DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Liminality: An Introduction

Written by: on September 9, 2020

Each fall I seek a word, phrase, or verse to act as a north star of sorts for the coming year. I’ve come to call them “advance words.” Years past have included, “Lift your eyes,” “Back to basics,” and “Be strong and courageous.” This year’s word revealed itself very clearly on an early drive – “liminal.” Deriving from the Latin of “threshold,” liminal describes a place of transition, an invitation to something more. My friend who is devoted to spiritual formation including a vow to relative poverty describes liminality as a “voluntary displacement/disorientation for the sake of the transformation of one’s perspective and heart. It occurs when we are between stages in life and faith as if we have left one room and have yet to enter the next one” (Taylor). It makes sense, then, that the God gave me that word in the car – leaving that which is known and not yet to the destination.

I am living in at least four liminal spaces. One could argue that the whole epoch between the two advents is a liminal space. We live, move and have our being in a transition between an established and not yet fully realized kingdom. The world also lives between a pre and post-COVID reality, anticipating the “new normal.” Personally, I find myself in a delayed transition for our Research and Development department at work, and at another level as I consider and am being considered for a new role. Liminality was made popular through anthropologists describing the transformation taking place as African boys were initiated by their elders into manhood. These initiation rites are always about leading the boy out of the world of business as usual and into the wilderness of liminal space (Taylor). I am walking in that wilderness.

Innovation and future possibilities, too, have their own liminal space. While D’Souza and Renner don’t use the word, they describe this reality with an implicit invitation into something new. “At the edge between the known and the unknown there is a fertile place, full of possibility. Playing at the edge can lead us to experience fresh new learning, creativity, joy and wonder. The edge is the place where something new can emerge” (Not Knowing, 21).

I will explore this edge. Abide in its garden. Sit in the silence. Discover the possibilities. There’s a whimsical nature to this journey as well (“Playing a the edge…”). I will catalog the postures, note the temptations back to the known, the status quo, the areas I’ve found false security through “mastering.” The journeyer must embrace this threshold (a la Campbell), but take solace there will be Divine guidance. I will hold on with wavering confidence to the hope of “new learning, creativity, joy and wonder.” These are the ingredients of a true innovation guide.

This small piece is about introductions and invitations. I have been introduced and invited into a liminal space. This post is an introduction to reflections on liminality, innovation, and creativity. And an invitation…

“If you are a dreamer come in
If you are a dreamer a wisher a liar
A hoper a pray-er a magic-bean-buyer
If you’re a pretender come sit by my fire
For we have some flax golden tales to spin
Come in!
Come in!”

 – Shel Silverstein


Ryan Taylor, Liminality (Personal document shared with me).

Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner, Not Knowing: The Art of Turning Uncertainty into Opportunity (New York: LID Publishing, 2016).

Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends (New York: Harper and Row, 1974).

About the Author


Shawn Cramer

6 responses to “Liminality: An Introduction”

  1. mm Dylan Branson says:

    One of the most important lessons one of my professors at Asbury taught us was being able to be comfortable living in the tension of the now and not yet. Walking through spaces of transition is often like walking on shards of glass or hot coals. It’s painful in the moment because we want to arrive at the next destination. We step gingerly along the path, unsure of where to put our foot next for fear of causing more harm than good. And though we may arrive at the destination a little worse for wear, the journey itself of learning to trust and be still in that space is vital.

    Praying for you as continue to navigate your liminal spaces!

  2. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    I’m inspired at the way you willingly move through your liminal spaces. Its taken me a few years to settle into the liminal spaces of which I exist. I look forward to reading how your willingness to play, observe, sit, observe, and notice at the edge of liminality informs various aspects of your life. Thank you for sharing with us as you learn and grow.

  3. mm Greg Reich says:


    Threshold opportunities always require a certain amount of risk and obedience. These opportunities usually come at an inconvenient time and seldom, if ever are comfortable. Looking back at your life what would you say have been one of the most significant threshold opportunities you have faced?

  4. mm Jer Swigart says:

    There is a wildness to the precipice. I wonder how many liminal spaces we have retreated from because of our fear of the unknown or because we’ve been trained to avoid discomfort. Cheering you on as you embrace the wildness of the wilderness.

  5. mm John McLarty says:

    I personally don’t do well in the “in-between.” Even when I know there are necessary legs to a journey, I’m much happier at whatever benchmark place I’m at than in between them. And yet, right now, it seems like everything around us is gearing up for change and we’re being asked, even expected, to wait.

  6. mm Chris Pollock says:

    The liminal space. I look the way you presented this word and application to your life and to life, where we find ourselves in the world today.

    The west coast is covered in smoke. Beyond a block or two, up and ahead and what’s behind, is quite hazy. We can’t see the mountains across the water. Considering the arrival of liminal spaces in our lives, could it be like this? Rather than an entering into a liminal space, the arrival of a cloud that suddenly we find ourselves in?

    Then, what? To panic mode or, to be still and wait; to prepare for when the cloud lifts? It seems that any push is futile because the way out or forward could be in any direction.

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