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Coronavirus, Liminality and Meditation

Monday, 20 April 2020  | Charles Ringma

Let me make clear that there is nothing frivolous about this heading, and this is not a flippant suggestion that liminality is some weird psychology and that meditation is a cure for coronavirus.

This reflection also in no way seeks to undermine all that we need to do to stay medically as safe as we can, and to stay connected and caring in appropriate ways.

But it is most likely that most of us will suddenly find that life is no longer ‘normal’. That our normal routines and rhythms have disappeared and that we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory. This just goes to show how much we are creatures of habit and of regularity.

When these patterns of living suddenly change, and particularly when this is due to external factors, many feel that they have been ‘thrown off their perch’. Scholars call this entering into a ‘liminal’ space. Liminality has the idea of being in unfamiliar territory and in an ‘in-between’ space. The old has suddenly been interrupted and the new is unclear and uncertain. While one may pine for the ‘old’ and impatiently seek to grab the ‘new’, the liminal space invites us to something different. While this difference may well involve impatience, we need to embrace a creative waiting. And in this waiting the most productive impulse is ‘what can I learn here?’ and ‘what may need to change?’ and ‘what new things/patterns need to emerge?’ Thus, liminality is akin to pregnancy or being in a ‘womb-like’ state.

Also, we may find that we have more ‘time on our hands’ than usual. This is particularly true of those who can no longer temporarily go to work or who have permanently lost their jobs. And while some will constructively make the most of this extra time, for others this may only increase their anxiety. And this may well result in unhelpful and even destructive forms of behaviour.

One positive and challenging move is to become more self-reflective. The well-known Australian journalist, Paul Kelly, has made the point that the cultivation of ‘a strong inner life is essential’ at this time. He goes on to note that this has certainly not been a preoccupation of ‘contemporary culture’. And he ends with the probing question: ‘do people [still] know what an inner life means?

Towards an answer to this challenging question, here are some basic suggestions:

First of all, don’t binge on the daily barrage of news. Don’t become fixated. Be selective in listening to reliable news sources.

Secondly, develop some new routines in your daily life. This may involve some more time in the garden or walking in the park or reading a good novel or playing games with your children.

Thirdly, in thinking of others find new ways to remain connected, while staying safe.

Fourthly, seek to also become more attentive to yourself.

Fifthly, set some quiet time aside each day to think about some of the following basic questions:

a)    How are these changes impacting me: physically, relationally, economically and spiritually?

b)    What am I most anxious and concerned about?

c)    What changes for the better can I make in these difficult circumstances?

d)    What strengths or weaknesses of mine are coming to the fore in this changed environment?

e)    What can I hope for regarding the future?

In quietly engaging these and related questions one may use deep breathing techniques, differing forms of prayers, journaling, and art or music.

This call to turn ‘inward’ is most appropriate, not only because of the changed circumstances, but also because this is something we have neglected in the more ordinary realities of life where we are busy, distracted, preoccupied and non-reflective. In normal life one minute of mindfulness does little to ground and orient us – how much more now?

The turn ‘inward’ is not about selfishness. It is to become more aware of ourselves in order to relate better to others and life around us.

For those who are happy to do some exploring within the Christian faith tradition, here are some rich resources you may wish to engage in in order to deepen your reflections and your meditative or contemplative practices:

St. Augustine, The Confessions, Trans. Maria Boulding (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2001)

Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works. Editor Emilie Griffin (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005)

Ilia Delio, Franciscan Prayer (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2004)

Hildegard of Bingen: Selections from Her Writings, Emilie Griffin (ed.) (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005)

Julian of Norwich. Revelations of Divine Love. Trans. Clifton Wolters (London: Penguin, 1966)

The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, Bernard McGinn (ed.) (New York: The Modern Library, 2006)

J. Philip Newell, Celtic Treasure: Daily Scriptures and Prayers (Norwich, UK: Canterbury Press, 2005)

The Desert Fathers. Translator Helen Waddell (New York: Vintage, 1998)

So, keep safe. Stay connected as appropriate. Change some of your routines. Don’t be afraid of this ‘in-between’ space. Do become more reflective. And journey a little deeper into the rich resources of Christian spirituality.


Charles Ringma, tssf.

Charles Ringma has taught in universities, seminaries and colleges in Asia, Australia and Canada. He is Emeritus Professor Regent College, Vancouver, Canada. His recent publications are Hear the Ancient Wisdom, Sabbath Time and Chase Two Horses.


Paul Tyson
April 20, 2020, 11:46AM
Helpful and constructive thoughts - many thanks Charles. As I live under the flight path to the Brisbane Airport, and the noticeable quiet has also drawn me back to Abraham Heschel's beautiful book "The Sabbath". It seems that rest, and rhythms of rest, and the shalom of God found explicitly outside of our normal ceaseless activity, is now there for the taking. Perhaps, even, our world is experiencing something of an enforced sabbath - at least in countries like Australia (very different in India, Indonesia, even New York where the deadly power of the virus affects people who are very vulnerable in terms of health care and daily needs). But in comfortable urban Australia, this 'opportunity' to recover an inner life, or even to just recognize that we don't have much of an inner life, can be a strange but very real blessing. My work patterns are out the window, but it is a delight to be at home with my spouse and four children. Where a crisis is not catastrophically destructive it is always an opportunity. Thanks for reminding us of the opportunities to attend to our inner life and our close family relationships that this time inadvertently presents to us.

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