liminality and fermentation

To develop the tangy flavor of sourdough, bakers will sometimes place it in the fridge, retarding the yeast fermentation. This gives extra time for the bacteria to feast without overproofing the dough. Just a few extra hours at 40°F provides a remarkable change in flavor. The dough can’t live forever in this liminal state, but it’s an important season nonetheless.

The weekend before Ash Wednesday, I found out I’d be moving. This fall I will relocate to Durham, North Carolina to begin a two-year seminary degree at Duke Divinity School, studying food and theology with the very theologians that have so inspired my work up to this point. I’ve been talking about moving every year since I first came to Boston, my plans taking a million different turns as I toggle between a career in the food industry, a love for academia, and a desire to write about faith. Just as I began to nestle into what seemed like my dream job, God gave that holy nudge to go off and do something new again.

My perpetual impatience causes me to live always halfway in the future, preparing myself for any possible next step. While this can be productive, it often leads to anxiety as much as it does creative planning. I’ve often longed to slow my mind down, to stop thinking or planning or preparing for the future so that I can fully enjoy the present. I hoped to put off seminary for another year or two to try and force this slower pace, but for a variety of reasons this is the time that I’m supposed to go.

Now that I am in fact leaving Boston, all of the quirks and frustrations that have contributed to my restlessness these past few years seem dim against the church friendships, the food communities, the housemates, and the neighborhood that I will miss. I’m sure the emergence of spring weather and birds and flowers only enhance this juxtaposition. Nonetheless, every day I find myself more deeply aware of the sounds and smells I’m leaving behind. The construction worker belting Top 20 hits during my morning walk, my former bakery and my favorite Turkish grocer, the folks who greet me at my gym. My roommate even asked if I’d start to get nostalgic about the smoke alarm that beeps every time I turn on the oven.

When I think back to the various cities and communities I’ve called home, the seasons before transition always seem to be the sweetest. Knowing where I will be for the next two years, and knowing there is little more I can do to prepare over these next few months, I’ve found myself this Lent in a fleeting liminal stage quite similar to a cool fermentation.

The freedom to dream about the future without the stress of making decisions allows me to focus my attention on the things here and now that I love, as well as to find joy in the possibilities of what the future could hold. My mind doesn’t slow to a stop—I still ponder all of the different possibilities out loud to my friends—but for the time the possibilities are not wrapped in anxiety, only the joy of wild dreaming.

This liminal season, timed so fittingly within the season of Lent, has added to the nuances and complexities that flavor me. I can’t stay in this stage forever, but the season is sweet nonetheless.