Faces on Faith: Thin places
The idea of “thin places” comes from Celtic Christianity that flourished in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and northern England beginning in the fifth century. I have always loved the idea of thin places and have experienced them myself. The idea is quite simple: God is not a million miles away in some far distant heaven, but “right here.” We can know and experience a God who is as close as our next breath in countless ways. This way of thinking acknowledges that there is more than one dimension of reality, there is more than the visible, physical world. There is a spiritual dimension, a spiritual world where we can experience God, the sacred, Spirit.
Thomas Merton, a twentieth-century Trappist monk, said this:
“Life is this simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time. This is not just a fable or a nice story. It is true. If we abandon ourselves to God and forget ourselves, we see it sometimes, and we see it maybe frequently. God shows (Godself) everywhere, in everything — in people and in things and in nature and in events. It becomes very obvious that God is everywhere and in everything and we cannot be without (God). It’s impossible. The only thing is that we don’t see it.”
Experiencing the thin places requires living in the moment. The reason we don’t see them is that we so often live with regrets about the past and fears about the future that take us out of the present moment and God present with us right here and now. We face so many distractions, so much noise (from outside and inside), relentless busyness that it is difficult to slow down, center ourselves, and be open to God who is “right here.”
But if we can do this, if we can slow down and quiet the noise from within and without, if we can embrace the truth that God is not somewhere far off but very near, we can experience God shining through everything. The veil lifts, and we behold God who is all around us, within us and in everyone that we meet.
Thin places are “time standing still” moments and encounters. Some are profound, like the moment a newborn child is placed in your arms, and some are much more ordinary, like the beauty of a breathtaking sunset. People can be thin places. All of us have met people who have inspired, challenged and loved us through thick and thin, people who have radiated with the spirit of God.
Let us give thanks for them and for the myriad of ways that God makes Godself known in the thin places of our lives.
The Rev. William “Bill” Van Oss is the rector at Saint Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church.