Saturday, March 13, 2010


Bridging the Three Feet

Have you ever heard of the term, “thin places”?

In Celtic Christianity there is a sense that the divine and the ordinary are two sides of the same coin. I suppose that it is another way of saying that God is always present – but being more realistic than some of us, the Celts say that God is present but not always known.

We can relate. We get up and brush our teeth; and most of us are not aware of God’s presence in that moment; or eating supper, or arguing with a child, or most of the ordinary, real, mundane, things we do in our lives. We don’t usually expect God to make an appearance there.

But there are other places... places where the two sides of the coin are almost touching... where it is possible to see from one reality to another.

I once lived on Haida Gwaii, an island 18 miles off the coast of Alaska and home to the Pacific Indigenous tribe, the Haida. Just to place it, if you have ever seen any of Emily Carr’s paintings of totem poles, they are the Haida of the Queen Charlotte Islands.

One day while walking through ancient, moss covered trees, my family and I came across a half finished dugout canoe that for some reason was abandoned, some 2-300 years earlier. Darkened tree canopy, with sunlight streaming through moss hanging in huge tendrils from the branches, and you stumble across something from another age, another time... it was, for lack of a better word, magical.

That clearing, was a thin place.

Have you ever read the story of King Arthur? Or seen some of the more authentic retellings? There was a guy named Geoffrey of Manmouth who wrote a history of the Kings of England back in the early 1100’s – he was the first to tell the story and he talked about an Island, shrouded in the mist, called Avalon – which is old Gaelic and Welsh for the Island of Apples, coincidentally (remember the garden of Eden? – forbidden knowledge and all that...)

This is the Island of the Old religion, of the druids, the place where Excalibur was forged, and it was almost impossible to find – it existed “somewhere else”... in fact, you had to be allowed to find it in order to get there; because it was a thin place, connecting the ordinary to the ‘Divine’.

There is an abbey; built back in the 1100’s called Glastonbury; which is said to be near the edge of Avalon. Legend has it that Joseph of Aramathia, the guy who carried Jesus cross for him on Good Friday, founded the monastery himself, and planted a piece of the true cross there, and it grew into a rose bush, or perhaps an apple tree – but more importantly – it just might be the Holy Grail. King Arthur and Guinevere are supposed to be buried there as well.

Again, Glastonbury is a thin place... and I guess the first specifically Christian one I have mentioned – when you stand in the ruins near Somerset, you can apparently feel the connection to God.

I should point out that thin places need not be good. Anyone who has ever been to Auschwitz claims that from the moment they pass the gates they feel the evil as if it is some oppressive weight pressing down on their very souls.

But “thin places” of course are not limited to these famous locales. They are all around us. And they are not just “places” either. They can also be events in our lives where the dividing line between the ordinary and the holy becomes blurred. Thin places can be found in all kinds of experiences.... we can find beautiful spots in nature, music, poetry, movies or television, and even books all can serve as thin places for us.

They are places where the boundary between ourselves and what we’re looking at disappears, and we are ushered into a feeling of deep oneness with our surroundings.

Think back to a time where a quiet walk through the woods, or a passage from a book or a piece of beautiful music or a penetrating conversation with a friend transported you, and you were somehow moulded and changed by the encounter.

“A thin place is anywhere our hearts are opened,” writes Marcus Borg. “They are places where the boundary between the two levels [of reality] becomes very soft, porous, and permeable. Thin places are places where the veil momentarily lifts and we behold God, experience the one in whom we live, all around us and within us” (The Heart of Christianity, pp. 155-56).

They are rare – but they happen to us all. And the moment transforms us – it transfigures reality – and we glimpse the underlying holiness that part of us always realized was there – but we never fully felt in our hearts.

That’s the thing – Peter – the disciples... they know, up in their heads, that Jesus is something special. When he asks them who they think he is they have all sorts of good rational answers – Elijah reborn? John the Baptist back from the dead? Even Peter’s answer of “Christ” which is to say, the Messiah, is a head answer – that is who he thinks Jesus is.

So Jesus invites them up to the mountain to pray – he invite them to a thin place – perhaps he knew that it would be easier for them to experience God with the grandeur of the view up on the mountains, perhaps he just wanted them to get away from the crowds so they could get in touch with their hearts... whatever Jesus was thinking, it worked.

Thin places, if we let them, will guide us. This experience connected, for perhaps the first time, the Disciples to a true sense of the divine. It was a turning point in their journey to becoming what Jesus intended them to be, children of God, just like him.

This was one of those moments that show us how close God is to us, and how heaven and earth are intertwined, within us and all around us. Our thin places can grace us with a new awareness that our lives are not meant just to be struggled through and survived – they are meant to be celebrated and savoured.

As we learn to walk through our day with more openness, stillness and receptivity, we won’t need to seek out thin places, for they will just naturally come to us.

There is an old Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller! You are invited this morning to see how close heaven is to you. You have thin places everywhere in your life. They beckon you to step through them and become renewed. God is waiting to meet you in those places.

Let’s pray…. Dear God, help us touch upon those thin places where we experience…Deep peace of the running wave, Deep peace of the flowing air, Deep peace of the quiet earth, Deep peace of the shining stars, Deep peace of the Son of Peace. Thank you, O God, for the Son of Peace. AMEN.

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