sub-liminal

i don’t know if i’d ever heard the word “liminal” until the last several years. if i had, i wasn’t familiar with it. in fact, when i noticed quite a few of my friends in the emerging church using the word, i had to look it up! since then, it’s become an important word and idea to me.

dictionary.com, and particularly the online etymology dictionary, showed me that “liminal” is latin for threshold.

i often hear “liminal” used in terms of “thin places.” and, particularly, those thin places where god’s presence seems more palpable.

now, in one sense, i believe that god is present at all times, and in all places. all that omni stuff. but, i certainly experience times and even places that seem more ripe with spiritual potential, or having the residue of the spirit’s regular presence, or something like that. for me, a few of those places have been:
- a quiet cabin in the desert i went to once (need to go back to that place)
- the monet waterlily rooms in the musee l’orangerie, in paris
- mission san luis rey, in north county san diego
- several cathedrals around the world (though they do not all have this liminal sense to the same extent)

some of this is more “time” than “place for me, like:
- a general session at the national youth workers convention when thousands of youth workers are singing to god
- the baptismal celebrations my church hosts at mission bay, in san diego, twice a year
- worship experiences that are foreign to me (like a couple experiences at world youth day in sydney last summer, or my occasional experiences worshiping in an african american church)

but here’s the funny thing. after a few years of enjoying the notion of liminal spaces, and even a seeking out of these places and times, i was recently struck by something. i was in a dcla content development meeting with my friend jim hancock, and i’d said something about liminal spaces. a few minutes later, jim said something in response, intentionally saying “sub… liminal” (he put a beat after “sub”). so, yeah, i’m a simple-minded dork at times, but i’d NEVER actually noticed that liminal is the second half of the word subliminal. certainly psychology peeps would all know this, since “limin” is latin for “the edge of consciousness” (connected to that idea that “liminal” is “threshold”). which means that “subliminal” means “below the threshold of consciousness”.

ok. makes sense. but this got me thinking about what spiritual significance could exist in the word sub-liminal, if the liminal part of that word is referring to those thin places where god is either tangibly present, or a spiritual sense exists that god has been here a lot, or might just pop by at any moment. what are “sub-thin-places”?

what’s the “below the threshold of consciousness” place where god’s presence is felt, or close?

i would love hear your thoughts on this. maybe i’m just playing a semantic game; but i feel like there’s something in this for me. i really need to get away on one of my silent retreats and meditate on this. i need to ask god to reveal something to me on this, and just wait for a half day in silence.

5 thoughts on “sub-liminal”

  1. This is interesting. I can identify with the things you listed, and I’m wondering if this explains those “holy moments” I sometimes have while visiting with old folks too. I don’t do it much, and always dread going to nursing homes and whatnot, but more times than not I’ve noticed that I will just be sitting there listening, or maybe nothing is even being said, and all of a sudden there’s this “sense” that God is in the room or something.

    Hmm. Yeah. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Once again, you have done an amazing job of putting into words what I’ve been trying to communicate to the students and staff that I serve. Coming from a charismatic background, this sense is one I’ve grown up with just expecting, and there’s much talk about it. However, right now I’m serving in a much more conservative community church, and I’ve been trying to help them understand this sense of God’s presence. Unfortunately, my background hasn’t done a good job of helping me to explain what I’m always just experienced. Thanks for the help.

  3. The only reason I know the word liminal is because of The SImpsons.

    On the Boy band episode they explain that the Navy has a three-pronged scheme to force people to enlist in the Navy: sub-liminal, liminal and super-liminal

    Lisa: “What’s Super-Liminal?”
    Navy Guy opens the window and yells: “Hey You! Join the Navy!!”
    Lenny and Carl: “Alright…:

  4. For those of us who come from more liturgically-driven traditions, I think much of our worship life is geared more toward the sub-liminal than the liminal. There’s something about the sacraments that gets under one’s skin–even for those who don’t yet feel it liminally, they are being formed at the subliminal level. When we recite the Lord’s Prayer, Apostle’s Creed, or other historic confessions of the church, holy activity is occurring whether we recognize it or not.

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