I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about the ‘in-between’ spaces: that pause between inhale and exhale when there is neither; that moment when a ball thrown up is poised between rising and falling; that narrow space between fear and hope which is the place of faith.
When I center down into worship I look for these ‘in-between” spaces. It’s here that I find the opening through which God can enter. It’s here that I lose myself and make the possibility of finding something greater than me.
There is another in-between space, not so calm and sacred. It was famously described by Auschwitz survivor and psychotherapist Victor Frankl as the space between stimulus and response. In this space, he tells us, lies our power to choose. And in that choice lies our freedom and our growth. This is a place of possibility and power – the power to choose is the power to change.
Our current covid-limited lives feel like an in-between space for me. Sometimes it feels like the pause between inhale and exhale, or the momentary equilibrium of the ball in the air. But other times (most of the time, really) it feels like a crucible, a place of transformation, a place between nothing and infinite potential. Like Frankl’s in-between space, this feels like a place of possibility, a place poised between going forward and going back. What will we make of this, I wonder?
The possibilities for change and transformation are many. On a personal level we can use this time to learn new skills, to adopt new habits, to mend broken relationships, or to stay the way we are. On a familial or community level we can grow closer or we can fragment and break. On a political level we can unify or divide. On an environmental level we can go back into ruin or move forward into the unknown world of new ways to live. Or perhaps just go back to a simpler way of life.
Sometimes I am drawn into worry about the future or about someone I care about. When that happens I find myself in another ‘in-between’ space, this one between the things I hope for and the things I fear. While this space is in reality fairly wide, it can feel very narrow and if I’m not careful I can allow fear to take me in a spiral down into despair. This is the place of uncertainty. It is also the place of faith, where I can find the courage to simply take the next right step.
I’ve recently been reminded of another Victor Frankl quote, to the effect that it’s not important what we expect of life, but rather what life expects of us. He follows that by saying that we should stop asking about the meaning of life. We should instead think of ourselves as being questioned by life. Perhaps this covid ‘in-between’ time is life’s way of questioning us, of asking whether we will go forward or back, how we will grasp the possibility of this in-between space.
As Quakers, we are challenged to let our lives speak. As we traverse this ‘in-between’ space, how will we be transformed? How will the message of our lives speak anew? In the place between fear and hope, how will our faith manifest itself? Will we grasp the possibility and power of this time or will we squander it? When our lives speak, what will they say?
Author’s note: The ideas here were honed in a worship sharing session with some members of Woodbrooke’s 2019-2021 Equipping for Ministry course., and was published in the British Quaker Magazine “The Friend” 26 Feb 2021