Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thank you Victor Turner

The space between. Chasing the dragon. Ecstasy. Liminality.
I should probably thank Arnold Van Gennep since he first wrote about the liminal. So shout out to Van Gennep. But I learned about liminality while studying Victor Turner in high school and then again in college. And I became obsessed with not only understanding liminality but in living it - constantly. Van Gennep described the three parts of a liminal experience, most often found in rites of passages where the participant changes during the ritual. The three parts are: separation, liminal period and reassimilation.

I grew up in the Baptist church where it was common to "catch the Holy Ghost" and dance wildly and scream and cry. It wasn't a Pentecostal church, mind you, speaking in tongues was firmly frowned upon. The white-clad ushers would circle the parishoner and wrap them in a human cocoon to keep them safe and prevent them from bumping into someone else in their altered state. I never found these moments to be scary or frightening. In fact I was fascinated. I would watch the person's face to see if they were really there. I wanted to know where "they" went and who or what was in their place. And I always remembered the moment when they came back and became themselves again - when they reassimilated. Always completely oblivious to what just happened. As I got older I began studying the religions of Africa and the diaspora. And I learned about spirit possession and people being "mounted" by the orisha. Now this was no different than what I saw in church growing up. And I longed to have the experience. I would sit in church and be moved but I would cry silently or feel myself being overcome by some perfect presence. I never jumped up and down or danced wildly. And somehow felt that my religious experience was "less than" others. That I was not as devout. Not as able to achieve Grace. I began to seek that "other" experience in various ways.

I was a smoker, a drug dabbler, a pretty decent drinker. I never achieved full promiscuity thank G-d but that didn't stop me from trying. I was moving from addiction to addiction trying to get closer to Grace. It never showed.

The next step was childbirth. Now that is an ecstatic experience. Wrong. My births were not ecstatic experiences. They were hard and scary and released ancient demons I thought long since killed or at least beaten into submission through years of denial and beer. And there I stood three children and 36 years later still chasing the dragon, searching for Grace. And then I got cancer.

Nope, that didn't do it for me either. I mostly slogged through cancer trying my best to get from one day to the next and to stay warm. Like most women, I was so busy living my life that I missed the opportunity to reflect upon it.

Now that the dust has settled and I have some time to look back I can see that Grace has always been with me. I mistook it for grace - little g. I wanted the big operatic ending. I wanted to jump up and down and dance wildly and speak in tongues. And then I did what Sweet Honey in the Rock told me to do: I got still. And realized that I am not a dancer, a screamer, a tongues-speaker. I am a quiet, internal, intensely private child of Grace. Chasing the dragon I was always behind it. Now I just walk through my life and let Grace find me. And she always does.

May Grace find you today.

in peace

photo by Savage Land Pictures

No comments: