In the Canberra Region Presbytery, thankfully, we have been largely spared from the medical effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, we have been undergoing major disruption. This is causing struggle for individuals and congregations, and is also an opportunity.
One way of speaking about our current circumstances is that we have ‘been propelled beyond the threshold of everyday existence and into the realm of the liminal’ (LaVera Crawley). This propulsion into liminal space happens when life is ruptured, when people get caught up in a disaster (like the fires) or diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or lose their job or are betrayed by a friend or loved one. On this occasion, our whole community, indeed, the whole world, is in a disorienting place.
When we find ourselves in liminal space the most ‘natural’ reaction seems to be to resist. We try to ‘fight’ our way back to normality as quickly and painlessly as we can, to win the ‘war’ on this ‘enemy’ with all the ‘weaponry’ at our disposal (all language used by leaders in connection with the pandemic). But is this the best way to handle such times?
In most spiritual traditions, including our own, it is understood that periods of disruption can spur growth and transformation, and that if we allow ourselves willingly to undergo the experience, we can discover new resources and possibilities. ‘In liminal time and space, we can learn to let reality — even in its darkness — be our teacher [that is] a disturbing time and space that not only breaks us down, but also offers us the choice to live in it with fierce aliveness, freedom, sacredness, companionship, and awareness of Presence’, writes Sheryl Fullerton.
In a sense, Easter is all about liminal space and the transformation that is wrought by the faithful undergoing of it – Christ’s and ours. This Easter, we at St Ninian’s (as with all congregations) were unable to gather physically for worship. However, many in our community (and in O’Connor congregation) did participate in an intentional Holy Week journey. Each day, we set aside a time and place at home, lit a candle and followed a simple liturgy focussing on the unfolding events of the passion (liturgies included a picture of an icon, prayers, responses, a reading, time of silence, and reflection).
For the first three days, we reflected using lectio divina, an ancient practice of holy reading with four movements: (i) Lectio – reading and listening; (ii) Meditatio – reflecting and wondering; (iii) Oratio – praying and responding; (iv) Contemplatio – yielding and resting. On Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Day, homilies were also included, all based on Matthew’s gospel.
It was odd not to be able attend traditional services in our building, there was disappointment and loss. However, as some also commented, what unfolded was surprisingly meaningful. Being willing to be with the experience of enforced isolation allowed us in a strange way to be more deeply together. Paradoxically, what looked like it would limit our participation in Easter actually enabled us to engage with the paschal mystery in a new and focussed way.
In her Easter address, delivered on-line to Benedictus, Sarah Bachelard reflected: ‘I’ve come to sense that this work of the liturgy is essential [that] it’s not make-believe, but a way of inhabiting in a concentrated way the deep structure of reality and of learning what it means to live responsive to it’. She continued: ‘This Easter especially, celebrated in quasi-lockdown, while the world is consumed by the impacts of pandemic, I’ve felt it acutely – how the events of Christ’s passion, and the liturgy that remembers it, tells the truth and helps us make sense of our lived experience, in such a way as to change and liberate us all.’ As a community engaging in this
work of the liturgy, we can testify that the disruption of these restrictions is enlivening our discipleship and sense of being the body of Christ, for which we give thanks to God.
Bachelard, Sarah (2020) ‘The Great Reversal’, http://benedictus.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/The-Great- Reversal-120420.pdf
Fullerton, Sheryl (2020) ‘What else is There?’, Oneing, Vol. 8, No. 1, CAC Publishing, pp. 77-80.
Crawley, LaVera (2020) ‘The Art of Spiritual Companionship’, Oneing, Vol. 8, No. 1, CAC Publishing, pp. 81-90.