|Posted by communications on April 29, 2020 at 4:05 PM|
Those with really good memories may recall that my very first newsletter article at Saint Alban’s focused on the notion of “liminal space” (from the Latin limen, meaning threshold); that space and time between “what was/is” and “what is yet to come”. I was reminded of this as I have been reading Richard Rohr’s meditations this week, which have been addressing this question of liminality.
When I first wrote about this, I was addressing the fact that at Saint Alban’s, with Carmen and I having just arrived, we were still in that liminal space between past and future. I was encouraging us to not move on to quickly to our “new normal”. I wrote the following:
Now that Carmen and I are here, there might be a tendency to think that we can finally be done with the discomfort of “liminality” and move back into that more comfortable space of “normalcy”. It can certainly be said that we have moved into a different phase of this particular liminal space in the life of Saint Alban’s, but we are still teetering on the threshold of “what is to come”…the good news is that this is truly sacred space. As Richard Rohr says it, liminal space is that space “where God can best get at us.”
Now we find ourselves in another liminal space, one not of our choosing. Although this time of liminality is quite different from that time, I believe some of the same principles apply. It sounds counter-intuitive, and almost insensitive, to suggest that this time of pandemic might be creating sacred space for us, but that is exactly what I am suggesting [note: I’m NOT saying God has caused this]. Physician, bioethicist, and hospital chaplain, LaVera Crawley, acknowledging our discomfort with liminal spaces and the uncertainty they bring, addresses what she calls the darkness of liminality:
“There is deep beauty in the darkness, in the unknowing, in the indescribable, if only we can open ourselves to its purpose. Metaphorically, the dark emotions of grief, fear, and despair can be profound teachers and guides…The primal howl of existential suffering holds within it the lesson that we all must learn at some time in our lives: to heal from suffering – not merely to ease or palliate it, but to transform it into the source and substance of our growth and wisdom – requires a journey through it.”
Richard Rohr would say that this darkness, brought about by the experience of liminality, is a kind of sacred space, which has the potential to become a source of growth and wisdom. This is simply applying theological language to a reality most of us already know on some level: difficult times can provide soil for significant personal growth. Our natural instinct when we encounter these liminal dark moments in life is to find the quickest exit ramp. We are currently seeing this very human tendency writ large during the pandemic in the anxious desire of some to re-open things sooner than we probably should.
Rather than putting all of our time and energy into finding the nearest escape route, we might be better served giving some time to prayerful reflection on how best to live and grow in this challenging time. Author Sheryl Fullerton, writing about her experience of receiving a frightening cancer diagnosis, says, “We can enter into the liminal paradox: a disturbing time and space that not only breaks us down, but also offers us the choice to live in it with fierce aliveness, freedom, sacredness, companionship, and awareness of Presence.” Perhaps, as I quoted in my sermon this past Sunday, this is an opportunity for us to heed Frederick Buechner’s advice and really “listen to our lives”, allowing the reality of the current moment, even in its darkness, to be our teacher. What are some ways that you are doing this now? What are some new and creative ways you might do this going forward?
Hopefully this goes without saying, but please don’t hesitate to be in touch with me or Carmen if you need some spiritual companionship during these challenging days.
God’s peace be with you,