The coronavirus has placed many people in a strange no-mans land. We are neither in our old world with its assumptions and practices, nor in the new world to come. What will a post-covid 19 world look like? Will our work practices be different, will we do church in an alternative way? At present many people are in a liminal space.
According to Richard Rohr, a "liminal space is an inner state and sometimes an outer situation where we can begin to think and act in new ways.....the very vulnerability and openness of liminal space allows room for something genuinely new to happen." This is not a comfortable place nor one we would normally choose because it is unsettling and challenges our view of the world. Most of us didn't expect to be in a global pandemic that is beyond our control, or submitted to a government lockdown, or watch the news with distress at the level of people dying. This situation has shocked us into a new reality and causing many to ask questions about life, the universe and everything (another Douglas Adams reference).
Rohr says "It’s no surprise then that we generally avoid liminal space. Much of the work of authentic spirituality and human development is to get people into liminal space and to keep them there long enough that they can learn something essential and new."
Now that we are in an enforced liminal space how should we respond?
1. Be kind
People are vulnerable at the moment. Anxiety and fear are everywhere fed by media and news sources. This is why stories of kindness are balm to the soul in this time. Perhaps it is a story of helping your neighbour (we have signed up to the community council resilience group), or sharing food (we received a bag of flour from a friend). Our local pub has had to shut down and it has put a lot of pressure on the owners. A local shopkeeper gave the landlord a part time job to help him out and the whole town is talking about it. In a season of bad news we need kindness and good news. Be careful not to take advantage of people's anxiety and use it as stick to beat them. I have seen bad examples of evangelism do this. It can be well meaning but manipulative. Think of how Jesus approached the vulnerable, whether blind, or oppressed by evil, or in grief, he was kind and met them first in their need. As the cliche goes "people need to know you care before they care to know." Show people mercy, reach out to their felt needs, be sensitive to their fragility.
2. Be honest
Let people know that you share their concerns and you have fears and worries of your own. My son runs his own business, it is a relatively new start up company with a number of new employees. I honestly don't know how the lockdown will effect him, it is unknown. I pray for him. Let people know how you feel and let them know that prayer is important to you. Think of Jesus. He wept for Lazarus, he got angry at moneychangers in the temple. Faith does not mean we are unfeeling robots. In fact when genuine faith and emotion is displayed in the midst of fear and challenge, it can have a dramatic impact. Jesus on the cross is the ultimate example of this. The thief and the Roman centurion were both deeply effected by Jesus' honest response, such as "I thirst." Our honesty breaks down people's resistance to what they perceive as a sales pitch. We are trying to win their heart "for from it flow the springs of life" (Proverbs 4:23).
3. Share how your story and the story of Jesus are connected
People connect with truth in a story more than logical facts. We could focus on the convincing evidence for the resurrection of Jesus but I don't think that is where you start. Apologetics is normally a legitimate response to a question once you have a person listening. If you have access to a persons heart there are less barriers to their mind. It is good to be prepare to give a reason for our faith. In 1 Peter 3:15 it says "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."
Notice the heart is at the start! The mind comes after. We are meant to be prepared to give answers so don't be complacent about this but first begin with a heart story. Tell people how walking with Jesus is an essential part of your approach to life in liminality. Also take note that gentleness and respect are the presenting attitudes. That's what people should first encounter not our desire to win an argument.
This season of a liminal space is temporary. It will end and things will be different after coronavirus. However, what can we offer as good news in this moment and how should we offer it? Those are important questions.