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My family recently moved from Ontario to New Mexico where my husband and I took a call to co-pastor a church. The past few months have been, what you might call, an experience of liminality: we’re in an “in-between” place when we no longer live in the farm country of Ontario but we’re not quite fully settled in the high desert of New Mexico.
It’s not lost on me that in the Bible, the desert wilderness is often a liminal place. The high desert town where we live is no wilderness, and yet, the connection seems fitting for now.
Many others have written about how liminal places are ripe for transformation and experiencing God’s presence in unique ways like the ancient Israelites did in the wilderness wanderings. I don’t disagree. But what I trust to be true can be hard to know.
In this in-between space it’s hard to think straight. It’s hard to write clearly. It’s hard to see anything more profound than my to-do list (okay, lists). So I suspect God is calling me to get out of my head and pay attention to my senses.
God’s presence is not only made known in my thoughts, but in more concrete ways as well. While there are no pillars of fire or cloud here, there are other things to pay attention to. By paying attention I hope to learn to live in my body and in the present tense – not to forget the past or neglect the future, but to hold them together here and now. God is here, too, leading, guiding, holding it all together.
Here in this in-between place, I am noticing things I might not otherwise notice. These things speak to me of God’s goodness, God’s love, God’s faithfulness, and my desperate need for God’s presence.
I have noticed that since moving I have made a lot of apple pie.
It’s the pie recipe that my grandma would make. It’s the pie that comprised many of my meals in the fall of 2008 when I lived in a drafty farmhouse on an apple orchard. The recipe is sparse with details, and so I need to rely on my past memories and experiences baking it. Let me show you what I mean.
How many apples am I supposed to use? However many I feel like, and usually more than comfortably fit in the pan. What kind of apples work best? Whatever kind have been sitting in my produce basket and are starting to shrivel. How long does it bake? The note says about an hour, but I prefer to keep it in until the house smells strongly enough of apple pie to remind me that there is an apple pie in the oven.
There are no instructions for this recipe – just a quick list of ingredients, some of which I’ve learned to substitute. Corn starch for tapioca. Butter for margarine. Always. And the recipe doesn’t mention that yes, there is supposed to be a crust. I find Grandma’s recipe is my favorite (once I substitute butter for margarine). The memory of how to make it is lived out in my body. Rolling the crust, slicing the apples, cutting the butter into the crumble that goes on top. I have learned it is best served with friends – old or new – and with some ice cream, though hiding in the kitchen and eating it directly from the pan the next day will also work if there’s not enough left to share.
I have noticed that since moving I have made a lot of apple pie. I am trying to pay attention to this pie and why it’s important to me. It’s the past coming along with me, which is more than just a metaphor for what happens in liminal places. The good and the hard and delightful and stressful memories of the past do not leave but are held in my body as God draws near in the present in-between place.
Over the next few weeks, I hope to share more about those embodied experiences I think God is drawing my attention to in this in-between place. We’re probably all experiencing something like this in-between space as we exist in between the very worst of the pandemic and whatever our new normal will be. Not where we used to be, but not quite to where we are going. How is God drawing near to you in this time? What is God drawing your attention to?
Photo by Stephanie Klepacki on Unsplash
Thank you. Deeply felt and elegantly written.
Daniel, Betsy is Ina’s pastor in Gallup
Nice connection. I am friends with Betsy’s professor in Toronto.
Thank you for reading! Which professor would that be?
Paul Scott Wilson. I just was on retreat with him a couple weeks ago in Eastern Ontario, where I have a cottage.
Looking forward to hearing more about the liminal space.
Good to hear from you, Larry. I hope you enjoyed your pie 😊
Love this, Betsy! Thank you…I can smell the pie!
Thanks for reading, Aunt Cara!
Think and pray for you often. You inspired me to make an apple pie:) take care!! Tracy
Thanks Tracy. I hope you enjoyed the pie! Miss you all!
Thank you. I’m reading this in the desert of Tucson at General Synod – where we, the RCA, is certainly at an “in between place.” Remembering our old recipes would be a good thing even as we switch up and add butter.
Ah, yes, that seems right. Strength to you!
Betsy, much valued and appreciated. I believe that holding that space is precisely our duty and calling; to stand and be present here at the threshold on both sides of history.
relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.
occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold
Yes – well put!
Pie is always a good idea. So is paying attention. I look forward to reading about what you are noticing through your beautiful writing.
Nice to hear your “voice” again. Thank you for sharing!