A liminal Space

Our lovely Rector Tony Billett, who lives across the road, offers me a talking/listening session once a fortnight which I value enormously.  In one of our discussions Tony provided an illustration:

A woman farmer was dying and her sons sat around her bed and she told them that their inheritance lay somewhere buried in the farm. When she subsequently died the sons dug and dug but nothing was found. They managed to dig up all the ground across the farm.   

However, over the next two years the boys reaped bumper crops from the farm. Then they realised, yes, their inheritance was the fertile ground that resulted from their digging.

Tony described my current position as being a fertile emptiness.

I have been following the daily contemplations written by Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and ecumenical teacher, who offers useful reflections about being in a liminal space (the waiting areas between one point in time and space and the next) but for me, the question is where and how this will end?   It can feel at times that you are on the verge of something – but what?  It could be quite unexpected and exciting, but to be in this liminal space means a loss of how you lived before, in physical emotional and spiritual ways, in ways that I have never experienced before. It is unnerving, making you vulnerable and out of control. I just need to trust that I will come out the other side having learned, using the time creatively, constructively, and having a new perspective, or a new reality as Rohr suggests.

Whilst I wish for all of this to end I have an increasing hope that all will be well.

It is Sunday morning and Andrew Marr has just finished (no church of course – all closed up!), there is a focus on the devasting consequences of the current pandemic

Where is this going to end and leaving us in the new normal we wonder and pontificate?  An uncomfortable place to be, a place of separation, a place of fear as life feels we are exposed and in between. 

Later watching Songs of Praise, it makes you realise that gatherings of people and face to face social interactions may be the thing of the past. We do not know what our new normal will be like in fact we may all be online for much of our communications for a long time to come, we just do not know.  When people talk about social isolation and staying at home I might comment “welcome to my world”!

9 thoughts on “A liminal Space

  1. Aah! I like the beginning of your thinking on liminality, Peter, and think it is a very key element to life. It strikes me that actually, probably ALL of our lives are in some ways liminal (and need to be). It is a very interesting (I think rhetorical?) question you ask as to where will it end? I suppose that leads me to think how does one know that one has got to the end? What will be the ribbon at the finishing line (sorry for the sports metaphor!)? Is it the final “well done, good and faithful servant!” moment? or is there something else (or lots of somethings else – or should that be something elses? – ha ha my nemesis grammar check doesn’t like that!) along the way? I am only thinking out loud. I am reminded of your presentation and the various milestones in your recovery (including one last week connected with the hoovering!) and how important these are. It’s back to the idea of it all being a process, I suppose, and that there is no definitive end point, perhaps, but lots of milestones along the way. And (never start a sentence with “and”!!) maybe we need to celebrate each and every one of these milestones more actively (if only we COULD have a G&T together, I know! … but something more than that, as real recognition of progress and forward movement).

    One of the favourite things that I used to like to teach my students is a concept coined initially by Keats (the Romantic poet) but taken up by a theorist with whom I find a great affinity, Bion, which comes under the name of “negative capability” (I think we may have had a conversation about it in the old days when we used to be able to meet!!). It’s about being able to live with uncertainty, not reaching after answers and security, but being able to sit with not knowing. Of course, as a psychotherapist, it is an attitude one has to cultivate, but it is still an uncomfortable place for most of us, I think, because we do like to know and be in control (some more than others – one particular number whom you will remember from our days working together at Barts!!). I think as I contemplate retirement and a very uncertain future myself, when the familiar things I’ve known for the last many years are all coming to an end, I do get a brief glimpse of what it may be like for you, having to leave behind the familiar life of old, to go to … who knows what? And it is much too trite to say “God knows what”, because that doesn’t really help the person going through it who also wants to know. Perhaps it is about trust, then? I like the way your thinking is going and feel sure that there are some very important truths in here to pursue … and I look forward to going some way on the journey with you.
    Thank you for sharing (as they say)
    Lots of love
    Val

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  2. Hi Peter, reading this blog reminds me of a book we (small Bible Study Group, Steve and I are in) read a year or so ago called The Red Sea Rules. If my memory serves me correctly, (big if) it is looking at the story of Moses and the Israelites as they escape from Egypt and prepare to cross the Red Sea. Cross it, how? when? why? Into what? Questions that seem familiar/appropriate in your situation. It was a tough situation to be in, but in it they were. Likewise, you are in a tough situation. It seems to me that as you face each day with your questions, you are moving forward, adapting, challenging yourself, your mind, your body, your emotions and your faith. Progress is being made, even though it is hard, exhausting, frightening at times. Keep going, step by step we are here to cheer you on. To wait with you in the moments where there doesn’t seem to be any improvement and to celebrate over each victory. What a priveledge to be with you on this journey. (well virtually anyway!) as we are 3000 miles away!
    Wrote more than I mean’t too, but at least I’ll get emails now when you blog! Ha Ha
    Your sister in law, Liz xxx

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    • Dearest Liz. in your email to me you told me I might not like what you had to say. Oh so far from it! I really appreciate what you said. You and Steve (my brother) have been so supportive and have shown such love and helpfulness. Bless you and thank you. Much love xxx

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  3. I have always been intrigued by the idea of the liminal Peter, and I think it is something about my personality, but I also know that the need to be in control of SOMETHING to make it through those patches of unknowing and uncertainty is huge! Being able to let go is really hard and we all need supporters to stand with us to hang on to us in those times. Keep writing! There is much for all of us to learn from your experience and reflections. x

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    • Dear Helen (our dear friend), thank you so much for commenting on my blog and for your personal response to my writing about a liminal space. I have had no choice about letting go and as you know and will appreciate that for me I was always needed to be in control, so it has been one of the most distressing and frustrating experiences of my life so far. we will talk soon. lots of love xx

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  4. Thanks for your blogs Peter which I enjoy reading.

    However I’m only sending this comment so that I get an update when you’ve posted the next one. Sorry!

    Your lightweight shallow friend

    Jan x

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