“Can’t they just look it up?”
This is was the response to my comment on a contributor’s essay that they include a footnote explaining the word “liminal” in their essay for the upcoming issue of An Unexpected Journal on Joy.
I will readily own that maybe at times I ask for over explanation on the essays where I edit. I ask writers to include footnotes to explain theological concepts, the backstory of events, context of what the source they are citing is referring to, and yes, sometimes I ask for explanations of words. One thng I have learned is that you can’t assume what people know. When you learn a thing, it is then obvious to you. Once you see a thing, you can’t unsee it. But just because that truth has been revealed to you, it doesn’t mean that it has to everyone.
I used to teach Sunday school for third-graders. I know that there is only a tiny bit of information that they do know, and almost everything needs to be explained. They know that they don’t know most things and they also know that they aren’t already expected to know those things. So when there is something they don’t know or understand … they ask. Then their question is answered and they learn. But for adults, there are a lot of assumptions about what they do or should know. With access to the internet, there is a somewhat bizarre assumption that they should know everything.
Well they don’t. No one knows everything.
The problem is that this false belief of a self-sufficiency in knowing is a block to coming to know, learn, and understand. Where the 8-year-old will ask that question, an adult won’t. Opportunities are missed for true understanding because there is an assumption that everyone is on the same page and understands the same things.
Knowing a Definition does not Equal Understanding
Also, just knowing a definition does not mean that you understand the thing that you have had defined. I can think of many examples of this in my own life. For example, I had read about the Filloque Controversy. Not only did I not understand the positions that I was reading, but I didn’t even understand the distinction that was the point of the argument. It wasn’t until I had a teacher that could explain it, that I understood not only what the disagreement was about, but why it was important.
The same is true of Apollionarianism, I had read about the heresy, but I didn’t understand why the belief was heretical. Even after reading about it in multiple theology books, I didn’t understand. I had spent quite a bit of time reading about it without understanding, but as I shared in an interview with Dr. Ben Blackwell and Randy Hatchett on their book, Engaging Theology, it took less than a minute for Dr. Hatchett to illustrate it to me. As I wrote in my essay, “From the Green Book to the River” for the first issue of An Unexpected Journal, “who one is taught by can make all the difference.”
A good teacher reveals the truth, not only the truth, but the truth in action, that simple facts and information often cannot. A teacher can illustrate what those facts mean, and understanding that meaning is what leads to true understanding.
Back to that word “liminal,” yes, someone can look up the word, but that doesn’t mean they will truly understand it, at least not in the way that Annie uses it. A person won’t get the fullness of the word and its implication for its impact on our lived lives from Websters.
There are two definitions of the word “liminal.”
Relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.
“Through a ritual process, centered upon a liminal stage of revelation and testing, the evangelist shows Jesus’ true identity as a holy man, capable of brokering God’s patronage on his people.”
Occupying a position at, or on both sides of a boundary or threshold.
“Dawn and dusk, as liminal transition spaces, represent critical interaction arenas; it is here that locally shared perspectives are created and sustained.
Those definitions are actually better than I expected, and yes, that first definition is actually how the word is described in the dictionary definition. However, I still don’t think that someone just reading the definition is going to get the fullness of the word that Annie can give … because she uses the word a lot, all the time. So much so that I think of that word as an “Annieism.” I knew liminal as a word but didn’t understand what it meant until I spent the summer of 2020 going through the Harry Potter series in Annie’s Faith and Culture series.
“Liminal” is inbetweeness. As the dictionary definitions of the word indicate, it is both an inbetween place and the process of being between. The wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a liminal space. The Wood Between the Worlds in The Magicians Nephew is a liminal space.
The Holy of Holies in the Temple of God was a liminal space, a place where spirit dwelt with man.
Our minds are our liminal spaces as human beings bridging the gap between the spirit and body.
Jesus is our liminal space, in him we are with God, and he is our liminal process, no one comes to the Father except through him.
And we, as Christians, are meant to be liminal spaces “in the world, but not of it” while we are in the liminal process of being transformed and becoming more like Christ.
I understand “liminal” because I spent a summer with Annie on the liminal space of the Harry Potter series.
But I think for her, her understanding may have come from revelation
Reason vs Revelation
As human beings, particular American human beings, we have a level of confidence in our individual thoughts and thinking process that maybe we shouldn’t. We think that every thought that comes into our minds is our own … sometimes it’s not (see my discussion on this in my review of Invisible Enemies.)
Sometimes the thoughts we have are not our own, but demonic suggestions. Sometimes the thoughts we have are from the Holy Spirit. Learning to distinguish the source of those thoughts is discernment, which we have to develop.
In addition, at times what we think is our own reasoning is actually revelation from the Holy Spirit.
Several years ago, I volunteered in a ministry that prayed for healing, almost solely physical healing. This was my first experience with a ministry of this sort and if it were today, I probably would hesitate to be involved in a ministry that didn’t also address deliverance or generational issues. Praying for physical healing without dealing with the whole enchilada is kind of like treating someone for lung cancer while they’re still smoking.
Regardless, that opportunity was a learning process, a “liminal space” for me. I wouldn’t have learned what I came to learn without it.
If you’re familiar with John G. Lake’s healing rooms, this ministry was based on that model. When people came for prayer, they shared why they were there with a coordinator and then went to a waiting, or “soaking,” room where someone would pray for them silently. After that, they would go to a private room where a prayer team would talk with them further and then pray for them. There were three people on the prayer team: the lead person who talked with the person coming for prayer, a support person who was praying for the lead person during the session, and the “servant” who would watch, take notes, and see to whatever the other people in the room might need (water, tissue, communion, etc.).
On this particular night, I was the “servant,” which I preferred. I liked being able to watch what was going on. A man came in who had fell and injured his knee. He was in a lot of pain and wasn’t able to get in to a doctor right away. A relative had suggested he come for prayer, and he figured “what can it hurt?” (This is true of many people who came, they came after they had tried everything else without relief.)
The problem appeared to be strictly physical. He had fallen and hurt his knee. It seemed pretty cut and dried. He shared that 10 years before he had broken that same knee and walked on it for two weeks before he had surgery. This was a person that had a very high tolerance for pain.
He said that a co-worker had given him pain medication which had numbed everything except for his knee. He also mentioned that while he was in the soaking room the pain had been “dancing around.”
The lead person asked a few more questions, prayed for the man, and then asked him how he felt and if the pain had gone down.
The man said, “When you prayed, the pain went through the roof. I almost burst into tears.”
The lead and I looked at each other with a “holy crap!” expression on our face.
As I mentioned, this particular ministry didn’t deal with deliverance or the demonic, at all. However, the one thing that we were taught is that if the pain moves or gets more intense when you pray, that it is a sign of demonic interference. (I’ve learned a lot about deliverance and demonic affliction since this time. Another thing I’ve heard prayer ministers say is that if the minister or the person being prayed for feels coldness, that unforgivenesss is the root of the issue.)
The lead took a few moments, and then prayed to bind any afflicting spirits in using language that wouldn’t freak someone out. (Athough the man was Catholic, so it probably wouldn’t have been as outside of his wheelhouse as it was for us.)
Then he asked the man again where the pain level was at. The man said that it had gone back down to where it had been when he came in.
I said, “Pray again for healing.”
So the lead did, after which, the man said the pain had gone down significantly. By the time he left, his mobility had improved enough that he took the stairs down rather than the elevator.
After the man left, the lead asked me, “How did you know?”
It hadn’t been obvious to him that there was demonic affliction involved and he wanted to know how I knew that it was. At the time, I thought it was common sense. I listened to what the man told us he was experiencing … the medication working on everything except for his knee, the pain “dancing around” in the soaking room, the pain level shooting up when the knee was prayed for directly … it all seemed weird and,based about what we had been taught, it seemed obvious to me that there was something else involved. I was certain of it.
I thought it was my own brain, my own logic and reason, that made me realize the issue and it seemed odd to me that it wasn’t as obvious to everyone else that received the same information that I did.
But I’ve realized just recently that it wasn’t my own brain that brought that realization, it was the revelation of the Holy Spirit.
God gives wisdom and understanding. This isn’t just a verse, this is reality. We can have facts and information, it doesn’t mean that we will have understanding.
I try to remember this when I get frustrated when people don’t grasp things that seem so plain and obvious to me. I think, “How can you not know this?”
But sometimes, I think more often than we realize, we have understanding because the Holy Spirit has given it too us … an aided leap to connect dots that we wouldn’t have connected on our own. Daniel 1:17 states that God gave Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abenego understanding of “all wisdom and literature.” They understood through the the grace and aid of God. Also in Daniel, “God gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars.” (Daniel 2:21) He shows us where to look, highlights the important things, and helps us make good and true connections between facts. Facts are meaningless unless we have a true understanding of the role they play in reality.
Sometimes we think that “revelation” from God is all woo, some mystical out-of-body experience like spending a week playing hopscotch with angels in heaven. It’s not. The Good News is that through Christ, we have communion with God. God does not just dwell with is, he is in us. We don’t have to “go” anywhere to have revelation, because we have the in dwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes revelation just feels like common sense when it is actually the Divine sense guiding us.
Revelation and Revealing
We start from a place of darkness and ignorance. That is our default position. We don’t know anything until we’re taught: either by another person or by direct revelation from God.
When God gives us a revelation, an understanding that we would not have come to on our own, it is so we can reveal that to others. This is part of our “co-laboring” with Christ. God’s plan is not only for us, but he brings us into it and makes us a part of bringing it about.