On Thin Places

On St. Patrick’s Day 2018, I had the privilege of leading a retreat on Celtic Spirituality in my hometown of Springfield, OH. I’ll be sharing a series of reflections on Celtic spirituality that are inspired by that sacred time, beginning with thin places.

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I first visited Ireland at the end of high school. My parents planned for this trip for years, and there was a sense of excitement and pilgrimage to this much-anticipated visit. I fell in love with the land in those weeks, with the green hills, the grey mist, the ocean met by rough-faced cliffs. There seemed to be such mystery and magic to the land, as if it stored secrets that I longed to uncover.

I was experiencing what the Celts call a “thin place,” a place where the veil between the sacred and mortal worlds is worn thin. Thin places are suffused with the holy. This is an illuminating concept for Celtic spirituality, for in many ways it is a spirituality of thin veils, of transparent membranes, of both/and. It is a spirituality that embraces and holds in close contacts things that are often considered to be opposite, like heaven and earth.

Thin places are where God draws close, where heaven presses near. They are often experienced in nature,  where creation inherently radiates God’s love, and in places where prayer has been practiced for generations, so that sacred conversation now permeates the place. A thin place is anywhere you easily experience the presence of the divine. Ireland is one such place for me; my own backyard, where I watch my children clamber and run and laugh and play as the sun sinks lower in the sky, is another. Sometimes thin places are exotic locations of shared pilgrimage; sometimes they are mundane, encountered in the course of our daily life.

We can experience thin places in particular locations. We can also encounter thin places in relationship, in the people with whom we share life. We meet thin places within those people who seem to instantly draw us into deeper waters, the people who shine forth God’s love to us.

Thin places invite us into a physical, embodied experience of the divine. We know our thin places by the way our soul leaps in recognition, by the way our hearts beat a bit faster as the Holy Spirit dances within us, by the way the hairs on our arms stand up, by the way our God who often seems so distant suddenly feels as near as our next breath.

I wonder, where are your thin places? What places do you experience as holy? Are there relationships where the veil between the ordinary and holy seems particularly thin? I hope that you may find time and space this month to explore and savor these sacred places in your life.