There are places where the distance between heaven and earth collapse and we catch a glimmer of the Divine. Sometimes it’s not so much a physical place, but a spiritual place – a place of awakening where God is especially close. Mystical and magical, we encounter something we weren’t quite expecting, like a special delivery gift from God just for us. These are known as thin places.
Thin places can happen anywhere and what may be a thin place for you may be a thick place for someone else. Maybe a walk on a certain beach is a thin place for you, but for your friend it’s a bustling airport in Hong Kong. Digging in your garden may be a thin place for you, but sorting through donated food at the food bank may be a thin place for someone else.
Sometimes you find yourself in a thin place quite by accident. You may be on your daily walk through the neighborhood and suddenly notice a flower pushing it’s way up through the weeds. Maybe you’re looking out the window as you mindlessly fold clothes and the sunlight on a spider web catches your eye. Small, seemingly insignificant details show up and break into the ordinary and mundane. These are the thin places I love the most, little gems we might otherwise miss because we’re moving through our days unconscious.
Grief is an interesting thin place. Whether we’re grieving the loss of someone or something in our life, we find memories and remembrances surfacing that we hadn’t thought about for years. Maybe you hear a song and it transports us to a bittersweet time and place. Maybe you’re dusting a handmade gift and realize the person who crafted that gift for you is no longer a child but the father of your granddaughter who is the same age he was when he made that gift for you. For me, those thin places invite me to experience emotions and memories the someones and the somethings that are part of the larger tapestry of my life.
The season of Lent can also be a thin place if we’re open to what God might have for us. Sadly, Lent is often seen as a time of self-denial, as if giving up caffeine or wine or entertainment for forty days is going to make us more cognizant of God in our lives. Instead Lent, the word which comes from spring, as in the season of lengthening of days, can be rich in thin places because we’re opening ourselves to the new life of a new season with all of the possibilities it holds for us. I relish finding God’s hidden treasure for me each day, something new for me and some message from or awareness that speaks directly to my heart from God’s heart.
Psalm 27 speaks to me of thin places.
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold* of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me
to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
they shall stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.
One thing I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock.
Now my head is lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me!
‘Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!’
Your face, Lord, do I seek.
Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
If my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will take me up.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they are breathing out violence.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
This psalm gives us a peak into the intimate relationship the writer has with God. The psalm voices the thin places of meeting God in the full spectrum of ordinary human experience – tender and trusting, and shrill and despairing. The psalm is a reminder that the thin places where we encounter God are all around us. Our discovery of these thin places depends on how open we are to God’s ordinary presence in our lives: clinic corridors, the light rail, classrooms, the dinner table.
What I’m learning is that these thin places are strongholds. Strongholds provide survival and refuge. As I encounter God in the ordinary places and events of my life, I enter a stronghold that shelters and protects me. Thin place strongholds allow our hearts to find rest and comfort, and prepare us for the new season ahead.