Here we are, three years later, and we can finally acknowledge we are in a post-COVID (pandemic) world. What was I thinking when I thought I could just pick up where I left off. Get back to “normal”.
Liminal space refers to the place a person is in during a transitional period. I haven’t been holding my breath for 3 years. The pandemic years were “liminal space”. Many have talked about; dreamed about getting back to normal. However, for many of us, the COVID years were not just a time out, they were a time of upheaval and self-discovery. Like most disasters, truths have been revealed — truths that we try to hide when we are living a lie, pretending that continuous growth is good for the world, that the major political systems are working together for good, that climate change will work itself out without everyone sacrificing their way of life. Liminal space is a time of awareness where we reassess what is important and what is not, as we wonder how we will move forward.
A book on the best seller list called: The Myth of Normal: Trauma, illness and healing in a toxic culture, by Gabor Mate and Daniel Mate, looks directly at our toxic way of life. The writers call us to focus on healing in a world/a lifestyle that is killing us. For many of us, when we try to get back to normal, we find we have changed. What looked so positive then, looks unsustainable now. We find that the world around us is coming apart as we are faced with insurmountable problems — war, climate change, racial and religious conflict and a fractured community. It is clear to me that greed and selfishness does not create a path forward to wholeness and health. What we think we want to get back to no longer feels quite right.
My journey through the pandemic was a forced contemplative time that included reading The Inner Work of Age: Shifting from Role to Soul by Connie Zweig. It speaks to the situation of people living longer after retirement, into a stage of life she calls “Late Life”. The book speaks to everyone but is specifically intended for people like me who are transitioning to a new phase of life. She talks about using the contemplative practices of listening, awareness and reflection to help us connect with our heart and soul. That is our inner work. Many senior’s groups seem to have the goal of “keeping us young” by being active and giving back. There is a place for this thinking, but first one needs be in touch with the sacred self and the inner voice that gives direction and purpose. I bought the book when I was attending a workshop over a year ago, but I still haven’t finished the book because it is a workbook, not just a book of good ideas. Inner Work! My wife and I are both turning 80 this summer. We find ourselves reminiscing about our past and how we got here while wondering about possible futures, yearning to get back to some activities such as traveling and seeing more friends in person.
This year during Lent our church is focusing on the lectionary readings using the theme of “Wilderness”. How are wilderness experiences times of opportunity and decision. Definitely liminal space! For me some health challenges in the past year made me aware that now is the time for me to slow down. My wilderness reflections are: “What do I have to let go of now to be able to be more present to my heart’s desire? What are new possibilities, new ways of being in Late Life?” However, these new possibilities are not evident. It is a matter of trusting that they will come into view as I follow the way that joins my head and my heart. In my evolutionary Christian faith (some would call it Progressive Christianity) https://progressivechristianity.org I continue to see new connections and new ways of understanding the truth of the Christian faith.
Hillhurst United offered a Monday evening book study: Sacred Earth/Sacred Soul: Celtic Wisdom… by John Phillip Newell. This book helped me synthesize my spiritual discoveries and beliefs as they continue to evolve. It brings together ancient wisdom which aligns with current Indigenous perspectives on the oneness of the universe. Everything belongs. Everything is sacred. Everything is connected. One line stands out for me and re-orients my Christian faith: “Jesus did not come to save us from our sinful self, rather he came to introduce us to our sacred self where we find our union with God/the whole universe”. A simple statement that shifts our perspective back to the love of God which is the sacred presence of God and the energy for life. The old perspective of Jesus dying for our sins so we can get to heaven, is no longer what holds us together. It actually sets us apart from the rest of the spiritual and physical world. The new perspective re-introduces us to the teachings of Jesus stressing love for God, friends, self and enemies. Love is the creative force that will save the world. This is where hope resides.
One more book I read, The Fourth Turning by Neil Howe and William Strauss, gave me another insight into the patterns of history. Through analyzing 400 plus years of U.S. history, they discovered repeating cycles that each last about 100 years, and in each cycle, there are four turnings. The first turning of a cycle begins after major war (Revolutionary, Civil, and WW II).
“The last 500 years can be viewed through the lens of cycles, with each cycle lasting 80 to 100 years, and each cycle containing four turnings that typically last 20 to 25 years. Each of these turnings brings with it a different mood and culture, and a different relationship with institutions. Each cycle starts with a post-crisis High (First Turning), which is defined by a renewal of community life, general periods of stability and an appreciation for things that were lost during the preceding crisis. An Awakening (Second Turning) period then follows, when the mood shifts to defiance and spiritual discovery. This is followed by an Unraveling (Third Turning), when people become ever more distant from one another and more individualistic. Finally, a Crisis (Fourth Turning) takes hold, where a great threat to livelihoods and lives drives a surge from individualism to civic duty.”
Quote from a website that summarizes the fourth turning perspective.
We are definitely in a fourth turning.
If you think about the years after the Second World War, these ideas seem to fit. Being 80 soon, I can recognize these turnings that happened in my lifetime. If we look at world events, we can see the collapse of trust in institutions and governments. Democracies that seemed strong not too many years ago now are being challenged. We are finally understanding that capitalism is no longer working as a way of life that is sustainable. This collapse is being experienced in the Christian church and Christian faith as well. It is what Christianity calls an Apocalypse, interpreted as the end of the world by some Christians. It can also be understood as the end of an era/cycle with the possibility of a new era beginning. A new era with a new level of consciousness that sees love as the unifying energy, not violence and selfishness. But a good end is not guaranteed. No one is coming to save us. It is up to us to change our minds and follow our hearts to rebuild community where inclusion and dignity are the central values.
Marc Carney in his new book, Value(s) shows clearly how the wrong values lead to confusion, collapse and chaos. But with all the bad news, good insight can lead to a way forward. I still believe religious communities could be at the centre of this re-building. But only if we act together with the central value of love motivating us.
Writing this blog has been a helpful practice for me for the past four years. But I am no longer feeling called to continue this practice. It is becoming more of a chore than a calling, as you can tell by the length of time between posts. Thank you for taking this journey with me by reading my stuff and commenting to me about it. Blessings for this Lenten season leading to the celebration of hope we call Easter. Whatever that means to you, may it enliven you and direct you on the sacred path to love and creativity, meaning and purpose.
May your journey be blessed with God’s love,
Hi John, I enjoyed those books too, especially The Inner Shift, which I have shared with another book club. It fostered 4 really rich discussions. The life review is something that I have done through the work of Julia Cameron’s books and we managed a full 12 week course on it through CALL. However it always seems that it is only women who will engage in these conversations. So you, and the men at HUC are wonderful open minded men, in touch with the inner voice, the voice of God. It is reassuring. It also brings a focus to the damage that the working man bears when he works a lifetime in the private profit driven sector. I am watching the young men that I know and hoping that they can hold onto that inner wisdom. …and yes, newsletters seem to have a life on their own, a purpose perhaps, that shifts over time.
Thank you, John. As usual, there are synchronicities in our paths and ways of thinking and viewing the world and its “problems”.
Interestingly, during the “COVID times,” ne of my past times has stemmed from discovering that alignments of the planets and stars have cycles that appear to coincide with the turnings you mentioned. Yes, times, they-are-a-changing.
Best wishes to you and your wife as you BE. I have endless gratitude for you and your role in my life.