It’s said that there are places on Earth that are just a bit closer to God. That holiness can more fully embrace you in these places. Consolation can be experienced almost directly. The breath of God’s Love can be felt on the cheek.
These are the Thin Places.
This is a Celtic observation that the distance between ourselves and God is not quite so far in certain locations. That the distance between this world, or dimension, and that of Heaven is not so great, that the holy is, for these moments, in these places, flowing into our world.
Perhaps, for you, it is a bench in a garden. A pew in a beautiful church. A secluded, sandy spot where the lapping of the ocean can be heard. A view of the mountains. A shrine. An abbey. A field with an endless sky. A dark spot faraway, under a sea of stars. A place your ancestors once worshiped the Lord, where Jesus once walked, where God was. A place where you cannot help but feel the winds of grace criss-crossing one another.
What we do in a Thin Place is not set. There is no liturgy of the Thin Places. There is no St. Thin Place to pray to. Catholic may mean universal, and a great deal may be set forward and written down, but within it, Celtic mysticism occupies a more unruly little tangle in the great Kingdom–once finally held fully in the hand, it disappears. The Thin Places are made of the same odd fibers. Perhaps Thin Places are a time to go deeper with a prayer you know, or simply to behold God’s creation, or just spend a moment with the whispering silence, but in these places it seems easier to quiet the tumbling thoughts, to feel the infinity of God stretching out before you. What you must not do is leave the moment or try to possess it, instead it is a time to relax and go deeper. Our contemplations seem to have more meaning there, our observations more color, the stillness more texture. It is best to just be, if you can.
Many people these days have grown to fear silence, but even the everyday mysticism of prayer reveals that our mind’s chatter of ideas and defenses, worries and anxieties are not of the soul. They are of the unminded mind which is trying to be everywhere at once. The soul is in the places under, above and in between. Usually, or perhaps unusually, the soul bursts forth only in silence, only when you are fully in the moment, for that is where God is. There the peace of your own soul can take quiet command, and reveal to you the other half of life. The half you abandoned to live wholly in the world, the half you didn’t know you’d given up, the half that got misplaced behind the chatter, the radio, the television, the phone. Perhaps it is just for a second. But that is often enough to see the half that has been eluding you while you too tried to be everywhere at once.
The existence of Thin Places also suggests that Heaven is more near than we believe. It is a notion of the ancient Greeks that after death you go somewhere separate and far off for eternity. The Christian belief, which is in this case to say the Jewish belief, is rather that Heaven and Earth intersect. If Heaven is set on top of the World it only makes sense that they interact, that one can peek through to the other, that the Thin Places must exist.
On the other hand, the Rhineland Mystics might argue that the Thin Places are not a function of the location of heaven because they are, instead, everywhere:
A man may go into the field and say his prayer and be aware of God, or, he may be in Church and be aware of God; but, if he is more aware of Him because he is in a quiet place, that is his own deficiency and not due to God, Who is present in the same way in all things and places, and is willing to give Himself everywhere what is in Him. He knows God rightly who knows Him everywhere.
If this is the case, then all the better.
In anxious moments the peace of God is available if we can still ourselves enough to experience it—regardless of the tension level around or within us. This, of course, is a secret of the saints. All of Creation is a Thin Place. Anywhere you go can be a Thin Place if you can hold fast to the peace of God, the touch of the Prince of Peace. Indeed, you can bring that peace with you into the restless places and, though God, change them. A word of calm or forgiveness can reveal that the distance between us and the holy is sometimes no distance at all, that it can pour into a moment just as much as the chatter of life can seem to drain it away.
Perhaps, then, the Thin Places are doors. The board meeting, the room of screaming children, the end of a long day, are the challenges for those of us not near sainthood, for those of us not adept at bringing peace, only looking, at this point, to find it. But you already know somewhere where it can be found.
We should begin at the Thin Places, give ourselves the time, patience and permission to seek out a spot where God seems near, and to drink in the stillness. Once there, feeling the closeness of Heaven, we can then pray, convey, listen. While the Kingdom of Heaven may be all around us, we can’t all expect to see it everywhere right away. Perhaps it will take some time in the Thin Places for us to begin to understand the rest of life.
And so the mission, in the end, is the same as it was at the start. The next time you feel that you are in a Thin Place, wherever it might be, try to drink in the moment, go deep in prayer and remember it. And in the meantime, think back to the places where you were able to feel peace. Make a point of returning. Pray there, or be still. Embrace the peace you feel.
They are here for a reason, and so are you.
Reprinted from Traditium, 12/18/15.