Advent – the liminal space
I wasn’t brought up in the Anglican church, so I hadn’t heard much about Advent and the beginning of the church year until well into adulthood. Now though, there is something quite other-worldly, something quite unsettling about the time that runs up to Christmas. We might be rushing about buying gifts, and making plans, this year, of all years that has looked very different to the usual and while some of those differences bring more pressure, others remove some pressure. Hopefully, at least.
This year I am writing a book, it is very much a picture of the ‘now and not yet’! I have been reading a lot around youth work that has taken place this year, in the Covid Era and been rather blown away by the way that youth workers in all sorts of contexts have responded to the upheaval created by lockdowns and ever-changing restrictions handed down by the UK government. See below for more details about when the book will be out.
One of those youth workers is Steve Blower who has written a Grove Book on Detached Youth Work (you can buy a copy here). In it he talks about mission in terms that resonate really clearly with me, Christians can fall into a trap of talking about mission in the binary terms of ‘light into the darkness’ and this can be a false dichotomy. Christians aren’t the only purveyors of the light, if all of humanity is made in the image of God, we all possess a spark of light. Rowan Williams is known for describing mission as ‘finding out what God is doing and joining in’ and this has always seemed to be a clearer picture of what we do when we ‘do mission’. Add to this the potential for the kind of statement which pitches light against darkness to reinforce the inherently racist narrative of light equalling good and darkness equalling evil and it’s clear that we need to stop talking in these terms (read more about this here)
He also has an excellent model of youth work in liminal spaces, spaces that are thresholds. As we consider Advent as a liminal time, a time of the ‘now and not yet’ we also notice that adolescence itself can be described as liminal. As childhood gives way to something else, adolescence is the liminal space between childhood and adulthood. Steve also talks about viewing young people as “young wilderness prophets” and I love this. Young people are not simply waiting to become adults, so that they can practice their faith fully. Young people are the cutting edge of faith, when empowered to use their voices for the greater good, as they so often do, they change not only their own lives but the lives of those around them and those who come after them. Good youth work should do this, Christian youth work especially should allow us to be shepherds to these voices, urging them to speak up, to go further, supporting them to understand that the world is a better place with them in it and that they in turn can make the world a better place for themselves and others.
It is a truly liminal space to occupy.