God Smiles

Oct 23 / Alaine Buchanan

Listen to the audio version here:

A few months ago, my family and I planned a trip to Canada. We visited the Canadian side of the Niagara Falls this past weekend. Upon arriving at our hotel, we received an upgrade to our room, which was a significant surprise to us! The picture you see is of the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, taken from our hotel room. We spent hours watching, observing, and taking in the Falls both on the ground and from our hotel room. What you can't see in this picture is the reality that this surprise upgrade was a gift from God, a balm to my soul, because October holds difficult memories for me. This October has its own challenges, too.

When memories from past Octobers flood my heart, mind, and soul, I sometimes find myself in a space of wondering if it's possible to acknowledge what once was while considering what "is" now, with hope for what "could be." And to "be" with these feelings and emotions…to pause, to consider what I'm feeling on the inside and where I am feeling it in my body, acknowledging it, and "sitting with" it for a while.

In past Octobers, I have practiced deep breathing, lectio divina, and examen to help me stay grounded. While I'm still actively embracing these practices this October, I'm also choosing to be a bit more unhurried and intentional in exploring God's voice through verbal and nonverbal communication, whether that comes through reading the Bible or another piece of literature, conversations with people, walking in nature or engaging in the normality of everyday life.

Here is what I'm noticing this October: God is in the little things: the smile on someone's face, the grief in a person's eyes, the groundhogs that reside near our home, the unwanted variety of wild mushrooms in our yard, and the neighborhood kids who play together. God is in the midst of the bigger things, too, like the changing of the seasons from summer to fall, the ebb and flow of life shifts, and the roaring of Niagara Falls.

We have observed the Canadian Horseshoe Falls in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Regardless of what is happening in the surrounding environment, the water continues to cascade over those falls. Measures have been taken to leverage this water for power and to reduce the flow of the water during non-business hours to preserve the Falls for as long as possible. I am convinced God is in the midst of the water's movement, and God likes to smile on us in the midst of liminal spaces.

Liminal spaces are those moments and seasons where what once "was" is no longer and what is yet to "be" has not yet come to fruition, or when what was expected is not what "is." Sometimes, these liminal spaces are expected. Sometimes, they are unexpected. Some are desired. Some are dreaded. Some last shorter in time, and some seem to last quite a bit longer than anticipated. All have the potential to be life-changing in some form or fashion, and God is deeply embedded and at work in those spaces.

I am currently in a season of walking alongside others in an unwanted, yet necessary, season of change, a liminal space, even as I, too, am experiencing the same. It is a challenging space to be in, yet it has also enhanced a curiosity within me to explore God's invitation in the midst of the "hard."

In my work life, I serve as a mid-level administrator, and I also teach Biblical Studies at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Scripture (and other humanitarian literature) is filled with stories of people who find themselves in liminal spaces. Scripture also includes psalms and short wisdom sayings that address liminal spaces. As one who loves to study Scripture and who has also learned the importance of engaging and embracing my heart, body, and soul as I read, study, and listen to various types of literature, I ask the following questions when I want to explore the liminal spaces of other people in various types of literature:

  1. What circumstances surrounded this person who was in a liminal space?
  2. Were the people around this person aware of their feelings and what they were going through? If so, how did they respond? If not, why not?
  3. How did this person respond within their liminal space?
  4. How did God interact with this person?
  5. Did God seem to be silent, or did God speak in a tangible or intangible way? Why? How?
  6. What was God inviting this person to understand and embrace in the context of their liminal space?
  7. How did this person shift or change because of the liminal space they experienced? How did it affect their personhood?
  8. How does this person's story affect your heart, body, and soul? Do you resonate with it or resist it? Why?
  9. How is God inviting you to respond?

I am convinced that God is deeply embedded and at work in the midst of everyday life. May you experience God smiling on you in the depths of your own liminal spaces, too.
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Alaine Buchanan

Alaine Buchanan is an ordained minister, spiritual director, an active duty Army chaplain's spouse and a mom. She holds a PhD in Second Temple Literature and History and also teaches Biblical Studies (including history, theology and world religions) at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Alaine is currently serving as the Dean of the College of Graduate and Professional Studies and Dean of Digital Education at North Central University in Minneapolis, MN. She has received certification in trauma care through the Allender Center and in Spiritual Direction through the Companioning Center.

In spiritual direction, Alaine loves to walk alongside those who are journeying through liminal spaces. She specializes in discernment, inner healing, spiritual formation practices and group spiritual direction. She is a fan of tea, chocolate, and all the Seattle sports teams. She can be found on FacebookInstagram and LinkedIn.