Letters to Peregrinus #42 - On Life at the In-Between

Genesis 28: 16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, “Truly, the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!” 17 He was afraid….”[1]
Dear Peregrinus (begun on the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time):

I salute you, old friend, on what has become September, the name of which month means seventh even though it is the ninth month of the year.[2] Thank you for your gracious reception, and reply to both Tara and Mary, who wrote to you in July and August respectively. They think highly of you and they know of our friendship through all the “prayers, works, joys, and sufferings” that you and I have shared over many years.

Years ago, during the two years when I was letting develop in my mind what would eventually become the Faber Institute (founded 1 October 2014),[3] I wrote several essays, in which I was trying to “find” what I sensed God wanted to happen – “reading the signs of the times”[4] – and in specific relation to the capacities God gave me – “Lord, how can I be of help to you?”[5] In what I think was my most sufficient description that I wrote during those salad days,[6] I described the Faber Institute as intended for, aimed at, people living at the in-between.[7]

What do I mean by the “in-between”?[8] I mean the most alive place or time that nearly everyone I know (including me!) seeks to avoid with all energy. We prefer to occupy places familiar to us; we labor to secure for ourselves a predictable pattern of life; we require that our expectations be consistently met (part of what we mean by “success” in living); and we (more disturbingly) desire regular contact with people who lack such predictabilities … so that by happy contrast we can feel the blessing of having “arrived”, with most all of our preferences solidly established.[9]

A “settled” life becomes constituted more by acts and attitudes of control and by the management of life more than the living of it. By contrast, a life lived at the in-between is constituted of relationships, and by the centrality of trust of those who are trustworthy (recognizing, and perhaps grieving, those who are not).

When we encounter those compelled to live at the in-between, we pity[10] them, even as we feel dread at the thought that we might end up like them too. We also, and often without realizing that we are doing so, shame those living at the in-between, showing them our eyes which, if they had mouths, would say, “I wonder what you did wrong,” or “Are you not who we thought you were?” And then there is always the gossiping – the ancient helpmate of Shame.[11]

Or to come at this from another direction, would you agree that people experience life at the “in-between” not as arrival at the place or time where or when God wants them to be, but as transition, as a mode of life-space or life-time through which, distressingly, they find themselves compelled to pass? And how strongly they purpose to get through the “in-between” as quickly as possible! People imagine that the “in-between” is not, cannot be, a space or time of exceptional importance in itself.

People do not recognize that when they find themselves at the in-between, they have arrived into a particularly special kind of space or time of life where or when real growth, and where or when a real encounter with “the holy Mystery”,[12] becomes particularly likely.

I cannot think of a more perfect example of life at the in-between than the famous story of Jacob on the run from his brother, who intended, upon catching up to him, to kill him.

Genesis 28: 12 Then he [Jacob] had a dream: a stairway* rested on the ground, with its top reaching to the heavens; and God’s angels were going up and down on it. 13 And there was the Lord standing beside him and saying: I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you are lying I will give to you and your descendants.g 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and through them you will spread to the west and the east, to the north and the south. In you and your descendants all the families of the earth will find blessing.h 15 I am with you and will protect you wherever you go, and bring you back to this land. I will never leave you until I have done what I promised you.i 16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, “Truly, the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!” 17 He was afraid and said: “How awesome this place is! This is nothing else but the house of God, the gateway to heaven!”[13]

We discover ourselves (as did Jacob) suddenly, perhaps frighteningly, “in play.”[14]

Yet, is it not the case that God prefers us to be in such “places” or “times”, to abide there, rather than to scoot through them as quickly as possible? Do we notice how much more intensely and steadily awake (i.e., alive) we are at the in-between? Is it not the truth that God Himself is essentially “in play” all the time?![15] God’s steady-state is to “boil with Life” (to borrow a famous description of the “really real” by Plotinus[16]). In short, God is the One Who is fully alive.[17]

Or, does it not seem to be the case to you, Peregrinus – to you and to me who have often shared our insights about the ancient Tradition - that Jesus, the God-Man, IS an in-between? His identity is the numinous[18] unity (Personhood) of two distinct Natures (His Divine Nature and His human Nature).[19] Christ’s divine Personhood does not try to get out from the in-between, resolving the tension either toward His divinity or toward His humanity.

Peregrinus, you know enough about my fall that you can recognize the wryness[20] of my reference to a ladder/stairway in this story at Genesis 28. I did go “up and down on it” [a fire-escape ladder/stairway] that June 4th morning. I was, and am, no angel. But as I was to learn later, I was guarded on that ladder/stairway by Angels unseen to me. My ladder that morning got me up to my Prayer Spot – 11 When he came upon a certain place,* he stopped there for the night, since the sun had already set. Taking one of the stones at the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.[21] – which ascent, and then descent, on that brightening morning in Los Angeles would begin what has been my most profound entry into life at the in-between – 13 And there was the Lord standing beside him…[22]
Dr. Gudata Hinika, MD, Chief of Trauma, with me on 11 June 2019
Pray for me, old friend, as I, still living at the in-between, feel emerging powerfully, subtly into my awareness a sense of what it is that God has been up to with me, and with so many others who constitute the tapestry that is my life. Do you sense this too? I see the Thread that matters.

Love, and in deepest gratitude for things seen and unseen, I am your old friend in Christ who walks the pilgrim’s road… and no when, and nowhere, but so,



[1] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Ge 28:16–17.

[2] https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/months/september.html - “September is the ninth month of the year in the modern day Gregorian calendar and its predecessor, the Julian calendar. The month kept its original name from the Roman calendar in which septem means “seven” in Latin marking it as the seventh month. September was named during a time when the calendar year began with March, which is why its name no longer corresponds with its placement in the Julian and Gregorian calendars.”

[3] It was my friend and colleague Lynn Andrews, a current member of the Faber Institute’s Board, who would not let me look past this internal “impetus”. She kept reminding me to follow that intuition all the way through, knowing/sensing that God was up to something important with me.

[4] Dianne Bergant in America magazine, 24 November 2003 - “One of the most exacting challenges from the Second Vatican Council [1962-1965] was its summons to read the “signs of the times.” It was a call to reflect deeply on the events unfolding before our eyes and to respond to them out of mature faith. This was difficult, because many of us were accustomed to react to life rather than interact with it, and few of us possessed what today might be called mature faith. We probably knew the teachings of the church and were well grounded in genuine devotion, but we were passive rather than actively involved in critical thinking about faith.”

[5] Such searching for the sake of discovering what God is up to is for this writer profoundly affected by, first to last, my formation in the Jesuit charisms (47-years of my life committed to this particular Way): in discernment, in indifference, in growing familiarity with God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and in the formation of my conscience according to the specific directions that the We of the Jesuit Order have articulated in our most important documents: the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus and the Complimentary Norms (as sorted out in the General Congregations of our Order).

[6] I am using this expression in its earlier meaning (see what follows here). Wikipedia (in part): "Salad days" is a Shakespearean idiomatic expression meaning a youthful time, accompanied by the inexperience, enthusiasm, idealism, innocence, or indiscretion that one associates with a young person. A more modern use, especially in the United States, refers to a heyday, a period when somebody was at the peak of their abilities—not necessarily in that person's youth. The quote "salad days" is from the Shakespearean play Antony and Cleopatra and is spoken in Act 1, Scene 5, by Cleopatra.

[7] During those two years, my weekly men’s spiritual conversation group, which we came to refer to as “the Men of Wednesday” (MOW), regularly checked in with me about my sense of God’s purpose for me. It was Steve Moore in particular, who over and over again kept at me to follow through with effective action, to write such Descriptions, so that I might get sufficiently clear about the divine purpose that I was tracking within myself, and so that my close friends might understand it, and with such understanding, to help me respond to the divine impetus.

[8] Probably the original phrase was “in the between.” I have rendered a preposition “between” as a noun! The preposition “between” (also an adverb) first appears in written English in 890 CE. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it: “The proper word expressing the local relation of a point to two other points in opposite directions from it (i.e. if a point has two other points on opposite sides of it, it is said to be between them): In the space which separates two points; in the direct line which joins two points; hence, in any line of communication which passes from one point, place, or object, to another.”

[9] I do not mean to speak in a cynical way, but from my observation of how people in stable privilege feel their positive circumstances confirmed in the presence of those who lack any such stability of life. Something striking about Jesus is how He, of such astounding “privilege” of life (but “Who did not deem equality with God / something to be grasped at”) did not need His divine privileges affirmed by us who, in contrast, lacked such divine and human Fullness of life.

[10] The word “pity” has been too irreversibly associated in contemporary English with pitiful. People dislike, even resent, when people pity them, because of the condescension they feel comes along with the pity. But its original meaning refers to a very particular kind of kindness that those in Christ are able to offer to others. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “pity” this way: “Tenderness and concern aroused by the suffering, distress, or misfortune of another, and prompting a desire for its relief; compassion, sympathy.”

[11] The Oxford English Dictionary at the verb “to gossip”, at meaning “c” – “To talk idly, mostly about other people's affairs; to go about tattling.”

[12] This was a favorite “name” that the Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner, SJ (d. 1984) favored. Perhaps he favored it because the “name” is actually a description of a particular experience, what God “feels” like when God draws near to us – simultaneously “holy’ and “mysterious.”

* Stairway: in Hebrew, sullam, traditionally but inaccurately translated as “ladder.” The corresponding verb, salal, means “to heap up” something, such as dirt for a highway or a ramp. The imagery in Jacob’s dream may be derived from the Babylonian ziggurat or temple tower, “with its top in the sky” (11:4), and with brick steps leading up to a small temple at the top.
g Dt 1:8; Mi 7:20

h Gn 12:3; 13:14–15; 15:5–6; 18:18; 22:17–18; 26:4; Dt 19:8; Sir 44:21

Gn 31:3

[13] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Ge 28:12–17

[14] To be “in play” is such an interesting phrase, especially when we pay particular attention to the idea of play. We are back “in the game”, if you will.

[15] This is my playful way of acknowledging what I think Medieval philosophy/theology meant when it referred to God as actus purus – as pure act.

[16] Plotinus, the first and most complete expression of Neoplatonism, lived c. 204/5 CE – 270 CE.

[17] To reverse a famous bon mots of St. Irenaeus of Lyon (c. 130 CE – c. 220 CE), we could say that “the glory of human beings is to know a God Who is fully, intensely alive”!

[18] The Oxford English Dictionary at the adjective “numinous”: “Of or relating to a numen; revealing or indicating the presence of a divinity; divine, spiritual.”

[19] Referring here to the famous Definition by the Council of Chalcedon (451 CE) concerning the constitution of Christ. See the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3d edition – “Christ is declared to be one Person in two Natures, the Divine of the same substance as the Father (ὁμοούσιος τῷ πατρί), the human of the same substance as us (ὁμοούσιος ἡμῖν), which are united unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably (ἀσυγχύτως, ἀτρέπτως, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀχωρίστως).[19]

[20] “Wry” humor is humor that is playfully “twisted” (the original meaning of “wry”). But my “wryness” is knowing no bounds in my use of “wryness” here, seeing that it means as the Oxford English Dictionary defines it: “Of the features, neck, etc.: Abnormally deflected, bent, or turned to one side; in a contorted state or form; distorted.” My fall left much of me “abnormally deflected, bent, or turned to one side”.

* Place: the Hebrew word is often used specifically of a sacred site. The ambiguous word “place” is used here, for the text emphasizes that Jacob has no idea the place he has come upon is sacred; only when he wakes up does he realize it is sacred. The place was Bethel (v. 19), a sacred site as early as the time of Abraham (12:8).

[21] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Ge 28:11

[22] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Ge 28:13. Notice how the bright bloom of fear in Jacob – running from his enraged and violent brother Esau – might have caused him, Jacob, to find, suddenly and frighteningly, Esau not God right there at his side.

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