Opening to the Thin Place

In Celtic spirituality there is a Thin Place which separates the conscious world from that of the Spirit. Thin Places are the places and moments which transcend our daily preoccupations and transport us into a deeper awareness of what is and what can be.

Thin Places are the moments that elicit awe, wonder, dare I say, reverence.  A deep seated belief that there is more going on than meets the eye. A truth that cannot be proven, measured or quantified.

In my Christian tradition the Easter Season is full of appearance stories. Oftentimes the Risen Christ appears to the disciples but they don’t recognize him.  Their mind and imagination can’t grasp that the Christ has overcome death, violence and despair.

As the stories unfold there comes an a-ha moment. When their self imposed limitations as to what is possible, slip away.  Often times it is in the simplest gesture that everything turns: In John 20: 16 Mary Magdalene hears her name spoken; 21: 12 the disciples see Jesus preparing them a breakfast of fish and bread on the beach and they know.

What is it that allows one to suddenly see, feel, hear in a new way?

Have you ever had such a moment when your sense of what is possible, expands?

When I was a boy of 10, playing in a wetlands near my home, I had my first memory of a Thin Place.  I was with my cousin.  We were lying by a brook, listening  to the water.  Our faces were turned up to the sun, as beams of light flooded through the canopy above us.  At that moment I felt transported.  That I was connected to everything, the water, the sun, the call of the birds, the frogs in the stream.  Everything was interconnected.  There was no separation.

A Thin Place.

Anyone who has had a similar experience, knows that what I’m saying is true.

Instinctively we understand that there is an  intimate connection between place and openness.  Mystics over the ages, of various cultures and traditions, have understood that certain places have cosmic energy.  Places which heighten our sense of creativity and imagination.

Skellig-Michael – Ireland

The early Celtic monks in Ireland and Scotland sought out the most isolated places, feeling that such places heightened their senses.  This is true too in many Native American traditions.

It is why instinctively we go to the beach, the mountains, the desert, even our backyard garden.  It is more than a place for play and rest.  It is a place of meeting.

Mary Oliver, the American poet and mystic, in her seminal poem ‘Messenger’, writes:

My work is loving the world.

Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbirds –

equal seekers of sweetness.

Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.

Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Let me keep my mind on what matters,

which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be

astonished.

Thin places are those moments where we are cracked open to see, hear, feel and understand in fresh, expansive ways.  Places of astonishment.

How do we live in such a way?  The answer is simple and profound:

A desire to be open and curious.  Mixed with a healthy measure of humility. Which is to say, a willingness to admit we don’t know it all.

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers offer this:

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace as far as I can, I purify my thoughts.  What else can I do?”  Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.”

May it be so.

 

 

 

 

Hope Springs Eternal

Nine days until Spring and our third blizzard in ten days is about to hit.  In New England we pride ourselves on our ability to endure.  But truth be told, this winter is stretching the patience of the most hardy among us.

Yet there are signs of Spring all around.  In my backyard the call of newly migrated birds greet me.  Even in the midst of the storms, the birds are busy building nests and looking for a mate.

Waiting for a blanket of snow.

In my garden tulip bulbs planted last Fall are emerging.  Tomorrow they’ll be blanketed by up to a foot of snow.  The snow however won’t last.  The tulips will continue to rise and perhaps in time for Easter, break into bloom.

Spring we know is both a season and a metaphor for what ails us.  Watch the news and listen to the most recent political pronouncements and it’s enough to believe that sanity and hope is lost.

Yet Spring is coming despite another snow storm and despite the craziness in Washington D.C.  As a person of faith, I believe that the Spirit is always at work, preparing the way for that which is life-giving.  Theologians have a term for this prevenient grace, the deep-seated belief that there is more going on than meets the eye.

Underneath the fear mongering of politicians and the seeming complacency of so many, the Spirit is at work.  Alison my friend and a rabbi, reminds me that the creative breath, ruach,  that brought the cosmos into being continues to be at work.  In my Christian tradition we speak of the Holy Spirit, God’s own breath being breathed into creation including regular folk like us.

This is all to say that chaos, injustice and despair will never have the final word.  Soon the big storm will come with a forecast of high winds and deep snow.  But underneath the snow the tulip grows.   Praise be!

 

 

Rise Up in Love

On Palm Sunday suicide bombers struck hours apart at two Coptic churches in northern Egypt, killing 44 people, injuring hundreds more and turning Palm Sunday services into scenes of horror and outrage.  The Coptic church is the earliest Christian presence in Egypt going back to the year 100.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the violence, adding to fears that extremists are shifting their focus to civilians, especially Egypt’s Christian minority. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-egypt-christian-church-bombing-20170409-story.html

That same week in Syria, 70 people, including children died,  the result of an air-launched chemical attack attributed to the ruthless regime of President Bashar al-Assad. http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/05/middleeast/idlib-syria-attack/index.html

What are we to make of such horrific events?  Is there any room for hope?

Holy Week for Christian’s begins with these words:

As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19: 41,42)

What is this way of peace that Jesus speaks of?

It is the counter-cultural way of forgiveness. Later that week, Jesus would look upon those who betrayed and crucified him with these words:

“Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Christianity teaches that three days later on Easter morning, the risen Christ was seen and touched. Whether you take this metaphorically or literally, the Easter story affirms this truth: That neither violence, fear or even death will have the last word…On that first Easter love expressed in forgiveness had and has the final word.

It’s been said: ‘We are called to be Easter people, living in a Good Friday world’. Whether you are Christian or not we are invited to claim the truth that evil never wins.

Pope washing feet of youthWe think of Pope Francis washing the feet of homeless children (Muslim and Christian) in Rome. A reminder that love has no boundaries, no limits. Each of us are invited, challenged to put love into practice. To offer an alternative to retribution and fear.

What forgiveness are we prepared to offer? Who are you and I called to embrace? What stranger are we called to befriend?

In time, ISIS and the Assad’s of the world will be a footnote of history. But the story of love’s capacity to persevere and show us the way will continue to be told.

This Holy Week let us pray for our Muslim and Christian sisters and brothers in Syria.  Let our hearts rest with our Coptic family under siege. May our Jewish friends be blessed as they walk through Passover.

Let us Rise Up in Love.