SiLent: Getting Liminal

This Lent we are practising and reflecting on silence in solidarity with those young people who are voiceless. Steve Blower from Sidewalk in Scarborough reflects on how stepping towards the voiceless can change our perceptions.

A threshold is a space between two places. It’s neither here nor there, it’s in-between. Anthropologist, Victor Turner talks of rites of passage as being important thresholds for members of community to transition from one life stage to another. Rites of passage for a number of societies and tribes involve being excluded from the community before being reintegrated as a changed person. He describes the in-between phase as a ‘liminal state’.

As Christians, we can read Jesus’ wilderness experience as a liminal experience. Jesus leaves the community, spends 40 grueling days of challenge and isolation in the wilderness before returning with clarity of vision and purpose among a new community that will bring lasting change.

Sang Hyun Lee uses the idea of liminality to explore the impact and potential of marginalisation. I’ve named three stages he identifies in this liminal process as:

  1. Chaos – removal of the person from the established social structures and relationships maintained by their community.
  2. Communitas – formation of new relationships among other voiceless people where experiences and values are shared.
  3. Creativity – voiceless people then return to the established structures with new insight, critique and ideas to challenge established ideas and energise positive change.

Applying this to the gospel narrative; Jesus leaves established structures behind, forms new community in the desert with John the Baptist and others, then challenges the flaws in established structures and promotes the practice of alternative values and ideas, often referred to as the Kingdom of God.

Perhaps this Lent is the perfect time to reflect on the difficult yet energising liminal process:

  • What is our place in the chaos, communitas and creativity young people go through?
  • How can we champion the voice and action of voiceless young people towards new possibilities?

If heard rather than told, nurtured rather than crushed, promoted rather than prevented, young people’s critiques and alternative practices can contribute to addressing and building shalom for all of society.

It concerns me how youthwork is currently being described by our politicians as a ‘preventative’ service. Does this narrative not assume the very worst of young people? Solidarity with those experiencing who are voiceless will often lead to the opposite of prevention; provocation for social change and spiritual renewal. This is why we at Sidewalk continue our practice of detached youthwork. It locates us in the midst of the chaos, the wilderness, the liminal, in-between space where solidarity is the foundation for change, new conversations are the norm and the grassroots are bursting through. How about you? Does this resonate with your practice? How can we encourage each other to move out of our comfort zones and get more liminal this lent?

Steve Blower is project coordinator for Sidewalk – a detached youth project based in the Northeastern coastal town of Scarborough. It’s focus is on asset-based youth work, collaborating with young people to develop strategies to overcome local challenges, achieve goals and improve the community’s capacity for youth participation. Steve says ‘Up the Boro!’ and can be contacted contact via for more information.

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