by guest blogger Leslea Linebarger / In this seemingly endless season of Covid-19, we have all of necessity become focused on creating space: the six feet of space we now need between ourselves and others, the spaces we've spruced up in our homes as makeshift offices, the space between our home and the outside world. Yet the challenges that come with these efforts are often daunting and stressful. Many among us are feeling the effects of isolation and loneliness on top of the anxiety of not knowing how long we will have to endure the shut down. Many are simply fearing contagion, either for themselves or vulnerable loved ones. And the tedium of each day being the same as the one before creates its own malaise. What might God have for us in this space we did not choose? And how can we be reminders of God's presence with us in this threshold where we wait? How do we bless this space?
This season of disruption is liminal space, the space between, where we hunker down and wait for the virus to lessen its grip on our land and our lives. The word liminal describes a place of transition or a threshold. A liminal space is somewhere between what was and what has not yet unfolded. It is an uncomfortable, disorienting, unsettling season, this waiting and not knowing, and we almost never choose it; rather it is done unto us. And though we wouldn't willingly go here, liminal space is where transformation happens if we are open to it and willing to stay in rather than simply toughing it out or seeking distractions from the present reality. How do we embrace the possibility of God's Spirit working in us right now, in the in-between?
We can see an example of liminal space in the story of Jonah in the belly of the whale. Rejecting God's call to be his prophet, Jonah attempts to run away from the presence of God, yet God pursues him and provides him with a season to be alone and still and reflect, albeit within a whale's belly. In that dark and desperate space, he has time to face his unpleasant reality and let it change him. We see him give voice to his distress and cry out to God for deliverance, and God answers. Even though he initially runs from God, God still uses him to reach the people of Ninevah, just as in our unwillingness, God can also work. The word willing is so important, both for our own growth and for those we care for. Not only do I have to stay put in my own distressing anxieties, I must be willing to stay with others in theirs and not try to comfort them out of it. If I do, they may miss what God has that is theirs alone to take from this season.
I met with a directee recently who was struggling with finding her footing in this unplanned season. As she talked, I heard that she was experiencing more of the current deprivations than any felt sense of God. Rather than going deeper into her sense of God's absence, I focused on where she was finding life and invitation. Not a bad response in general, but as I reflected afterwards, there was an opportunity here to explore her sense of abandonment and allow her to give voice to her truth in the moment. If only I had paused to listen to my own inner discomfort, I could have invited God into that. Instead I shied away from the more difficult questions that could have been transformational. I tried to be the lifter of her head, when that is God's place, his time to appoint. Mine is to hear her honest reality and be with her in it, as God is with me in mine. Whenever we pause long enough to do this, we bless the space between us, allowing God's Spirit to come alongside both of us -- in his timing -- with his peace and presence.
At a recent Selah gathering, I heard, "The slow work of God sometimes means sitting with the questions." Yes. It is sitting with the discomfort too, in the belly of the whale, knowing God is blessing that space. God inhabits our space. Though the circumstances of our lives may not change, he is with us in it. May I remember and live out of this unchanging reality.
Questions to ponder:
What do you find most challenging about this season of isolation and social distancing? Is it harder for you to face your own anxieties and angst or to be with others in theirs? What have you noticed as you reflect on ways you may avoid the deeper questions? What might happen if we trust that God is at work within us and others in this difficult season? How might he bless the space by our willingness to "be" Emmanuel to those who are struggling?
Leslea Linebarger lives in Southborough, MA. She offers spiritual direction at St. Mark's Episcopal Church where she leads a weekly women's discussion group. She is a member of the ENE Guidance Team and in her leisure time enjoys hiking, biking, cooking and doing anything or nothing with her grandson Jesse.