Thin Places !
Do you find that there are places where you find it easy to experience God, easy to pray, where the veil between this world and the next appears to be partially lifted or particularly thin ?
It’s a concept people particularly think of in the context of Celtic Spirituality, but it has been the experience of Christians of all shapes and sizes. There have always been places of pilgrimage, places that people feel are particularly sacred or holy, or just simply special.
It’s something I’ve experienced a number of times over the Summer – whilst we were away in the Lake District and Scotland and also since I’ve been back in my day-to-day pastoral ministry.
Thin Places – places where God is present in a special way and one does seem to be able to see, although dimly, into the infinite. They may be geographical places, particular places in our physical world, but often not! Examples for me would include:
- being close to nature, for example in the Lake District or Scotland or Shoreham! – on a hill or mountain top looking into the distance; being at a cliff-top looking down at the stormy sea; or of an evening looking at a wonderful sunset.
- specific geographical places could be Iona, Holy Island or less well known Ninian’s Cave in the SW of Scotland. Further away could be the Himalayas or the Andes. Closer to home, near Tunbridge Wells, we have Burrswood.
There are a few churches which when walking through the door one just feels the presence of God. Also if one goes back into a church shortly after a Service has been completed often God’s presence is tangible. In corporate worship and in particular in Holy Communion we do of course experience God, but also in private prayer and one’s private devotions generally.
I would advise us to look out for these places. Not so as to become superstitious or as following some mechanical rite, but as Jesus said, seek and ye shall find (Matthew 7.7) and as James says, Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4.8). God is not our servant and although He does often seem to absent Himself or come upon us when we’re not looking, He is not guilty of caprice. There’s no harm in looking for Him where other people have found Him or where we’ve found Him before. In fact we should need a good reason not to!
Three places I have come to expect to find the Lord, places therefore I would describe as thin – places where we may go, or where we may be, or even what we may do – and God is there!
- places where there is much prayer
- during Holy Communion – wherever!
- places where someone is dying – wherever!
As a minister I have the enormous privilege of being with people near their time of death. And to be perfectly honest, I have had some of my most intimate and loving experiences of God at such times. The first time it just happened and I mistakenly thought the person was going to be miraculously healed. Now, I’ve come to expect it and although I wouldn’t say that always or necessarily at that point the spirit passes over to the other side, I would definitely say that the veil is thin and there is an opportunity to experience God and His comfort and love and something of eternal reality in a way which may seem incongruous, but actually is sublime.
God is there for us not just in the good or the bad, or when we’re ready for Him on a Sunday, but all the time! God is ready for us – what we need, is to be ready for Him! to make wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, a thin place.
When we look at the early Church, their whole world seems to have been a thin place. The problem with our world today is that it seems to be such a hard or thick place. How to make the hard or thick place thin – that is the question!
I would suggest prayer and worship would be a good start. God in His sovereign will can make any place thin, but when we lift up our hearts to the Lord, when we call on the name of the Lord, when we seek the Lord with our whole heart – He will be found!
The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. However we experience God, however we find and experience thin places or they come upon us, my prayer is that Trinity may be a thin place – that Trinity may be a thin place for us, in that we find it easy here to experience God and the ultimate realities of life – and death; but also that Trinity may be a thin place for others – that they may find meaning and purpose and the presence of He who is the way and the truth and the life – our Lord Jesus Christ! (John 14.6).
O that You would rend the heavens and come down! (Isaiah 64.1)
Come down to Your Church here at Trinity (cf Malachi 3.1)
Maranatha! – O Lord, come! (1 Corinthians 16.22)