An introduction to Liminal Space

Sometimes you feel something so deeply the words to describe it are inaccessible. And then something wonderful happens and a fellow traveller gifts them to you. Richard Rohr is such a person. In 2011 his book Falling Upwards provided the narrative for the second half of my life and equipped me to use “both ands!” In his series on liminal space he has gifted us a beautiful and powerful articulation of everything we have been feeling about the Covid season. It’s the most articulate and helpful thing we’ve read during the past year.

In a handful of short reflections Rohr gives us a set of lenses and navigation beacons to help us to live well in these uncharted and turbulent times. Here’s his explanation of liminal space from his first post entitled Between Two Worlds;

“Liminal space is an inner state and sometimes an outer situation where we can begin to think and act in new ways. It is where we are betwixt and between, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the next. We usually enter liminal space when our former way of being is challenged or changed—perhaps when we lose a job or a loved one, during illness, at the birth of a child, or a major relocation. It is a graced time, but often does not feel “graced” in any way. In such space, we are not certain or in control. This global pandemic we have faced is an example of an immense, collective liminal space.”

He continues ...

“The very vulnerability and openness of liminal space allows room for something genuinely new to happen. We are empty and receptive—erased tablets waiting for new words. Liminal space is where we are most teachable, often because we are most humbled. Liminality keeps us in an ongoing state of shadowboxing instead of ego-confirmation, struggling with the hidden side of things, and calling so-called normalcy into creative question.”

You can find the rest of Rohr’s series here. We hope you find them helpful and enjoy them as much we have. The post Seeing Beyond Ourselves is another favourite!

I’ll leave you with the thought that Liminal space exists between two normals. Only to the extent we embrace the disorder of liminal space will these normals be different. There is no new order without disorder. Helping people and organisations to embrace disorder is the key to helping them transform.

Mark Lawrence is a leadership and culture consultant