COVID-19 and the Thin Place

In Celtic theology there is the concept of a thin place.  The Celts believed that there is a thin place, a permeable membrane that separates the conscious world from that of the Spirit.

They believed (and believe) that there is another source of reality that is distinct from the world of the mind: Plans, projects, pride, worries.  This world of the mind is defined by the Greek word chronos.   Chonos is the root for chronological, defined by that which we are aware of and guided by.

The Celts believed that beyond the life of the mind, beyond chronological time is a separate realm.  It is the world of that great mystery of many names:  Spirit/Sacred/Wisdom/God/Higher Power/Creator /Presence/Source.

This other realm has a different measurement of time, Kairos time.  Kairos transcends calendars and to do lists.  It is a time beyond time which breaks into our carefully constructed lives and reminds us that there is more to life than we can imagine.

The Celts speaks of such places of awareness as thin places. A place of awe, wonder and blessing. Ever been in a thin place?

I’d like to suggest that this bizarre moment of pandemic that we find ourselves in, is just such a moment.  Allow me to explain.

This pandemic has created a moment of profound unsettledness and fear for all of us.  Such a moment (stretching into weeks and months) pulls us out of our structure of ‘normal life’ into an unstructured time.  It is here in the midst of this profound unsettledness that we may become more spiritually open.

What am I talking about?

Let me suggest that many of us have more experience than we may be at first aware.  Here are some examples of thin place moments:

Holding an infant for the first time.

Seeing a rainbow after long wet and grey days.

Standing at the beach during a storm as the waves pound.

Watching a whale off the coast.

Hiking above the clouds.

Sitting on the ground with a 3 year old and seeing the world through their eyes.

Moments before and after surgery.

Falling in love.

Holding the hand of a loved one as they take their last breath.

Such moments are profound.  They pull us up and out of our self.  Time is stopped. Feelings are heightened.  We may experience fear or joy.  Hope or despair.  All with greater intensity.

When was the last time you cried out ‘Wow!’ or, whispered into the silence ‘help me’.

During such moments of awareness, we may experience what I call a ‘felt presence’.  An awareness that there is more going on than meets the eye.  An awareness that can’t be measured or quantified but only felt.

In the work I do, there are times when I’m with a person and their family when they take their final breath or soon there after.  We gather in a circle and offer a prayer.  In such moments, often but not always, we look up and at one another and ask: ‘Did you feel that too?’  A moment of oneness, communion with the one who has died, with those we love and with that Source to whom we all one day will return.

A thin place.

This pandemic has that effect for many of us.  It strips away the illusion that we are in control. Even those who haven’t thought of themselves as spiritual may sense something deeper going on.  An awareness that we need comfort and peace and that maybe, just maybe, it may be found in a place we never imagined before, a thin place.

May peace be yours during this unsettled season.

May it be so.

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.