The gift of ‘betwixt and between’
Posted on behalf of: Revd Chris McDermott, Lead Chaplain for the University of Sussex
Last updated: Thursday, 9 June 2022
Last month, I wrote about the experience of change - its occasional traumatic impact as well as the new possibilities it may open up – and ‘staying human’ in the midst all of it.
Some changes happen rapidly, with little space in between to allow us to attentively process what is happening. At best, when we are in an optimal state, we may just flow with the events unfolding. Otherwise, we may find the changes so unsettling that we may simply opt out of a situation and make life changes, reorienting ourselves to new or different relationships, another job, or a different lifestyle altogether.
In some cases, the changes may prove to be just too much. I remember an Australian series, ‘The Brides of Christ’ which aired in the early 1990s1. It focused on the experiences of sisters in a convent during the momentous changes taking place in the Catholic Church amid Vatican II reforms in the early 1960s. Among the changes was the relaxation of authoritarian regimes and greater freedoms allowed to the sisters. One nun, who was used to simply following directions from her superiors, ended up suffering a breakdown when faced with having more freedom and multiple choices. Again, change – even when deemed positive by some accounts – can be traumatic.
Then, there are those times of liminality - that state of being in-between; new jobs, periods of unemployment, moving home, changing governments, etc. These are periods when it seems that norms have been suspended and so many things are up for grabs.
We experience such times of liminality on different levels. Some of them are relatively brief while others may last for extended periods. Someone just embarking on retirement from their regular working life may experience a sense of liminality between the routines of work and settling into a new phase of being. This may also be experienced on the cusp of change, as we anticipate a new way of being, a dramatic change in our circumstances, a move to another town or country. We begin to make changes in anticipation of change and perhaps those around us begin to adjust to a future in which our personal role will be either very different or absent altogether.
That liminal state may register emotionally as a feeling of being at sea, lost without purpose, confused and with a sense of uncertainty. Some may have an exaggerated feeling that they are no longer valued. The mist has yet to clear to give us a more lucid sense of ourselves and the new world around us. It is an uncomfortable place to be but “the only way out is through”, as the poet Robert Frost puts it2.
If those times of liminality in our lives include some discomfort, they also can be creative. New opportunities may come to the fore that we had not imagined. New skills and abilities may emerge. We may come to see such times as an adventure, even feel freedom from the constraints of everyday routines to risk doing things differently, and be happy to take the risk of trial and failure. We may use the liminal space to nurture new and older friendships and take the time to get to know ourselves.
It may be that more settled times lay ahead. In the meantime, the ‘going through’ may even prove to be one of the most creative and formative times of your life.
The ‘betwixt and between’ may yet prove to be a gift.
 See Robert Frost’s poem, “A Servant to Servant”.