I first became aware of the word “liminal” in a literary description of the moment just before sunrise, a scene so tinged with the beginning of light and the hint of color that it suggested, deliberately I think, that a new day is an event of magic.
Liminal means threshold or on the brink of. It’s an “almost” word, one that might be said of John the Baptist, the great man who, while living, was not quite a member of the kingdom. The one who made straight the way of the Lord, but who was not the Lord; who baptized, but only with water, not the Spirit; who knew that he must decrease as the Lord increased.
Or liminal can have a darker meaning.
Pope Francis, in Gaudete et Exsultate: On the Call to Holiness in the Today’s World, speaks of “the God [who] impels us constantly to . . . pass beyond what is familiar, to the fringes and beyond. . . . to where humanity is most wounded. . . . Because that is where Jesus is, . . . . So if we dare to go to the fringes, we will find him there. . . in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, in their wounded flesh, in their troubles and in their profound desolation.”
Can we read these words without thinking of the separated children and parents who came, in hope, to our southwestern border? Can we think of them as other than darkly liminal tragedies, people on the fringes, waiting to be completed?
If humanity is truly a community and relationship is all, who are we in this scene? What on Earth is our role here?
Consider this passage, also from Gaudete et Exsultate: “Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel. . . . We are not on a mission, we are a mission from God, sent to make the world holy.”
How can a person be a mission planned by the Father to embody a Gospel reality in this present moment? How can I, for example, be Christ for these sad people at the fringes?
If the answer is prayer, I need to dive deeply into that word to find a meaning that is more, much more, than saying words. I need to learn, or re-learn, that the purpose of the prayer of petition is not, as I often think of it, an effort to advise God and create happy endings. Real prayer must be an expression of hunger for the loyal and loving presence of Christ in this suffering, lonely moment, to make this moment holy.
If, as Pope Francis says, we truly are a mission from God sent to make the world holy, is it possible for our prayer to become essential in searching for and finding God in the midst of the broken families on the fringes of our borders and in the unknown locations of the lost children? Can our prayer be necessary to transforming their liminal moment into a healing sacrament?