Reflection: Betwixt & Between

by Martin Stewart

Do you feel like I do that everything is kind of poised?  That we are on the edge of something.  The old is passing and the new is almost upon us.  I figure that the next 100 years of telling the story of the world will probably reference these recent months as being cataclysmic. A new reference point, in the way that the Great Depression and World Wars I & II were markers of significant change.  Like, pre-war vs post-war, it will be pre-pandemic vs post-pandemic.  It is all quite dramatic!  What will we make of this moment and opportunity?

Have you been thinking about what the next season of your life will be like? 

In this time of pausing, have you resolved to do anything in particular?

The Franciscan writer Richard Rohr makes an interesting observation about the particular time we are in.  He uses the concept of liminal space.  Here’s how he talks about it:

‘Liminal space, is an inner state and sometimes an outer situation where we can begin to think and act in new ways. It is where we are betwixt and between, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the next. We usually enter liminal space when our former way of being is

challenged or changed—perhaps when we lose a job or a loved one, during illness, at the birth of a child, or a major relocation. It is a graced time, but often does not feel “graced” in any way. In such space, we are not certain or in control. This global pandemic we now face is an example of an immense, collective liminal space.’  [ Richard Rohr, Between Two Worlds Sunday, April 26, 2020]

Can you think of some particular moments in your life that could be described as liminal spaces?

What opportunities came to you because you took notice of what was happening and acted?

Today’s reading from Exodus is an account of one of these liminal spaces in the Bible (an obvious other one is the resurrection of Jesus). 

Moses is on Mount Horeb; he is now an old and worn-out man.  The Promised Land is visible in the distance.  But the people still remain restless after forty years of wandering and being shaped in a life of faithfulness to the God who has led them out of Egypt.  There are as many signs as ever, that they are still an uncooperative bunch – the word for it is ‘stiff-necked.’ 

Everything is poised. 

Something is about to happen. 

But Moses, despairingly wonders if anything will come of it – what would be the point of their deliverance if God doesn’t come with them? 

He asks the Lord for one last clear sign of God’s presence:

‘Show me your glory, I pray.’ 

Just let me see you. 

Give me just one look, and I will be satisfied. 

To see God is the great human desire isn’t it?

The sceptic is always demanding such a sign,

‘I will only believe if I can see God face to face.’ 

Have you ever made such a demand?

But it turns out that that seeing God would be too much. 

Moses is warned that the only view of God that is safe

is the view of where God has gone by – from behind – after

… otherwise he would be totally overwhelmed.

I’m interested in that because if we are indeed in a liminal space

– poised on the brink of something new breaking through

– the thing we might need the most at the moment is foresight

– the ability to see ahead to what is happening so that we can seize it. 

Wouldn’t it be good to see what God is up to right now! 

But alas, the ability to see ahead might still rely mostly on hindsight

We can only safely see God’s coming by attending to where God has been. 

That, of course, is what faith is. 

Faith is based on what has been revealed,

even though we are to take it forward into whatever we are doing.  

‘Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.’
– Søren Kierkegaard [1813-1855]

I find myself in a conundrum. 

In this Covid-19 season I am doing a lot of wondering about change and possibility – part of that, obviously, is because I am moving on into a new position.  But I also wonder about how we will do and be church will be changed by what is happening.  Should we perpetuate the same-old?

Have you also been wondering?
Have you found your ears pricking up when people talk about the good things that can come out of this pausing and taking stock?

Do we want the same-old again, or is this time for a new thing?

I believe that God continually makes new things out of the old,

‘ever old and ever new,’ goes the Sydney Carter song,

‘keep me travelling along with you.’

And I want to stretch forward and make the most of the opportunities that this great pause in the human enterprise is offering. 

But…

But I feel somewhat thwarted,
because it is incredibly tricky for us to spot what God is up to ahead of us,
it is tricky to foretell it, or prepare for it, and thereby

it is hard to welcome it and embrace it.

How long are we to wait? 

And, if we wait, will we have missed the moment?
Will we forever be playing ‘catch-up?

I’m a bit like Moses.  I want to see ahead!  Now!

Is this a feature of humanity, always wanting to know what’s next?

I remember, as a child, asking my mother what was for tea. 

The answer was usually, ‘wait and see.’ 

I also recall that the best Christmas presents were always the surprises. 
Knowing what I was getting took a lot of the fun out of it!

If God did reveal something too far ahead,
would it deflate us,

or loosen us,

and possibly make us unstable? 

If I am to be a bit cautious about looking too far in front,
I’m beginning to wonder if this liminal space we find ourselves in,
is an invitation to something we are meant to recover from behind

A period that is offering some kind of clarity. 

A clearing of our vision.

Like, having a procedure
to have the cataracts/scales removed from our eyes! 

Apparently, people living in the foothills of the Himalayas in India and Pakistan can see the distant mountains for the first time in years.  The pollution has reduced so dramatically.  They must feel like they are on the edge of something possible that they had become resigned to never seeing again. 

In what ways has this global shutdown of the human operation cleared the way for our eyes to see, our ears to hear, and our hands to reach out and touch? 

Can we dare to hope for a better way? 

Can we change our ways? 

In my view there is no going back. 

We aren’t to seek out the good old days and relive them,

rather, we are to make these next days the good old days. 

Recovering is not going back, it might involve taking stock, and settling back, and pausing, and recalibrating, and readying ourselves for what is next. 

This could be the most wonderful thing for us.

Rohr again: ‘The very vulnerability and openness of liminal space allows room for something genuinely new to happen. We are empty and receptive—erased tablets waiting for new words. Liminal space is where we are most teachable…’

What kinds of things should we be looking for and putting energy into recovering?
Are we thinking nostalgically or prophetically? 
Can we see the big difference between these?

What are you hoping for?

What has come to you in hindsight that is now offering you a measure of insight and even foresight?

And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

I wonder what that mercy and compassion looks like.

How might we give expression to it in The Village?