Thin Places

People call Iona a "thin place," meaning that the veil between this world and the next is thinner here, or that the holy is more accessible here. It means God is easier to find here.

I don't know what to think about that.

It is a wonderful place, beautiful, stark, steeped in history, with centuries of a Christian presence. But has God put a veil between Godself and us, and scraped it thin in some spots?

This doesn't make sense to me because my most holy moment, the most incredible spiritual experience I ever had, was in a basement hotel breakout room during a debate on church politics. Not a holy space by any description. Yet what I experienced then was a clear understanding that God is everywhere, in everything, and it is only our eyes that are veiled.

"Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?" Psalm 139:7

So I wonder if this is a thin place, where God has shaved off the distance between us, or if this a place where we can more easily encounter God. Does the landscape - an island separate from the rest of the world, bare of anything except scraggy bush and bare rock - somehow open us? Does the wind howling past our ears sound like a call to prayer?

What if this place seems thin because people have been uttering prayers here for so long, struggling to build community throughout history, singing songs here for centuries. It is hard to imagine in the United States, worshiping in a space that has been church for over a thousand years. Maybe the prayers and songs add up somehow, and linger, and the love expressed and shared here creeps into the very rocks in the walls.

When I sat in worship in Salisbury Cathedral, nearly 800 years old, I was moved to tears. And this morning, singing Be Thou My Vision in the abbey, my favorite hymn came to life in a new way. The work for worship, justice, prayer, and love is palpable here. Is it because people have been doing this work for generations in this one beloved spot? Or because God makes it easier in this one place?

The distance is not so much between God and us as between us and God. If this is true, then a place is holy, or thin, to us when it helps us move towards God. And if generations of love, song, and prayer seep into the very being of a place, what does that mean for our younger churches in America?

"If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast." Psalm 139:9-10

Sometimes it is good to take the wings of morning to test the edge of God's presence. That has been a gift for me this summer. I literally rode the wings of a plane to the edge of morning a month ago on my flight to Iceland. But I expect to find God right back at home, as well. If not, it will be my eyes that have failed, not God's veil that shut me out.


David Oppegaard said...

Hi Michelle-awesome post. The idea that the fabric of space and time is thinner in some places is a popular idea in sci-fi, as your probably know. I don't know about God, but I think the idea that there are possible portals to other worlds and realities in our own apparently concrete world is pretty cool. I also think these portals/thin spots would be more likely to occur in strange, unexpected spots...

Michelle said...

Like where, David? Or shall I read your next book to find out?