Mary Lane Potter, Ph.D., is an author and teacher of writing who originally worked in the academy as a professor of theology. This shift from serving as an academic to a writer in the world was born of the desire to reach a broader audience, one beyond traditional religious communities. As a teacher in the world she continues to raise the big questions of life, mostly through the medium of literary fiction. For her list of books and current projects feel free to visit her website at members.authorsguild.net/marylapotter.
One of Mary’s first graduate classes at the University of Chicago was with Victor Turner. As she described it, “The class met on the floor of his small living room in his apartment in Hyde Park.” And that set the stage for Mary’s long affinity for all things liminal.
In one of Mary Potter’s turning point pilgrimages, she visited many of the temples and shrines of Asia. In Cambodia, she traveled to the early capital of the Khmer Empire, Hariharalaya, to visit three sacred temples. The first was at Preah Ko and it was there that she first encountered moonstones – the stone landings at the bottom of stairs leading up to main outer entrances. All this she describes in detail in her article, Standing on Moonstones: The Art of Dwelling Between (ARTS Fall, vol. 31, no. 1, 27-37), from which the following quotations are taken.
Though I didn’t yet know to call them moonstones, the first time I stepped onto those stone slabs, I sensed their uncanny difference immediately. There was no mistaking them for the path leading to the temple or the bottom steps of the staircase leading up to the temple … I felt these stones, softened by countless seasons and feet, welcoming me. I felt their broad expansiveness holding me, their curves embracing me, inviting me to linger there.
She found herself hovering above the ground, but beneath the temple. Somewhere between.
I was standing on a threshold, limina, between two worlds, between the interior of the temple and all that lay outside, between the sacred and the profane. between the spirit and the body, between the already and the not yet, tingling with the power of between, a space charged with the promise and danger of moving between worlds … Shaped by those stones, I began to know the wisdom of liminality.
Mary experienced the same thing in reverse on the way out of the temple. Standing on the moonstone she paused to reenter the world slowly, mindfully, considering where she had been and where she might be going. May we speak of the vocation to which liminality calls us?
Threshold people are urgently needed now, for we’re living in a liminal period, a time of transition, of uncertainty, doubt, and disorientation … the temples, synagogues, cathedrals, churches, and mosques we have built and worshiped in for centuries are emptying and crumbling, and the everyday world that we have known and loved is disappearing, dying, species by species, galaxy by galaxy … For a new vision and integration of our world to arise, we need people who withdraw from the world to ask radical questions, imagine new structures, create new spaces for us to be shaped by – out of words as well as paint and stones and ideas … We need writers, artists, and thinkers devoted to the art of dwelling between, people continually crossing over between the sacred and profane to find words, hear voices, see visions that do not yet exist. We need threshold people. We need people standing on moonstones.