Sunday, September 15, 2013

Creation 2 C



There is something sacredly special about mountains … In biblical times, mountains were seen as places where we could be closer to God; it was even seen, in a way, as God’s home. Think about other religions and the same is true, The Greeks believed the Gods lived on Mount Olympus, for example….

There are more than 200 references in the Bible to mountains and hills…. And those references help us to see that there is something about a mountain that brings rest, escape, wisdom, and learning….

Today, mountains are still experienced as exceptional places, worthy of pilgrimages. And even if we are not talking about literally climbing mountains, we believe in mountain top experiences… those times that just seem special, and wonderful, and full of life. We might even have religious mountain top experiences… those moments when you know, in your heart, that God is there…

Have you ever had one? Have you ever just felt that God was speaking to you through the very place you were standing? Have you ever had that moment when the world just seems to come together and you know, just know in your heart that everything will be all right?

Moses goes up to Mount Sinai and is given the ten commandments, Jesus was on the mountaintop to pray when he chose the disciples, the prophet Ezekiel talks about God as the good shepherd who takes his sheep to graze in the best grass which happens to be on the mountaintop…

So today we continue to think about the world around us; where last week we talked about the songs that creation sings, this week we are talking about the wisdom it offers – and where that might be found.

Celtic Thin Places

The ancient Celts of Scotland and Ireland already had a nature loving religion long before Christianity came to their shores… what was interesting about that is that this was the one place where the faith did not take over, it was just adapted… So when Christianity came to the Celts, it was Christianity that changed… It became more mystical, more rooted in the practical, more about experiencing God in nature…

Now, for the Celts mountains were the place where heaven and earth come closer; that was because they literally believed that Heaven was up there somewhere in the sky… If you went up on a mountain you could, perhaps, reach out your hand and touch heaven…

They called this a “thin place” a place where the wall between heaven and earth is really, really thin… and you know in your heart you are standing right next to God.

But they did not think that mountains were the only place that was thin, that was holy – there was the seashore, and the glade deep in the woods, the bottom of a waterfall and the face of a cliff… anywhere that brought the feeling that God was there, that God was good… Thin places are the places that inspire us, that make us want to take a picture or paint….

Eric Weiner - NY Times Travel Writer says this:

I’m drawn to places that beguile and inspire, sedate and stir, places where, for a few blissful moments I loosen my death grip on life, and can breathe again. It turns out these destinations have a name: thin places.

They are locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever.

Travel to thin places does not necessarily lead to anything as grandiose as a “spiritual breakthrough,” whatever that means, but it does disorient. It confuses. We lose our bearings, and find new ones. Or not. Either way, we are jolted out of old ways of seeing the world, and therein lies the transformative magic of travel.

It’s not clear who first uttered the term “thin places,” but they almost certainly spoke with an Irish brogue. The ancient pagan Celts, and later, Christians, used the term to describe mesmerizing places like the wind-swept isle of Iona (now part of Scotland) or the rocky peaks of Croagh Patrick. Heaven and earth, the Celtic saying goes, are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter.

Thin places are often sacred ones —St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul — but they need not be, at least not conventionally so. A park or even a city square can be a thin place. So can an airport. 

Mircea Eliade, the religious scholar, would understand what I experienced in that Tokyo bar. Writing in his classic work “The Sacred and the Profane,” he observed that “some parts of space are qualitatively different from others.” An Apache proverb takes that idea a step further: “Wisdom sits in places.”

You don’t plan a trip to a thin place; you stumble upon one. But there are steps you can take to increase the odds of an encounter with thinness. For starters, have no expectations. Nothing gets in the way of a genuine experience more than expectations, which explains why so many “spiritual journeys” disappoint. And don’t count on guidebooks — or even friends — to pinpoint your thin places. To some extent, thinness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Or, to put it another way: One person’s thin place is another’s thick one.

Contemporary Reading:  "The Signs that God is With Us"

From:  Dorothy McRae-McMahon 's Echoes of Our Journey. Liturgies of the People (1993)

In desert and bushland, mountain and water,
we see the signs that God is with us.

In grass that grows through cities of concrete and brick,
we see the signs that God is with us.

In the faces of people whom God so loves,
we see the signs that God is with us.

In our brokenness,
there is the hope of wholeness.

In our emptiness,
there is the hope of fullness.

In our deaths,
lies the hope of resurrection life.

This is the Word in Christ to us.
The flame of the Holy Spirit
lives in this place
and travels with us. 

Biblical Thin Places

The earliest people could recognize these sacred places.  Often they were on mountain tops… but you hear of others in the ancient writings… the Garden of Eden where we had a direct connection with God, the Temple for the Israelites as it was considered to be God's house, the desert, where Jesus first went to pray and Moses escaped the Egyptians, the rivers and the seashores…

We all have our thin places, I told you one of mine was the seashore… another is the midnight blue light of a starry night. Or walking alone in the forest… there is something about water, and trees, and light, that just makes me feel differently…..

Creation gives us these places...these connect with God and with the whole world. You can search for thin places but eventually they will find you. Someone once called them “Ports in the storms of life.”

They are the places that make us open up and think differently, they are natures ways of speaking for God and giving wisdom…. They almost force us to ask questions about what is important in life and why…. And they help us to hunger for something more… to believe in goodness and beauty… and, well, God…

So which places are especially thin for you? Where can you go to feel God?

It doesn't have to be a calm and relaxing place.  It could be in the middle of the city.  It could be noisy and confusing.

You don't have to travel to far off places to find thin places, to discover the holy.  But you do need to be aware of where you are.  You do need to be focused and awake to that which surrounds you.  Recognize the sacred where you are.

We find wisdom in these places.  Wisdom that helps us to go on with our lives.  Wisdom that helps us to live better lives.


I want to read you a quote to finish today, it is from a writer named Jim Burklo in his book Time with God:

Walking in the early morning on the Lizard Head trail under the red cliffs of Sedona, Arizona, last Sunday, I repeated the mantra I often use while taking hikes: “Am I here? Am I here? Am I here?”

Was I really present, really awake, to the crunch of dirt under my feet, the calls of small birds flitting among the junipers, the glow of sun on walls of bright stone?

Or was I adrift in thoughts of yesterdays and tomorrows? The question brought into the present my thoughts of the past and future. The movement of my body, the changing scenery, the slow rise of the sun in the sky, the rising and ebbing drone of cicadas, reminded me that now is not a fixed point, but rather is attentive consciousness of a constant flow.

In other words… listen to what nature says, be open to experiencing the holy all around you… This week, be present, be open, be aware, and let the thin places find you.

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