With some of the Coronavirus restrictions in Victoria easing this week, yet tightening elsewhere around the world as the northern hemisphere heads into winter, Australian Jesuit Provincial Fr Brian McCoy SJ reflects on the experience of recent months, examining coronavirus as liminal space, and considers the opportunity that lies ahead for us all. Full transcript below.
This past week, we have watched the city of Melbourne, and the state of Victoria, come out of a very serious form of lockdown, due to the pandemic. And like much of Australia, in many parts of the world, we wonder what it is to come out of the space that has held us, defined us, hurt us, and killed many of our people. What is the space we are now coming out of, and what is the new space that lies ahead of us beyond the pandemic?
This space, between what we knew in the past, and what we will become, is what the anthropologists call a ‘liminal space’ – a space between spaces. But it is a space that potentially can be a transformative space, a renewing space, a space changes us, and gives us new life.
Anthropologists describe rites of passage as coming up and through liminal spaces, such as a student leaving school for the first time, or people entering into a long term married relationship. In so many ways we understand this liminal space, of coming from something that was familiar, through doubt, anxiety, fragility, vulnerability, into something new, and understanding how it is to live in that space, and allow something to transform us, as well.
As Christians we understand liminality because Holy Saturday is for us, as it was for the men and women, the early disciples of Jesus, a liminal space, a space of great uncertainty for them as they had witnessed the crucifixion and wondered what would become for them in the future that lay ahead. Uncertain. Vulnerable. Unsure.
And so in that space of Holy Saturday, they waited. And in the resurrection and the life that Jesus came to bring them after Good Friday, they found a life that transformed them, that gave direction to their lives, that focused their energies, and gave them hope for what they would become and could become as his friends in the future.
And so in many ways we are still in this liminal space, wondering what we are becoming, not just as a community, a nation, but as Pope Francis reminds us in his recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti, part of the universal family, wondering what we are now called to become as a human family, very much aware of the vulnerability of many others at this time.
What we have as Christians is the seed of hope that is already planted in this liminal space. That within the uncertainties, the vulnerabilities and uncertainty as to where we can come and where we can go, knowing we cannot go back to what we were before, there are seeds already being sown within us that offer us new life and new hope for the future.
And we hear that in the stories of people who are realising how much they have been touched by some things in this pandemic: parents in relation to their children; people in relation to the workforce; the awareness of the community as to those who are most vulnerable; and awareness of course what it means to be a human family, sharing our resources for the health and wellbeing of others.
So as we hope to come out of this liminal space into a new transformative space, we may ask the question – what are the seeds of life, the seeds of hope, the seeds of transformation that have already been sown in our lives and have become evident in our vulnerability and uncertainties during this pandemic? And we can ask – what is now being asked of us, and allowing us, hoping within us, to be changed and transformed for the journey of head?
Let us attend to those seeds of hope and life. Let us nourish them. Let us share them. And listen to the seeds and hopes of others, as we journey, out of this pandemic, out of this liminal space, into a new space together.
Featured image: Living Desert Sculptures, Broken Hill, Australia, by Trevor McKinnon.