Rev. Dr. Richard Gentzler, Jr.

Hearing stories about the many ways high schools are trying to deal with graduation ceremonies — or lack thereof — during the COVID-19 pandemic made me reflect on my own high school graduation. Perhaps you too have given thought to your own high school or college graduation.

I was very active in my high school, having participated in many activities and sports. My senior year, I was elected Student Council president. Following my graduation ceremony, I remember driving my car to an isolated spot, mediating on what was, and thinking about what might be as I prepared to go off to college. I was caught in the middle of a muddle. I felt a great sense of joy upon graduating from high school but also discomfort, anxiety, and uncertainty in anticipating change.

Older adults, myself included, generally appreciate continuity and familiarity in their lives. For example, we want to experience worship services that are predictable and familiar. We need the presence of familiar religious symbols, hymns, and rituals to support our continuing identify as members of the church.

Change and unsettling times are difficult. Right now, we long to gather together face-to-face and person-to-person in our church sanctuaries and classrooms. But currently our world is unpredictable and bewildering.

In the middle of a muddle is one of my favorite expressions I often say when I am caught in an unfamiliar life situation. It is another way of saying we are living in liminality—where the order of things is suspended. Liminal comes from the Latin word limin, which means of or pertaining to a threshold. I recently discovered this term in the daily meditation series by Father Richard Rohr titled “Liminal Space”.

Rohr writes, “Liminal space is an inner state and sometimes an outer situation where we can begin to think and act in new ways. It is where we are betwixt and between, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the next. We usually enter liminal space when our former way of being is challenged or changed—perhaps when we lose a job or a loved one, during illness, at the birth of a child, or a major relocation. It is a graced time, but often does not feel ‘graced’ in any way. In such space, we are not certain or in control. This global pandemic we now face is an example of an immense, collective liminal space. The very vulnerability and openness of liminal space allows room for something genuinely new to happen.”

Feeling not certain or in control expresses our present situation as church leaders. Yet it is also a time in which, by the grace of God, we need to live with patience, silence, humility, faith, and hope. We are experiencing life, as we have known it, being suspended. What will be we do not know. All we know is that we do not know.

My friend, Leona Bergstrom, writes, “Universally, we are experiencing the order of things being suspended. What will we learn during this season? How will we change? How do we live with purpose and passion in the midst of a pandemic? How do we find hope and possibility in this space?”

In this time of not knowing and uncertainty, may we all draw comfort from our faith in and belief in the One who does.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).