Crossing Waterfalls


“Poor Niagara!” said Eleanor Roosevelt (reportedly) upon seeing Iguazu Falls, a series of waterfalls stretching for a mile and a half between Brazil and Argentina. We recently visited the Brazilian side of the falls and enjoyed lingering along the trail, captivated by the magnitude and splendor of so many cascading rivulets amidst so much green forest.

Iguazu boardwalk

Tourists enjoy the misty spray of The Devil's Throat segment of Iguazu Falls

As we meandered, I often stopped to watch a particular ripple of water glide, hover, and crash down into the river. I enjoyed how the water seemed to move both quickly and slowly at the same time. I noticed sections of the cliffs where little islands of grass and trees separated the flat horizontal plane of the river from the sheer vertical drop of the falls, distorting my sense of what was land and what was water.

These various blurrings got me thinking about borders we’ve encountered lately: between city and country, between Spanish and Guaraní, between middle-class and working-class, and of course, between the United States and South America. Each time we cross a border – geographic, linguistic, class, or otherwise – we simultaneously reiterate and transcend that line. We reiterate it in the sense that as we move from one space to another we acknowledge the many differences between the space we are leaving and the space we are entering. We also transcend the border, at least in a small way, by being willing to venture across, and by receiving welcome on the other side.

A different way of looking at our dear New England, by watersheds instead of political boundaries.
(Used by general permission from the Environmental Protection Agency,

At several moments in pastoral care training, I’ve studied the concept of liminality. Liminality is the psychological and spiritual space at the thresholds between different phases in life, places, or identities. Having giving up a portion of who we are or what we do on a day-to-day basis, we confront an absence of ready tools for understanding, and, consequently, we may have a glimpse into deeper realities of self, community, and purpose. As Marian and I venture onwards in our border-straddling, we try to keep ourselves open to new learning and spiritual growth.

The Christian story (and the stories of many other religions) is full of border liminality. God is born a human; the unsavory tax collectors and respected Pharisees eat together in the Bible; the apostles cross linguistic divides when they receive the gift of tongues, and then cross geographical lines when they journey far and wide.

The Igauzu River forms the border between Argentina and Brazil; visible in the picture are tourists on the Argentinian side.

What are some common liminal spaces found in your faith community? What are the border-crossings in your life journey? What insights have these moments of boundary-crossing given you?

6 Responses to “Crossing Waterfalls”

  1. Reblogged this on msamba.

  2. 4 Thandiwe

    Thanks for bringing up liminality here – it is an important part of my own understanding of my ministry, especially ministry across borders and boundaries. Indeed, I have been thinking over the last few months of the ways in which prayer, preaching and pastoral care are all ventures into liminal space: the space between us and the divine, the space between us and each other, the space between the already and the not-yet of the Beloved Community. Having an awareness of the in-between-ness of these spaces can, I think, help us to maintain our own sense of humility as we enter into them. We are no longer the experts but are instead explorers, learners. We can then open ourselves to what we find shared in those spaces. What a blessing this is!

  3. 5 James deBoer

    Thandiwe – thanks for your comment! I appreciate thinking about ways in which the pastor or community leader serves as fellow explorer, and I also share your perspective about how liminality can function as a guiding precept for all of the many aspects of pastoral work, from pastoral visitation to social justice.

    Happy equinox!

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