There is in Celtic spirituality an awareness of ‘thin places’ in the universe, where the visible and the invisible world come into their closest proximity. Monasteries and holy places were meant to be founded at such spots to increase the likelihood of a transcendental communication. These thin places were threshold places, which can mean a border or frontier place where two worlds meet and where one has the possibility of communicating with the other.
Marsha Sinetar in a wonderful little book entitled ‘Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics’, reminds us that the search for ‘thin places’ is not just the purview of those religious types who live in set apart places. Rather, each of us has the ability to discern and experience such sacred places. From my own experience such places sometimes are found in houses of worship, but more often, are found in the everyday. Have you ever been in a thin place?
Several years ago I was kayaking in the Tongass Wilderness in southeastern Alaska. One morning my companion and I found much to our surprise that we were in the midst of a pod of humpback whales. We had been told to knock on our kayak hull lest a whale get too close and capsize us. For the next hour we moved with the whales as they fed and occasionally breached. The word ‘awesome’ comes to mind as we watched the beauty and grace of these majestic mammals. More than that I felt a sense of connection, of being part of something so much greater than me, a thin place.
Such moments of course are not relegated to the vast beauty of Alaska, often ‘thin places’ are found in the day to day. We may approach a thin place in the delight of a child, a mist hovering over a river, a rainbow emerging after days of grey. Thin places are places and experiences that cause us to look up, around and within in a deeper way. Sometimes a thin place emerges from fearful moments of uncertainty, vulnerability and loss.
The ancient Celts would remind us that awareness of such thin places come to those who wait and watch. Buddhists speak of mindfulness and Christians speak of the contemplative heart. A few hundred years ago, a theologian named Soren Kierkegarrd said, “God/Spirit is always present simply waiting to be found”. Such wisdom reminds us that the thin place is close by , for those with the eyes to see and the ears to hear.