faith, pandemic

A Liminal Space

As a writer, I’d been looking for that perfect word to describe these last three months as I’ve worked from home, experiencing social distancing and isolation. The initial fear, the continued anxiety. Heightened loneliness. That pervading sense of uncertainty. I most definitely was not comfortable. I valiantly searched for ways and tools to navigate this unknown: journaling, reading devotionals and inspirational writing, taking walks, keeping busy with work-related tasks, and yes, some unhealthy ways too…binge-watching too much television, imbibing in more comfort food.
But mostly, I’ve been waiting…
Waiting for what? For things to get back to normal? Some days, the uncertainty of that can feel paralyzing.

As a writer, I am used to doing a certain amount of writing- if you count journaling and letters, daily writing. Yet two unfinished essays sat on my desktop for the last three months, and I’ve wondered why.

Oh, I’ve still been writing: Monday morning meditations for my workplace, working with my editor on my upcoming Called to Be Creative… an essay here, a blog post there.
Then a friend casually mentioned how my writing was a break for me, and I recoiled from those words- a break? Everything in me screamed NO…writing is my passion! It’s not a break; it’s my work, work that doesn’t feel like work. My other job. Taking an afternoon walk; now, that’s a break.

Until I suddenly realized she was right. I had been treating writing as a “break” these last three months. And maybe that is okay during a pandemic, but maybe I’m also missing out on the benefits of this period of time, whatever we call it. Maybe I should STOP WAITING for everything to go back to normal, because all indications are that “normal” isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Even with businesses gradually opening up, things are still going to look very different.

So I asked myself then: what am I waiting for? Is someone else going to finish those essays? What can I be getting out of this period of time that I haven’t already?

Then I read about liminal space.

liminal space

I’d never heard of it before, so I looked it up.
Liminal Space: The word liminal comes from the Latin word ‘limen’, meaning threshold – a point or place of entering or beginning. A liminal space is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next.’ It is a place of transition, a season of waiting, and not knowing.

Yes! That’s exactly what this time is; we don’t know what August or September or October will bring. We have no idea how long we’ll need to wear masks or practice social distancing.

Here’s the thing that fascinated me most about this description of liminal space.
Liminal space is where all transformation takes place, if we let it form us.

Author and theologian Father Richard Rohr says it like this:
In that space—which is mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual—we are destabilized, disoriented. The old touchstones, habits, and comforts are now past, the future unknown. We only wish such a time to be over. We may be impatient to pass through it quickly, with as little distress as possible, even though that is not likely. . . .
Dwelling in unsettling liminal space, whether we are pushed or we jump, we are led to draw on resources and possibilities we may not have tapped before. In the unknown space between here and there, younger and older, past and future, life happens. And, if we attend, we can feel the Holy Spirit moving with us in a way that we may not be aware of in more settled times.

This is our today, what we are experiencing is our now. Am I going to let a little thing like a pandemic stop me from an opportunity for transformation? Now you know I’m being facetious here…. A pandemic is no little thing, but it is what is happening now, and maybe part of my discomfort has been because I’ve done something I wouldn’t normally do, and let unfinished essays sit on my desktop, mocking me.

Here’s what else Fr. Richard Rohr said “But what if we can choose to experience this liminal space and time, this uncomfortable now, as . . . a place and state of creativity, of construction and deconstruction, choice and transformation.”

This really had me paying attention. What if this can be a place and a state of creativity? Of course it can, and for many of us, it has been; in learning new things like Zoom meetings and using technology in different ways. Maybe we’ve ordered groceries online for the first time or discovered online learning for ourselves or our children. We’ve “made do” when we would have bought new, or read more, played more, prayed more, or taken up walking.

If writing is my passion and my mission, then I have to put in the work. With that in mind, on Saturday I sat in front of my laptop for a good eight hours. I forgot to get dressed. I forgot to eat lunch. I did what makes me come alive, and I wrote. I finished those two essays and submitted them. And while all this creativity was banging around in my head, I went one step further and reworked a poem I’d written months ago and submitted it to an anthology that was looking for religious poetry.

It was, indeed, a transformative process, a feeling of being back to what God created me to do.

What about you? What’s holding you back? What can you take away from this liminal space? What unfinished project can you finish in this pandemic?

5 thoughts on “A Liminal Space”

  1. I learned a new word/concept which definitely describes this pandemic year as well as my personal life right now between empty nest and husband’s retirement. Writing? I submitted two poems to Rattle…thanks for posting the link 🙂

  2. I agree Lynn; I really enjoyed hearing your poetry. Mary – I love this word liminal. I have lots of projects that I intend to work on, but some haven’t materialized like I thought. In the spirit of transformation you write about, I’m asking myself, “What transformation am I willing to allow God to create in me right now?” I felt 2020 would be a year of clarity, but not in the way it came. But I have to say I see a more authentic humanity emerging, as other props in our lives have fallen to the wayside. I see all the creative things people are doing from home, more family time, how people are eating healthier, how caring has grown exponentially. God is shifting our priorities to His priorities by interrupting our scattered, chattered lives and by causing us to pause, like the plants do during the winter, so they can bloom in the coming Spring.

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