A few weeks ago I encountered a man who was utterly certain of a particular kind of theology. He claimed at one point to have been through the dark night of the soul several times. As I listened to him I found myself profoundly saddened. I was reminded of a talk I had listened to by Richard Rohr OFM, where he notes that without good guidance through such experiences we will revert to what we knew before. I had a sense that this is what had happened in the life of this man.
Over and over again he had been brought to the threshold and over and over again he had stepped backwards onto familiar ground.
In the last few days I found myself reading over a few things I had written when I was in different liminal spaces. One after the breakup of a relationship and the other after the death of friend. It is heartening to see what I wrote in both cases given where I am now. I think I was granted tremendous grace and wisdom in both cases.
In this first case, the breakup of the relationship – it wasn’t clear at the time that a complete severance was going to be necessary. Initially it as more a stepping back and waiting to see what happened. This is part of what I wrote:
‘No relationship has any guarantees but this one seems particularly fragile at this stage. I am left having to trust that all I can do is try to be true to myself in the process. To continue to stand on this small remnant of the relationship which existed just over a week ago and to pray that come what may I will be okay. I guess I am surprised that I don’t have any real desire to run for the hills. That desire may grow, but the escapism which has marked so much of my life isn’t functioning right now. I’m not sure how to stand in the space without defending myself against further hurt. And yet I know I have to stand here open and vulnerable if my presence is to be tolerable at all.
How do I do that? How do I dare to live in the now, because the future has only the slightest glimmer of hope. In a strange way, hope for the future gets in the way of my ability to stand in this space. I have to choose it today, simply because it feels appropriate today. Not because of any promise or hope that tomorrow will be different. It is such a strange, liminal space. It honestly feels like it is as likely to fail as it is to succeed. If I am to stand in this space it has to be for two reasons. Firstly, because I do love him and I believe that it is worth taking this enormous risk. Secondly, because life has these spaces, and learning to stand in this space will ultimately serve me well regardless of whether he and I work out or not.’
In the end I stood in the liminal space until it became clear to me that I needed to walk away. And I am deeply grateful that I had the grace and the courage to stand in that space. When I did walk away, it was in freedom. And in hindsight I am grateful that the relationship happened, but also that the relationship did not work out.
The other liminal space was the one was after my friend died. I was invited to write the editorial for the local Catholic newspaper for Easter. (You can find the full text here). In that editorial I wrote:
‘But again and again, as I have encountered these soul crushing experiences, if we have the courage to wait with hope, new life emerges. It always takes a little longer than is comfortable.‘
What strikes me today is that we need companions in the liminal space. People who are not afraid of our confusion; people who do not need us to have direction. I have been tremendously blessed that I have had such companions. I believe I have been shaped by the time in those liminal spaces – shaped for the better.
I am grateful too, that, for now, I have direction; I am no longer in a liminal space.