Book Review: Neither Here nor There – The Many Voices of Liminality, featuring Pádraig Ó Tuama

Liminality. It’s not necessarily a word that pops up in everyday conversation – unless you are an anthropologist. A new book, Neither Here nor There – The Many Voices of Liminality (The Lutterworth Press, 2019), edited by Timothy Carson, offers an impressive range of accessible, eclectic, entertaining, and informative meditations on liminality. Among its 17 contributing authors is poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama, leader of the Corrymeela Community since 2014.

Liminality is the disorientation or unsettling that takes place in a time of transition or uncertainty. We might even say that these islands have been plunged into a long, painful liminal passage since the Brexit referendum in 2016. (Having said that, Neither Here nor There is a mercifully Brexit-free zone.)

Anthropologists have long associated liminality with traditional ritualised rites of passage, most commonly when a child undergoes initiation into adulthood. Liminality also has been associated with the Celtic tradition of ‘thin spaces,’ which Ó Tuama describes in his contribution:

… a thin place, a narrow place, a place where the living and the dead commune, where heaven and earth all regard each other.

 Hell too, I hope. Otherwise what’s the point?

The Lutterworth Press is known for publishing popular titles in theology, religion and spirituality. Neither Here nor There straddles the boundaries between popular theology and academic disciplines like anthropology, sociology, psychology, and theology. Contributors range from poets to pastors to practitioners to academics to a prisoner serving a life sentence in a Tennessee prison. The global range of contributors’ experiences includes Australia, Ireland, Israel/Palestine, South Africa and the United States. The book can be purchased for an affordable £19.50.

Ó Tuama’s is one of three chapters that you can read in full for free online. The quality of Ó Tuama’s insight and writing is high, as might be expected of a founder of the popular Ten X 9 storytelling movement and author of In the Shelter and Sorry for your Troubles, among others.

Titled ‘The Place Betweeen,’ Ó Tuama’s chapter encompasses meditations on the founding of Corrymeela and its witness for peace, suicide, meeting the dead in our dreams, and saying sorry.

The book is ably introduced and edited by Carson, a pastor and writer based in Missouri who curates TheLiminalityProject.org. Carson’s own chapter is compelling, including an unforgettable description of his own near-death experience during a deep dive on the high side of a dam, an event one of his companions did not survive.

Other chapters that stand out are Jacob Davis’s on the permanent liminality of imprisonment, and the focus of the American penitential system on punishment rather than rehabilitation; John Eliastam’s exploration of the South African concept of ubuntu in light of divisive discourses that have marred the country’s transition since its Truth and Reconciliation Commission; Kate Hendricks Thomas’s reflections on her experience as a US Marine and the unravelling of her world as she struggled to transition to civilian life; and Debra Jarvis’s insights from 30 years as a hospice and hospital chaplain, ministering to those with cancer.

Neither Here nor There presents reflections on liminality in remarkably accessible and practical ways. It is a useful resource for individuals or small groups keen to explore spirituality, and personal and social transitions.

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