying flocks of birds and an occasional clap of thunder. Apart from the obvious recreational opportunities available at the beach, I am aware that being there touches something very deep within my soul; it's a profound spiritual connection. Once a year or so (a habit that will be coming to an end on account of my impending move to Indiana) I find myself at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, walking the mile (or thereabouts) up to the Cliff House. It is a luminous experience. One my of treasured memories from last year's Brazil trip was spending the night in a hammock within a few yards of the beach, then waking up early enough to watch the sun rise over the South Atlantic. Breathtaking.

I suspect that the seashore calls out to me--and, obviously, to many others--because it is such an evidently liminal place. It's a boundary between one kind of place and another kind of place, between one kind of reality and another kind of reality. But it's actually not as much a boundary--in the sense of a clearly definite line--as it is a transitional area. As the tide ebbs and flows, the same GPS coordinate can be "dry land" at one time, and "the sea" a few hours later. The beach is its own paradigm--neither land nor sea, but in relation to both. To be happy there, one must be able to get comfortable with such ambiguity, to live by the laws of Dry Land, and also by the laws of The Sea, as the moment demands.

The fluctuating transitional reality of the seashore also enchants us (we who are creatures of Dry Land but--as evolutionary biologists tell us, at any rate--connected to primordial life that once emerged from the sea) with the prospect of change, of adventure. Human beings have "gone down to the sea in ships" (Ps 107) since time out of mind--partly to get places and do things, and partly just "because it's there."

My Plutotian spouse and I find ourselves at a liminal place in our journey together. After thirteen years in California's San Joaquin Valley, we are moving to north central Indiana about seven weeks from now. It's a challenging place to be. Every day is less and less "normal" than the one the came before as we mark a seemingly endless series of "lasts": last time censing the altar at St John's (Trinity Sunday), last meeting as a member of the Standing Committee (two days ago), last time seeing some parishioners before we move, last Sunday for Brenda with the choir, last lessons with her piano students (all over now).

We're trying to force ourselves to spend a chunk of every evening going through the flotsam and jetsam of our large house and mercilessly cull our possessions, not because we necessarily have to (the rectory in Warsaw, Indiana is of very ample size) but because it's good for us to. We're just at that point in our life cycle when our possessions feel like they own us rather than the other way around. In cleaning out the basement, we figure that if we had forgotten something was even there, we probably don't need it.

Of course, I am way over the top in my attachment to routine and predictability in the daily infrastructure of my life. So I find myself spending time on the internet finding out things about the local telephone and utility companies in Warsaw, beginning to decide what bank to open an account in, weighing the Phone Company vs. Cable Company vs. Satellite Dish companies for phone, internet, and TV choices. I was slightly sorry to find out that the refuse and yard waste and recycling situation in Warsaw is somewhat less advanced than in Stockton.

And it should come as no surprise that I'm also in a process of mentally (hard enough) and emotionally (harder still) disengaging from my pastoral and administrative responsibilities in my present parish and beginning to attend to some of the opportunities and challenges that await me in Indiana. It's a matter of gradually transferring energy from one to the other. Leaving and Arriving are endeavors too serious to just let them happen on its own. The whole experience is like death in miniature, with many of the same dynamics, in miniature. I'm trying to do it well--with intentionality and grace. Persuading myself of my own dispensibility is hard work. Persuading some of my flock of my own dispensibility is even harder work!

So this is my time at the beach; this is my time at the seashore. I don't know whether I'm emerging from the sea onto dry land, or leaving dry land for the ocean. Either way, the move will be made, and I'll be in one place or the other. Yet, on a macro level, the entire human experience is one of enduring liminality. We have come from somewhere and we're headed somewhere. "This world is not my home, I'm just apassin' through." Learning to live on the beach is therefore a helpful coping skill.

4 comments:

Mousie's Mommy said...

You wrote..."Persuading some of my flock of my own dispensibility is even harder work!"

It's not that we don't know that you are "dispensable" it's just that we love you and Brenda so much that we don't want you to go.

However, we will let you go because you are following the call of the Holy Spirit and we will pray for you and your transition...but we are still sad...because we love you!!

Judge373 said...

I just looked up Warsaw, IN on Google maps and you'll only be about 1 hr and 45 minutes away from my hometown, Hillsdale, in southern Michigan. I'll have to visit your new parish once you've moved.

If you ever come up to southern Michigan, look up Holy Trinity Anglican Parish in Hillsdale.

angela said...

Dan,
That was really beautiful. It's a blessing for us to read both yours and Brenda's blog posts about this difficult, but inspiring time. Inspiring new emotions, reactions, responses, and mostly importantly- change. I feel extremely positive and optimisitc about your move and even this stressful and unpredictable time of transition in your lives (our lives too). Maybe its easy for an onlooker(reader) from afar to feel these feelings of hope and inspiration because I don't have to sort through boxes, pack up my life, and deal with the consequences and heartbreak of that- but if you could separate yourself from the sitation (perhaps impossible) and re-read your words on this post, you could see it from this perspective. You could see how lucid and present with this period of change and letting go you truly are.
We get the opportunity to read such deeply poetic and sincere descriptions of how you both feel and I am overwhelmed by your sense of purpose, honesty, and grace in this situation. You and Brenda sound very present and comtemplative in this transition- which to me is a great sign. Transitions are never easy, almost always uncomfortable, but they have a way of making us really feel and appreciate the flux of life once things have settled down and the old skin has been completely sloughed off.
It's beautifully symbolic that you will get to immerse yourself (being careful of ears) in the ocean here in Brazil once more before your move. I don't need to go into the specifics of the symbolism- you already have in this lovely post.

Barb said...

Dan,

How lovely! I do enjoy reading what you write, and this is extra special. Perhaps for you the shore is a "thin place".

Blessings as you and Brenda make this transition. Keep in mind that Lake Winona and the Indiana lakeshore may be future points of connection with liminality. Wait and see!