One of my favourite quotations from the children’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, has the following conversation between Alice and the Caterpillar.
“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar …
“I – I hardly know Sir, just at present,” Alice replied rather shyly, “at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.”
I am about 10 boxes of books away from completing the unpacking of my possessions having shifted from Auckland to Kaiapoi. In mid-January, I transitioned geographically from the largest and most ethnically diverse city in Aotearoa to the quieter, satellite city located 15-minutes from the city of Christchurch. There are many new areas to explore since I was last resident in the city of my birth. I am also negotiating the transition from a full-time to half-time ministry appointment, more intentionally preparing the groundwork for what and how retirement will be.
Every transition begins with an ending. We have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new one. Not just outwardly but inwardly, where we keep our connections to people and places that act as definitions of who we are. All transitions are composed of an ending, a neutral, in-between zone, and a new beginning. During each transition I have made over the already varied seasons of my life, it is the in-between zone I find most difficult, and needing the greatest degree of patience for and with myself. It’s easy to fool oneself that it’s possible to move seamlessly from the before to the after – the ending straight to the new beginning. The life cycle simply doesn’t work that way. Interim, waiting time is always of critical necessity and is where I most learn and grow as a person.
In his beautiful book Benedictus a Book of Blessings, Irish poet and writer, John O’Donohue dedicates a poem of blessing “For the Interim Time.” He names and describes these very in-between times being as a familiar place that no longer looks like itself. He writes, “Everything is withheld, and the way forward is still concealed.” In essence, interim time, is disorienting. The very paths we may have walked become unfamiliar and strange to us. We can find ourselves stumbling, disoriented, feeling quite lost. We must find our way afresh in new territory, in new ways.
It is during such in-between times, a vital part of every transition, O’Donohue puts into sacred language of blessing, the very encouragement of remaining patient and being open to the possibility of renewal, the movement towards a new season of life and faith:
As far as you can, hold your confidence.
Do not allow your confusion to squander
This call which is loosening
Your roots in false ground,
That you might come free
From all you had outgrown.
What is being transfigured here is your mind
And it is difficult and slow to become new,
The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.