Bio: Timothy Carson, D.Min, is the author of Liminal Reality and Transformational Power (2016) and the editor of Neither Here nor There: The Many Voices of Liminality (2019). He also serves as the Curator of TheLiminalityProject.org and teaches the Liminality Seminar in the Honors College of the University of Missouri.
Tim: One of my current projects is shared with three other practitioners of liminality, a foursome of two American and two British writers. We are authoring a book on practical liminal theology published by The Lutterworth Press which will be released in the later part of 2020. The book will be a compilation of applied liminality; providing a liminal lens and tools with which we may understand and guide those who engage with liminal time and space.
Of the several areas I have been tasked with writing, one serves as a linchpin, a center point upon which much of the rest depends: a hermeneutic of liminality. How does our awareness of the archetypal presence of liminality assist us in interpreting texts, faith and the world?
I appreciate the invitation to contribute a preview of coming attractions to Liminal Theology. Here are a few of the salient ideas and concepts of this particular chapter, Toward a Hermeneutic of Liminality:
This liminal lens not only helps us see afresh; it suggests a palette of reflection tools that we take to the work of theological reflection. This method is less about explaining and more about noticing and describing what is already there. Attention to what is already there gives rise to greater understanding of the powerful transitional moments of life. By way of this understanding we are able move in liminal space with less fear and more faith, buoyed by generations of those who have done the same, a cloud of witnesses…
The liminal method we propose is not meant to provide a theory of everything, as though it could provide a solution for every theological conundrum. Rather, our interest here is quite specific and is meant to be added to the canon of hermeneutical tools. As a way of reflecting on threshold, passage, and transformation, a hermeneutic of liminality is broadly preoccupied with providing a new lens through which we may obtain a new perspective. This liminal lens gives rise to a method in which we remain especially aware of these categories:
Position – personal, social, or situational location in time and space
Pattern – the shape of a mythic narrative that portrays a story of transformation
Symbol – an iconic image or concept deployed to signal and reveal veiled truths
As we explore particular Biblical texts, our goal is not only to apply the insights of liminality to categorize, define and explain content and structure, but also to encourage noticing the liminal elements internal to the text, what is already there. By revealing the liminal dimensions that have been there all along we read the text with new eyes…
This universal pattern commences by moving from the pre-existing structure of life, crossing a threshold, and passing into anti-structure/liminal space. If the ambiguous in-between liminal state is traversed successfully the person or group eventually moves to a re-structured, post-liminal state of being.
Structure (Pre-Liminal) → Anti-Structure (Liminal) → Re-Structure (Post-Liminal)
The Rites of Passage pattern is implicit in the organizational structure of the canon, Christological meta-narratives, the plots of individual stories, and the liturgical practices of both initiation and reenactment. By identifying the pattern, an interpreter activates much of the latent power of the text, connecting historical and literary patterns with the universal human experience of liminal passage and transformation… As people of faith pass through the liminal valley of the shadow, faithful companions help them to reflect on their stories and write midrashim – stories on stories – that bring new meaning, purpose and direction. Through drawing attention to these stories, posing questions about their meaning, and abiding in the third spaces between them, the liminal principles of position, pattern, and symbol speak to our own liminal time and space, bringing illumination to what can be a very dark place indeed.