November, The Month Of Betwixt And Between

 1 November 2021 |

The season of winter will be soon upon us. With the clocks ‘going back’, evenings have begun getting darker and darker. Perhaps the weather may turn cold. Many of us grab for the vitamin A tablets to keep us more upbeat and our daily rounds are coloured by the prospect of Christmas around the corner. I don’t know why, but when I’m in the middle of summer I can’t believe winter is a reality at all (of course, it’s also true, when we are in darkest winter, it is hard to imagine we’ll ever see summer again!). and yet these months hold some of the great festivals of the Christian year, lights in our darkness.

After Harvest and Remembrance Sunday, we turn our thoughts to Advent and through the month of November we spend time – and worship – focussed on preparing ourselves and the community for the moment of Christ’s birth. In the lectionary, they are known as the ‘weeks before Advent’ – a time of looking forward while also reflecting on past saints and the souls of those we have left behind, on whose shoulders we build our faith. Some churches reflect this moment with a change in colour around the church: mostly green or red, just as the leaves on the trees turn from the summer green to the autumn red. Once Advent arrives, they change again to purple and then white for Christmas. In the United Reformed Church most churches and ministers tend not to follow this marking of the seasons, which I think is a great shame.

For me, the most important element in November is the remembering of the past and also the preparing for the future – a church that only remembers the past is not alive; the church that looks only to the future loses much of what the past can teach us. At the Zoom service on the 24th October I looked at Psalm 126 which, some scholars believe, celebrates the goodness of God in liberating God’s people from exile in the past, while also looking forward to God’s great liberation for us all. James Cone expresses it more explicitly in his wonderful Black Theology when he reflects on the faith of black slaves who sang the gospel songs, even while in chains: “It, the passionate character of theological language, is a language of celebration and joy that the freedom promised is already present in the community’s struggle for liberation.”

Exploring this in any encyclopaedia introduces us to the word ‘liminality’: “being on a threshold,” is the condition that prevails during the inner phase of rites of passage, those rituals performed in many societies to transfer a person from one stage of life to another. Liminality is the experience of being betwixt and between.

In the Church, November is the month that sits on the threshold, helping us to reflect on the past, yet long for a future.