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.
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
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.