Posts Tagged 'Susan Beaumont'

Living in Liminal Space

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In this week between two worlds, the world of 2020 and the world of 2021, I’ve been reflecting on liminal space.  What is liminal space? Susan Beaumont, in How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, describes liminal space as the space between the old and the new, when the old has disintegrated and the new has not yet come.  Our human will has a bias toward returning to the old or rushing to the new, profoundly uncomfortable in the liminal space.  Yet the liminal space provides the holding environment for gestation.  Waiting in the liminal space provides room for creativity and growth.

2020 served up a lot of liminal space for me and for the Shalem Institute, the organization I serve in leadership.  For example, when COVID-19 hit, I had no roadmap.  Our strategic planning process had not, in our wildest imaginings, anticipated this scenario.  Part of me felt tempted to devise a plan, any plan, to chart a course through this storm.

Yet another part of me knew I needed to wait.  Our old way of doing things wouldn’t work anymore.  The old was falling apart before our eyes.  The new had not yet emerged.  Prematurely rushing to devise a plan, I sensed, would prove counterproductive. 

And I knew I needed to listen.  Personally, I needed to listen for what was being invited.  Corporately, we at Shalem needed to listen.  I needed to help hold the space for our staff team to listen.  I needed to help hold the space for our board to listen.  Just because we couldn’t offer programs in our old tried-and-true ways didn’t mean the Holy Spirit had stopped working.  How could we listen for what the Spirit was up to now?

How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going  helped me recognize the normalcy of what we were experiencing.  It helped me stay in the uncomfortable liminal space and invite others into it as well.  Others had traveled this road before.  While COVID-19 was new, the experience of living in liminal space was not.  The degree to which we could stay in the liminal space with open, listening minds, hearts, and wills would determine the degree to which we could respond to the emerging future waiting to be born through us. 

While we still find ourselves living between the old and the new, with staff working from home and programs shifted to Zoom, with no clear end in sight, we have found that listening for divine guidance, experimenting, and trusting has served us well.  Surprisingly, enrollment in our programs has increased substantially.  Our community has been generous financially. Our staff and board are strong.  We are thriving.

Yes, we still lack a roadmap.  Yes, I’m still tempted at times to rush toward a new strategic plan.  Yes, it’s often uncomfortable and difficult.  Yet exercising our trust muscles for the past nine months has taught us that living in liminal space can be an adventure of listening, open-heartedness, and growth.

While I don’t yet know what 2021 has to offer, I want to commit myself to living in this ongoing liminal space with an open mind, open heart, and open will.

May we all experience the blessings of liminal space in 2021, even amidst its challenges.

Step by Halting Step: Leadership in Uncertain Times

In this season of the year, following the crucifixion and resurrection and Jesus’s subsequent forty days among the disciples, Christians celebrate the ascension, the time when Jesus left the disciples and ascended into heaven.

What a roller coaster that month and a half must have been for the disciples.  First, when they expected Jesus to proclaim himself king of Israel and overcome the Roman occupation, they got the crucifixion instead.  In shock and grief, the disciples hid away in fear. And then the resurrection came. Unbelievable. How could this be? Still in shock and grief, the disciples weren’t ready. Even after Jesus appeared to the disciples, they kept hiding in fear.  It took most of the forty days that Jesus lived among them, post-resurrection, for the disciples to begin to trust that he was really back and really himself.

In this past Sunday’s reading from the book of Acts, after Jesus had been with them for forty days, the disciples wondered what would come next.  After forty days with the resurrected Jesus, they had at last recovered from some of the shock and grief and fear.  They began to anticipate the future with Jesus.  “Is this the time that you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” they asked.

But at that very moment, when they had finally regained their footing, Jesus turned everything upside down yet again.  First, instead of answering their question, he spoke what must have seemed like nonsense. And then he disappeared!  They were left open-mouthed, staring up at the skies.

Jesus had spent the past three years developing the disciples as leaders, asking them to join him in inviting people to encounter God more deeply.  And then he vanished, leaving them in charge.  Reeling in confusion, the disciples retreated to pray.

I find myself identifying with the disciples this past month and a half.  Just when I regain my footing, everything changes again in my leadership role at Shalem.  First, the cancellation of two pilgrimages and postponement of a major program, with the resulting loss of 10% of our expected income for the year. Then, our entire staff adjusting to working from home.  Then, all our programs being re-designed to be held online, programs that have cherished the in-person experience of deep connection with one another in beautiful natural settings. Then, a two-week quarantine stretching into six weeks, into three months, into…

Like the disciples, we, as a Shalem staff and board, retreated to pray and discern what is ours to do in these times.  We hear that this is a time for contemplatives, that living in love speaks to a world experiencing loss and grief, that being grounded in God invites people out of fear and panic into trust and hope.  We offer new resources to support people’s deep grounding, to help people live in the love that casts out fear.  We walk one step at a time, the future unclear.

I find that Susan Beaumont’s new book, How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, provides wisdom for these days.  Beaumont talks about leadership in in-between times, when the old way is gone but the new way has not yet emerged.  I believe that we won’t go “back to normal,” but that we are in the midst of a major shift, that we are being invited into a new way of being and doing worldwide.  What this means for Shalem is not yet clear. While we wait for the future to come into focus, we move by the light that we have. We will continue to listen and discern and seek to be faithful, step by halting step.

Like the disciples, our worlds have been turned upside down.  Like the disciples, we need to learn to lead when we don’t know where we’re going.  And like the disciples, we need to continue to pray and listen and be faithful, one step at a time.