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This morning as we continue emerging as a butterfly from a chrysalis, looking for connections with our own life and faith, we are at the point where the butterfly has pushed through the chrysalis and is beginning to unfold into its new form. For us a comparison might be when we have been crammed into a seat on an airplane and we can stand up and really stretch for the first time. Getting that blood flowing again that has been restricted for hours. It feels amazing! For a butterfly – its abdomen is distended as it emerges, filled with fluid that belongs in the wings, and it begins stretching out – filling its wings right to the tips and stretching them out to their full potential. They are fully expanded but very soft and vulnerable. They are not ready to be used for flight yet. They are still adjusting to life outside of the chrysalis. The butterfly needs to just pause and hang there for a while, so the wings can adjust, take shape and firm up before it is ready to fly.
This space between the chrysalis and the flying might seem like lost time – like nothing is going on. It might feel unproductive. It is that space between two important phases: metamorphosis and flight. We can’t see anything happening – the butterfly just seems like it is hanging out, waiting or maybe unsure of what to do next. We almost want to be cheerleaders, cheering them on – come on butterfly – you can do it, you can fly!
But this space between is more important than we give it credit for – for butterflies and for us as well. And there’s even a name for this space between. It is liminal space. It deals with times of transition. These in between times are often uncomfortable for us. We don’t know how to be in this space – not knowing where exactly we are headed – being between what was and what will be. So often we just want to get where we are going – we want to get there, we want to be there. And then there are times when we just don’t know what’s next, and we flounder in the present, struggling with what is right now. How many of you like major life transitions? Sure we may look forward to the new thing, or we dread it – but it is this in between space that I’m referring to, the liminal space between one and another.
Like the transitional time that comes in between the shift from employment to retirement, from one job to another, from the death of a loved one to living into that reality of their absence. From good health to sickness. From being single or recovering from heartbreak to maybe experiencing love again. And many of you have been in the space I’m about to be in, with my last child graduating, and soon to leave for university – becoming an empty nester and what that will look like. In each of these major life transitions we have no clue what life looks like on the other side. Yes we might have hopes and dreams, but they are just that – we don’t know what will be.
Last week Nancy spoke about the liminal time that we are in right now in the church. The successes of the church in the past – those same things don’t work today – so what will we become? What will the church look like 20 years from now. Sometimes this liminal space is full of hopes and dreams and potential, but sometimes, we have no idea what to even hope for or dream about.
We have a hard time resting in this space – it feels unproductive and uncertain – and that’s exactly what the butterfly does when it emerges from the chrysalis – it just comes out, extends its wings, stretching them out, but not yet ready to fly. It just simply hangs there until the wings are full and dried and ready for use. In fact, if it tries to fly too soon after it emerges, it would hurt its wings permanently. Without allowing the wings time to dry, they would collapse in on themselves, not having the strength and qualities needed for flight, they would bend and break, and then harden that way as they dry.
I’m going out on a limb here, but I would imagine that most of us don’t like those liminal spaces – the times in between, when the most productive thing that we can do is simply rest and just be, without a goal or purpose, without something we are intentionally working for or towards. Without stretching our wings and taking flight – that time of just resting, giving freshly formed wings time to dry – can feel useless, or a waste of time, but it sure is not! It is in that liminal space that imaginations are set free to dream of the future. It is in that liminal space that we can reflect on where we have been and how that has shaped us. It is in that liminal space that we can be reminded of our strengths and skills that will lead us into our future into our potential. In this liminal space, we get to know ourselves a little better, our environment a little better as we look around at our place in it. It may be in this liminal space that we allow ourselves the time and space to hear God’s call and God’s voice or notice the nudging of the Spirit in a new direction.
That unfolding takes time and patience.
So how fitting it is that our story for this week is with impatient Simon who is bestowed a new name by Jesus as “the rock upon which I will build my church.” Peter in many ways is a wonderful character who embodies transformation.
He is the one who constantly is putting his foot in his mouth. And he is also, in some ways beautifully, the one who took steps the disciples wouldn’t take. He is the one who had the courage to take steps out of the boat to walk across the water toward Jesus. He was the one who struck out with a sword to defend Jesus against the high priest’s slave in the garden of Gethsemane. Of course, he is also the one who denied knowing Jesus.
He is beautifully complex, and knowing his story is helpful for us in recognizing our own humanity and complexity.
We really don’t see some of Peter’s best transformation until the Gospel of Acts though. That is where we find Peter beginning to proclaim a radical gospel of inclusivity for the Gentiles — of all people!
One could argue that Jesus saw all of this potential in Simon when he named him Peter, even though at that point Peter might have been like the shriveled and small butterfly that has just emerged from the chrysalis. Wings wrinkled and unable to fly, but brimming with potential.
Some might have seen the character of Simon, his aggression and impatience, and dismissed him as a fool. But Jesus recognized Peter’s passion, strength, and resolve and saw something deep within him worth placing his hopes for the future of his message on his shoulders.
It is in this liminal time – where there is so much potential and so many possibilities – we just need the patience to watch and wait, and maybe hang upside down like the butterfly, waiting for our wings to dry.
As many of you know, I recently became a chaplain in the Canadian Armed Forces, for the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. I really didn’t know fully what I was getting into when I embarked on this journey, but I felt a real call to it. So I just hung there upside down for a while, waiting for my wings to dry – and practicing my burpees. I’m still not sure what this role will mean in my life, but so far it has been a pretty incredible experience, beyond what I could have imagined. Just last night was the BC Military Gala – an evening Downtown with about 500 people in attendance, both military and corporate sponsors. I had the great honour of being asked to say grace at the event. After the dinner there were various speakers, including Major General Rob Roy Mackenzie, Chief of the Reserves for Canada, and after his words and others, I just was so overwhelmed by the fact that I am now part of something so much bigger than I am. I felt so proud that little ol’ me was awarded such a privilege. Another thing I never imagined as something I would experience – I have also been asked by the Seaforth Association to join them on their 80th anniversary battlefield tour through Italy. I’ve never been to Europe before – and now I’ll be leading memorial services throughout Italy in town ceremonies and at the gravesites of the Seaforth Highlanders who died in WWII. I leave a week from tomorrow! I certainly never imagined these possibilities back when I first considered applying to be a military chaplain for the reserves.
This story of Jesus’ renaming Simon is beautiful, and a hopeful reminder that none of us are stuck where we are as human beings. We are all in the process of becoming, much like a butterfly un-wrinkling its wings on the verge of taking flight.
As is the church – in this liminal time, perhaps we will feel inspired as we embark on a process of becoming, emerging as something new, something that will take us well into the future, something full of possibilities and potential. What will it look like? Who knows. But we will do it with creativity and the reminder to listen for God’s voice in the unknown.
Running away from the in between spaces, trying desperately to keep ourselves busy – is a coping mechanism, not the solution. When we find ourselves in a liminal space – don’t panic, don’t go running away to escape yourself and your memories, ask for God’s peace, for the strength to stay present to the now, giving your wings time to set in this new space, reflecting on what’s to come as you prepare yourself to fly.
Where are you right now? What liminal space do you find yourself in? What are the new possibilities that God is inviting you to dream about and, when you’re ready, claim for yourself? Throughout the week, I invite you to be reflecting on these questions, to be present to the NOW, even in the midst of life’s transitions and griefs, and to open your spirit for all that God has in store for you, not only in the future, but as each moment unfolds. Perhaps that will require you to hang upside down for a while, waiting for your wings to dry.
*Parts of this sermon inspired by a sermon from Rev. Jessica B. Naulty