Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thin Places

Dear Friends,

The 200 year old church sanctuary at Mission La Purisima...  In the high desert, it’s the holy grounds at the Benedictine Monastery, Saint Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo...  It’s the sacred gardens at Santa Ynez Mission where we always take Holy Communion...  These are my “thin places.”

In Celtic Christianity, thin places are those physical locations where God’s presence is more accessible than elsewhere. The Celts were keenly aware of the Cross over all of God’s Creation and were very much aware of their physical surroundings. The Celtic Saint Patrick prayed as he walked, “Christ beside me, before me, behind me, around me, within me.. everywhere.” The sacred and holy places spoken of by the Celtic Christians were where the line between Heaven and Earth was “tissue-paper thin.” Where the Holy Spirit of God seemed as near as one’s own breath. These are the thin places. Places that take us effortlessly into God’s presence and invite transformation in us. Places where we sense the nearness of Him and the life-changing reality of His mercy and grace. These sanctified thin places are the places that we step into and come “face-to-face” with God. 

I love walking along the shoreline next to the ocean. The cyclical tides remind me of the rhythm of our days – the rhythm of our lives. As with our life, there are times of sunny calmness with warm, gentle waves to sooth the soul, and then there are times when fierce storms pound the shores with unrelenting waves of fury and life-threatening danger. At the ocean’s edge, I am reminded of God’s sovereignty and providence. It’s a place where I always come away refreshed and restored. But it’s not one of my “thinnest” places.

Like the beach for me, there are many places we enjoy going to that make us happy, thoughtful, relaxed and filled with a sense of peace and well-being. But then there are those inimitable places where we feel a mysteriously deep connection with God that just about takes our breath away at the intensity of the experience. Places where He is just one step away and we are overwhelmed by His presence. Those are the thin places.

While the term “thin places” does not occur in scripture, we find Jesus frequently withdrawing to a place where He can come “face-to-face” with God. Leaving behind the distraction of places crowded with people, the Son withdrew to those places nearest to God. Jesus, like you and I, could stop what He was doing at any time to speak to the Heavenly Father, but to more fully come into His presence, Jesus went to the thin places.

He started His earthly ministry by going to the wilderness – the desert. (Luke 4:1-2) Jesus went to the mountain-top to choose His disciples. (Luke 6:12) When John the Baptist was beheaded, Jesus went to a thin place for reflection and prayer, (Matthew 14:13) and later that day went back to the mountain-top to pray. (Matthew 14:23) Jesus started His days in silence and solitude at a thin place where He could come fully into God’s presence. (Mark 1:35)

As did Jesus, we also need to spend quality time in the presence of God. We need to step away from the chaos and clamor of life and into the quiet. We need to turn down the volume of our cluttered thoughts and come into His peace. Jesus had to do that and He withdrew into those places of silence and solitude to meet God. We too need to find those sacred spaces where the noise in our head quiets and we come into His presence.

Those are the “ordinary” sacred spaces that you can easily get to. Maybe your backyard or a quiet room in the house is your sanctuary. Maybe it’s the early morning walk where you rejoice in God’s Creation. God is always present in our lives but it’s in the sacred spaces that the din of life recedes and you can hear the small, quiet voice of God. 

And then there are the thin places. Places sacred and holy because they have been sanctified and saturated in prayer for centuries. Places where the intake of our breath inhales the Holy Spirit. Places so close to God that we tremble with fear to reach out and touch Him but where He will always reach out and touch us. Your thin places will not be mine. They will be yours. Find them and go there often.

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