The Crossing Blog

Thoughts from the Crossing Team

Understanding 'Thin Places' (Where heaven and earth come together)

Life is best understood backward but must be experienced forward, to paraphrase Kierkegaard. After decades of wandering, only now does a pattern emerge. I have found that I’m drawn to places that beguile and inspire, sedate and stir, places where, for a few blissful moments I loosen my death grip on life, and can breathe again. It turns out these destinations have a name: Thin Places.

 

It is, admittedly, an odd term. One could be forgiven for thinking that thin places describe skinny nations, but no, thin places are much deeper than that. They are places and locations where the distance between heaven and earth sort of collapses, and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite.

 

Thin Places

 

Conceptually and historically, I have known of “thin places” for a number of years but never really gave it a whole lot of thought. However, these Thin Places, like many other Celtic traditions, hold a certain mystical fascination for me. The Celts developed this sort of thinking long before western Christianity came into their world and they incorporated the concept into their worship. Not only that, they also found that there is good scriptural grounds to believe it is an integral part of our worship.

 

These thin places were put there on purpose to declare the glory of God. Psalm 19:1-4 says: The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth and their words to the entire world. Thin places are like that.

 

Simply put, a thin place was and is just that, a physical location where the separation between the divine and the earth is considered to be thin. I believe we can expand that beyond the borders of Ireland and Scotland and say that we have all experienced thin places in our lives – those mystical, unexplainable touches with the divine that both test and strengthen our faith.

 

Contemplative Franciscan Richard Rhor calls this place “the edge “, and suggests we should cultivate being there. “The edge is a holy place, or as the Celts called it, “a thin place” and you have to be taught how to live there. To take your position on the spiritual edge of things is to learn how to move safely in and out, back and forth, across and return.”

 

So, how can we find a thin place in our world today? Do we get on a plane and fly to Ireland, or can we just go around the block? Let’s do a little background first. A thin place is any place of transition: a doorway, a gate, the sea shore, these are all places where very little movement will take you from one place to another. 

 

You can find these Thin Places in the Bible, let me just mention a few.  The first is the thin place of God in the Exodus from Egypt. “For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, before the eyes of all the house of Israel at each stage of their journey.” (Exodus 40:38) Perhaps this is the most graphic of all thin places in the Bible because it had a very graphic signpost of God’s nearness. God traveled with them and they saw it, they knew and were blessed by experiencing this thin place.

 

The second is the thin place of any miracle. The Old Testament story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is a great example. King Nebuchadnezzar had taken them captive to serve his kingdom. Not long after that the king had statue of himself built and decreed all subjects to offer worship to it. These three young men refused saying that they could only worship the true God, Yahweh. King Nebuchadnezzar ordered them burned in an especially hot furnace, but they did not perish in the flames. “Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?” They answered the king, “True, O king.” He replied, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.”(Daniel 3:24-25)

 

Not only were they saved from the execution but God was walking with them in the fire. Not only Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego but all those present around the furnace were standing on holy ground – a sort of thin place.

 

I chose for the third reference the thinnest place that ever existed, the hill of Golgotha. Many would say that this was a place of the melding of heaven and earth. The place where Jesus, God in the flesh, died for the salvation of us all.

 

Picture the scene: “It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:44-46)

 

There were so many ways that this scene had become a thin place that I could spend pages talking about it, but instead I just want to point out that the veil between the celestial and the earthly was extraordinarily thin at this moment.

 

Relishing Your Thin Places

 

Without question there were such thin places in the Bible. The fire that followed the Ark of the Covenant, the conversation of Paul on the Damascus Road, the encounter with Jesus on the Emmaus Road and the Temple in Jerusalem are examples of such places. These stories stand separately from the Celtic notion of thin places.

 

Jesus expands the thin places of life by saying: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” Scholar N. T. Wright tells us, “Those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God’s new Temple. They are, individually and corporately, places where heaven and earth meet.”

 

When heaven and earth meet, a thin place is discovered. I wish no dishonor or disrespect to the more purist concept of thin places but do wish to expand on the opportunity for each us to recognize our encounters with the thin places God has presented to us. With that in mind, I want to speak about some thin places we can experience.

 

Many of us have gone “on retreat” at least one time in our lives and in the midst of such an experience we have felt a special touch of God. Perhaps it was the teaching, the music or the other people. God spoke to you and gave you a ‘mountain top’ experience. As we leave that particular set of circumstances we have a great desire to hang onto the feeling so that we will always have it in our possession. But you can’t, however you can relish it, and know that God has brought you to a thin place and perhaps he will do it again.

 

Looking at God’s creation can help. I believe love of nature is built into our DNA. Experiences with nature drive us to an awareness of creation. Columbanus said, ‘If you wish to understand the Creator, first understand His creation.’ If we seek to be continually aware of His presence in nature, He will present to us a thin place of communication – a place where heaven and earth will intersect and glory revealed. Sunsets, mountains, sea waves, majestic creatures are all gifts to remind us of His magnificent creation. That reminder breaks the great veil of separation to a degree.

 

This also explains why many people fall in love with and worship the creation while missing the opportunity to connect with the creator of it all. The Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Christians in the Roman church: They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. (Romans 1: 25)

 

But to allow heaven and earth to meet, we must seek God. He is sought in prayer and worship practices. The importance of having regular and disciplined practices is the key to thin place experiences.

 

Let me suggest a few:

 

SILENCE – The act of silence is a simple emptying of one’s self and inviting God to fill the void. Centering prayer and other forms of meditation are windows to heaven. According to Dominican Meister Eckhart, a fourteenth century mystic, “There is nothing so much like God as silence.” Silence can be a thin place.

 

PRAYING  - Praying is an amazing opportunity to connect with God. Prayer/Commune with God creates a thin place, and specifically praying scripture.  Picking a passage and reading with careful attention to the words and thoughts that are contained therein and allowing those words to sink deeply into our souls can be a sacred experience and a thin place,

 

WORSHIP – In a world that sees worship as far more people centered than God centered, we are truly challenged to seek God in our time of worship. For worship to become a thin place we must put our personalities on the shelf and put the Holy Spirit on a pedestal. Allow God to pierce through all the distractions and enter into that place. Pray for those special moments that come in worship and you will find them.

 

What are some of your ‘Thin Places’? Feel free to share them here…

 

 

The Crossing Church

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Batavia, Ohio 45103

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The Crossing, is a non-denominational church located near the campus of UC Clermont west of downtown Batavia.