“What do you mean by the space between . . .?” It’s a question I hear often; I consider the concept itself as the fruit of my reading and reflection on the works of John O’Donahue. In particular, the title of his last book before he died, To Bless the Space Between Us, and, in particular, his notion that all we need is here within us and here between us.
Although I am using the phrase in a spiritual way, and as metaphor, I hear the political equivalent when – in reference to the Senate or House – I hear the words “on one, or the other side of the aisle.” In the congressional arena, the space between . . . would be the aisle itself. Imagine what would be required of democrats and republicans to get up from their seats to conduct their business from the center of the aisle. Imagine what they would have to release to come into that space.
The space between church and not-church is similar. It’s the space into which those who are able to release doctrines and ideologies, traditions, attitudes and behaviors in order to move into the space between them. It is holy and blessed space. It is the space that allows us to gather at the pool of our deepest knowing – our knowing of the mystery and miracle of life in this universe, our knowing about hope and transformation, our deep and rarely accessed pool of knowing in which we lose our forgetfulness about our divisions, our isolation, and break down the barriers that have walled us off from our own longing.
The space between . . . will be unfamiliar territory, not altogether different from how it was when the planet earth was formed. Before its formation, there was space.
Maybe we understand creation in the way the astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson describes it:
. . . chemical elements forged in the center of highmass stars, unstable at the ends of their lives,which then exploded to scatter their enriched contents across galaxies, forming into gas clouds which in turn collapsed, forming stars, and planets, and life.
Or, perhaps we understand it according to the biblical account, where, in the beginning there was only darkness and formlessness until a mighty wind swept through, and God said “let there be light”.
What matters is that we find our way into this new space – formless, yes, but grounded in a narrative fourteen billion years in the making. We carry this knowing, all of it. We carry it in our genes, our blood, and at the cellular level.
This space between . . . is our path and our journey.
The poet Antonio Machado wrote, “Friend, there is no road. You build the road as you walk. Our new path and vision can emerge only from the space between . . . It is a third way (or fourth or fifth way) of being in the world. I call it the apophatic way – a way of unlearning – to distinguish it from mere compromise. The space between . . . is that sacred space from which a new vision, a new world, can emerge.
It will be important to gain familiarity with the concept of the space between . . .
It is where we can begin to discover the deep knowing that lies within each of us. Those such as Parker Palmer call it the “inner teacher”. Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer in her book Extraordinary Knowing, refers to it as anomalous knowing. I think of it as the knowing of the soul, knowing which rarely dares emerge, so dampened is it by opinion, doctrine, even fear. The space between . . . is safe space, what which The Center for Courage and Renewal calls a Circle of Trust.
Think of an experience in which you and another (or others) have been able to release the attitudes, thought patterns, ideologies that had divided you, for the sake of a conversation or effort more important than yourselves. How did that happen? What was the result? If you are willing to share such an experience below, that will help others begin to familiarize themselves with the concept of the space between . . .
Because this might be new territory, I will start the conversation with a recent experience. Although it rarely happens this way, I think of the long New Hampshire winters as my time to sculpt, and I have had in my mind for some time, a large work. I say I’ve had it my mind, because it doesn’t exist anywhere else, but for the photo images from which aspects the sculpture were to emerge. But nothing was emerging. I could look across my studio and see it in perfect detail what didn’t yet exist, but I couldn’t cross the space between it and me. One day, in the mysterious way these things happen, I understood I had to step into the space between us, and I invited the sculpture to do the same. Eccentric as it may sound, we are both in the space between . . . and, having released the certainty of detail about the way this sculpture was to look, I find I have begun.
Another quick example, in the human realm. My friend Bob died some years ago, and Donna his widow asked me if I would officiate a gathering of the celebration of his life. It was important to Donna to have communion, although neither she nor Bob nor any of their children had ever had any church connection. I was puzzled by this request, until I understood I needed to move into the space between . . . releasing my own (at the time fairly orthodox) concept of the meaning of the bread and wine – what the church calls the elements. Donna understood them as the fruits of the earth, the waters, and the sunlight, and it was the connection of the natural elements that symbolized for her the joyous life of her husband.
I would love to hear from you.