I was sitting at my desk in geometry class as a sophomore in high school at about the age of sixteen, struggling to understand a new mathematical language embracing spatial intelligence, when I began daydreaming. Many of us can recall our minds, if we were to be honest, wandering into a new stream of consciousness far, far away from the topic at hand during class, and I am no exception. In this particular daydream, I remember just thinking out loud — “I don’t want to be in school!” In fact, I focused so much on the thought that an idea came to my mind. Why would anyone want to go to school after they graduate high school? It’s so boring.
Swirling round and round in my quandary of questioning education, I actually heard the still small voice of God. It was not an audible voice of God. It was something different. It was something I felt and knew to be true at the same time it occurred. At a deep level I felt and knew the following words — “You will be a Teacher.” Cognitive dissonance set in. Sitting somewhere in the middle of the class, having a really tough time understanding Geometry and processing with a sixteen old mind the value of education, I just laughed. The idea was incredulous. That meant I was least going to have to attend school and earn a bachelors in education. God probably had a good laugh too. I can only imagine God’s perspective. I am going to visit Andy while daydreaming in his least favorite class and while he is debating the value of education, I will let him know not only will he be attending college but he will be in the classroom the rest of his life! This movement from laughter into a liminal threshold of in-betweenness really occurred in my life. And even in the doctoral program (yes many, many years beyond the bachelors where I thought it would all be finalized) I am still in the classroom during the Covid-19 pandemic via Zoom! The Zoom platform wasn’t even created back in my geometry class. But someone who mastered geometry in high school probably had something to do with it.
Even within the telling of what may be interpreted as a joke (followed by laughter possibly!) there are phases of liminality. The signal of the joke brings the rift of the comedic ritual. Next, the liminal phase is the turbid movement of encountering inconsistency, which is followed by the final phase of restructure of refreshed delight (Arbuckle, 2020, p. 280). These three stages of humor are demonstrated in the account of the literal stormy adventure of the disciples while Jesus was getting some well-deserved rest in the boat. (Jesus’ schedule was intense) The first stage of structure to cue the humorous moment is Jesus and the disciples entering the boat (something several of the disciples, being fishermen, were good at). The next stage of anti-structure (liminal phase) is the rendezvous of the disciples with the superlatively vicious storm while Jesus was sleeping. The final stage of new structure is the wonder of the heart as the disciples are awed at what kind of man Jesus is as he exhibits authority over the tides and air currents (Arbuckle, 2020, p. 281).
While looming in an octagon of geometrical despair, laughter in the form of divine comedy (which is how I interpret it even to this day) initiated the liminal threshold of an in-between educational journey that is still ongoing. This moment in high school helped me to choose an education major in college. Sarah and Abraham in the Bible also experienced God’s voice that propelled them into a liminal in-between reality of Sarah being with child while in old age. In Genesis chapter 18, after the Lord appeared to Abraham, three men tell a very old Abraham, with Sarah listening nearby, that they will have a son around the same time next year. Sarah’s immediate reaction was laughter. The reader finds out God takes his time to ask Abraham why Sarah laughed and God responds by asking, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Sarah’s fearful response to Abraham was to lie and deny she laughed. Abraham tells his wife that she did in reality laugh (New International Version Zondervan Study Bible, 2015, Gen. 18:1-2, 10-15). To be fair, in Genesis 17:15-17, after God tells Abraham his wife Sarai is to be named Sarah and a baby boy is on the way, Abraham falls face down laughing and says to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old?” (Sarah was ninety at the time). However, according to Karl-Josef Kuschel, in Genesis 17 it is not for certain whether Abraham was joshing at God or himself (Patella, 2015, p. 158). Kuschel also makes a case that a determination is reached between Abraham and Sarah’s experiences of laughter at the birth of the child Isaac, whose name actually represents “he laughs” (Patella, 2015, p. 158).
Notwithstanding, one must not miss a key revelation. God’s own voice can uncover a hidden dimension of why we are being held back from our dreams through our own humorous reaction to it, being the cause of our laughing out loud into liminality. And could it be that it’s helpful if someone acknowledges the laughter in order for it to come to fruition as Abraham did (Gen. 18:15)? It took several people in my educational journey to celebrate God’s activity in my real-life experience over the years to really uncover a God given dream and stay the journey. You may need someone cheering with you in your corner to enter into and run the liminal race that lays before you! Have you ever been conversing with someone jokingly and come to the realization that a dream you have is seemingly out of reach? Ha! Such and such would be wonderful but really God it’s too late, or as is in my case, it was a paradoxical proposition catching me off guard. Not only is humor and celebration valuable when entering into the liminal journey, it is valuable in the in-between space. I can attest to a number of times in my doctoral journey of maintaining my sense of humor and celebrating smaller milestones along the way to the ultimate goal (which I am still aiming towards). Why is humor so important in the liminal journey? Because Proverbs 17:22 reveals “a joyful heart is good medicine…” (Proverbs 17:22). And the apostle Paul equates trials (which may consider liminal journeys on some levels) as joyful opportunities testing one’s trust in God and producing endurance (James 1:2-3). This endurance produced in liminal journeys leads to finishing life goals.
From a practical theological perspective, it is God’s activity in the human lived experience that propels one to finish well. God is revealed in our laughter, even if we begin by doubting the dream, in our celebratory moments of success along the liminal path and beautifully in his Son Jesus, who is not only the pioneer but also the “perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). May incongruous (whether God is laughing with us or not) liminal laughter lead to the transformative action of the reign of the kingdom of God on Earth in liminality and beyond. Currently with my 49-year-old brain, I value the scholarly virtues of God in transformational practical theological education as well as all education in general (including higher education). I also value humor as a pedagogical method from within my education and liminal journey, as the wonders of God laugh with me or wonder why I am laughing at God. The comedic voice continues to amaze.
Arbuckle, G.A. (2020). Laughing with God: Humour in the Scriptures. Australasian Catholic
Record, 97(3), 275-283.
New International Version Zondervan Study Bible. (2015). Zondervan.
Patella, M. (2015). And God Created Laughter: The Eighth Day. A Journal of Bible & Theology, 69(2), 156-168.