The extended in-between

There are two images I find most helpful when thinking about transitions. 

One is concentric circles.  We grow and transition not along a line, but like trees, each new outer ring transcending but including every previous ring.  We are everything we ever have been- every stage, every phase and fashion.  The life and vitality are in the outer ring.  Even though we have left the season in which they were formed, the inner rings provide the strength.  They keep us real, solid and upright.  The poet Rilke wrote: “I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world.  I may not complete this last one, but I give myself to it.”  I reflected on this image in the September 5 sermon.


A second image is more linear.  It’s the reverse of how we usually conceive a good story unfolding with a beginning, middle, and end.  Transitions start with an ending.  They move into a middle time when our previous way of being and making sense of things dissolves, often with no clear picture where we’re headed.  Then, after a time, sometimes years, we enter what we could rightly call a beginning. 

Ending -> In Between/Liminal Space -> Beginning

Although this theme of transitions was not pandemic-inspired, my return to church life has included coming to terms with the realization that we are in an extended in-between time.  Rather than a normal -> adaptation for an unusual event -> normal trajectory, church life and perhaps the wider culture seem to be experiencing the ending of something -> an extended in-between time when we don’t quite know what we’re doing and aren’t particularly good at what we’re trying to do -> new era, the shape of which we cannot yet see or grasp.

Today the four CMC office staff (Gwen, Mark, Mim and I) had our annual half-day fall retreat.  Much of our conversation focused on this in-between-ness, especially regarding all the forms of communication we put out there, where we and others allot energy and attention, and what is the heart of what we’re actually doing. 

There were a lot more questions than answers.  Which is another sign of being in an extended in-between time.  To go back to the widening circles imagery, the most fitting ending Rilke could offer for the poem was a question: “And I still don’t know: am I a falcon, a storm, or a great song?”

Amidst the challenges, I find encouragement that the disorientation within the liminal and undefined spaces are exactly where the new creation emerges. 

We give thanks for the inner rings which give us strength.  We open ourselves to whatever life wishes to flow through us in the next ring outward.