When the Visible and Invisible World Meet

There is in Celtic spirituality an awareness of ‘thin places’ in the universe, where the visible and the invisible world come into 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 are threshold places, a border or frontier place where two worlds meet and where one has the possibility of communicating with the other. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/travel/thin-places-where-we-are-jolted-out-of-old-ways-of-seeing-the-world.html

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. Each of us has the ability to discern and experience such places and moments of awe and wonder.

From my experience such places sometimes are found in houses of worship but more often are found in the everyday. Often in nature.

Have you ever been in a thin place?

I am a pastor serving a church along the North Shore of Massachusetts.  With a limited warm weather window many of us savor days at a nearby beach or on rivers and lakes.   Instinctively we are drawn to such places because they not only provide relief from the heat but also nourish our soul.

This summer at church we are spending less time indoors and more time attending the ‘Church of Woods and Water’.  At this church we dig our toes in the sand and our paddle in the water.  We listen for the voice of the Creator in the wind and waves just as aboriginal Peoples have done since the beginning of time.

Such settings serve as portals into the ancient rhythm of creation.  Such thin places remind us to slow down, to savor, to reflect on what matters and where we belong.

John Muir said:  “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

This summer I wish you a good journey to places both familiar and thin.  May we walk slowly, breathe deeply and paddle well.

Is Religion Irrational?

The philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) famously said: “Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.” Russell was a champion of humanitarianism and freedom of thought.

There’s much that Mr. Russell and I agree upon. But where we part company, is his belief that ‘religion is something left over from the infancy of intelligence’. For me reason and critical thinking need not be contrary to religious life. Even Russell for all his strong views towards religion considered himself an agnostic, ‘in that I cannot disprove the Christian concept of a divine being, just as I cannot disprove the reality of the mythical gods on Mount Olympus.’ Perhaps Mr. Russell has cracked open the door for a conversation.

A few semesters ago I served on a college panel on the topic of cosmology. My role was to offer a theological perspective. With me were professors representing chemistry, physics and biology. Each panelist spoke of creation with theories going back to the Big Bang, approx. 13. 8 billion years. Not holding to a literalist Biblical interpretation of the creation story, I had no problem listening to and accepting the science of my fellow panelists. One offered the provocative theory that there may have been a Big Bang before the Big Bang. New instruments had picked up energy waves suggesting a pre-Big Bang. Try to wrap your mind around that!

Photo Hubble One

I am a ‘cosmological theist’, in that I believe/sense that great mystery called God, is in the midst of this ever-expanding cosmological study. The poetry in Genesis 1: 1, 2 reflects the awesome and humbling nature of the cosmos: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.’

The poet who wrote Genesis, reflects the truth that the most sensitive scientific instruments and most brilliant scientific minds, can only begin to glimpse the intricacy and grandeur of the cosmos. Photos from the Hubble telescope reinforce this sense of wonder.

The common ground between science and religion is a shared sense of awe, that which many call the mystical. The mystical refers to those ‘aha’ moments when we sense that we are part of something greater. Rather than being random we see the mystical at work in the delicate dance of molecules that hold life together rather than flying the cosmos apart.

photo Hubble Two

Religion for all its human construction serves a purpose when it helps unite us to the mystery that transcends our imagination.
Bertrand Russell might suggest that mine ‘is an infant’ notion. Perhaps. Yet for me, an openness to that realm we call mystical/spiritual doesn’t limit but rather expands my mind, imagination and dare I say ‘my heart’, to embrace that which is greater than anything we can possibly imagine. In all humility all I can say is ‘Amen’.