Kairos-Milwaukie United Church of Christ

Photo: © iStock.com / Olena_Z (image #1282751250)November is a tricky month for me. The trees begin to shed their glorious autumn colors, the gray sky settles down on us like a blanket, and every day we lose a few more precious minutes of daylight. I know Thanksgiving is just a few short weeks away and advent and Christmas close behind, but still, November often feels like a giant gray pause.

But slowly, I am learning to embrace the pause. To see the grayness as softness, the darker days as an invitation into mystery. I try to remember with Wendell Berry that “the dark too blooms and sings.”

This year, the November pause has echoes for me of the pause that cultural anthropologists label the “liminal.” It’s a concept first named by Arnold Van Gennep. While studying tribal communities and their rites of passage, Van Gennep noticed that right in the middle of these rites there was an almost universal stage of ambiguity, or disorientation. A time when the person or group in transition was in between something that was ending (childhood for example) and a new situation not yet begun.

What was true of tribal communities and their initiation rites, turned out to be true for other kinds of communities and organizations and even whole cultures. Standing on the boundary or threshold (from the Latin word līmen) we have one foot rooted in something that is not yet over, while the other foot is planted in a thing not yet defined, something not yet ready to begin.

We can allow this pause to fill up with anxiety and dread – over what might be lost, and what we may not be able to do or achieve. Or we can allow this pause to be filled up with a sense of peace and possibility. As Pixar president Ed Catmull put it, “there is a sweet spot between the known and the unknown where originality happens; the key is to linger there without panicking.”

Standing here in the doorway, before the holiday season begins, before COVID ends, as America teeters on the edge of deep cultural change, before the church at large and this congregation in particular know what the future will hold for us…

Standing here together, let’s embrace the soft gentleness of the gray days and the mysterious beauty of the dark. Let’s linger here, reveling in gratitude for all that has been and breathing deeply as we hope in the future.