Then the Devil took Jesus to Jerusalem, the Holy City, set him on the highest point of the Temple, and said to him, “If you are God’s Son, throw yourself down, for the scripture says,
‘God will give orders to his angels about you;
they will hold you up with their hands,
so that not even your feet will be hurt on the stones.’”
Jesus answered, “But the scripture also says, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Matthew 4 v 5- 7
Christian author and editor Sheryl Fullerton, received a cancer diagnosis two years ago which required complex surgery. Like many individuals who are on earnest spiritual journeys, she allowed the painful and challenging experience to transform and guide her to greater wisdom.
She writes: “When we find ourselves in liminal space, does it matter whether we are pushed or whether we jump? Either way, we are not where or what we were before, nor do we know how or where we will land in our new reality. We are, as the anthropologist Victor Turner (1920–1983) wrote, betwixt and between. In that space—which is mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual—we are destabilized, disoriented. The old touchstones, habits, and comforts are now past, the future unknown. We only wish such a time to be over. We may be impatient to pass through it quickly, with as little distress as possible, even though that is not likely.”
Talking to a friend last night about this week’s theme and the notion of liminal space, we considered how the period of lockdown would be more bearable if we knew how long it would last. A question came into my mind about the temptation story in the gospel; I wonder if Jesus knew that he would be there in the desert, to go throw that “in between” time, for 40 days? I wonder if he had that target time frame to endure or if he simply surrendered himself, in faith, to the necessary process for as long as it needed to last? Of course, looking back, we know it was 40 days and that is a long time but when you are in a liminal space, a time of transition it would be so much easier to know how many days you have to go, so that the end is insight. Much as we can voice these questions and allow our feelings of frustration and longing to be acknowledged, I think it’s vital to reinforce the point that this is not a hiatus in our life, this is life. Today is not something to wish away, today is the present – a gift in itself with something to offer.
We can choose to experience this liminal space and time, this uncomfortable now, as . . . a place and state of creativity, of construction and deconstruction, choice and transformation.
The Psalms of the Old Testament are poetic readings full of longing that regularly cry out “How Long O Lord”. Our section of the temptation story today, at first hearing, reminds us of times in our life where we might have put God to the test by asking Him to give us a sign that He is real or there. We are supposedly testing God and God’s goodness as the Devil encouraged Jesus to do but actually, it is ourselves that we are testing. How long can we bear it, how long can we cope with this without blaming or being angry at another for us being in this situation? As Jesus showed us in his life and death, God does not come and do life for us, taking over our choices and our free will but when we accept and surrender to the experience of life right here, right now, God gives us strength and (as we will see later in the week) the angels we need to minister to us and help us keep going. “How long O Lord” we might cry…..the answer seems to be, “as long as it takes” but know, that the Lord has promised to never leave us or forsake us and is with us in every step of every day.