Monday, July 09, 2007,10:20 AM
Thin Places
As I continue to ponder the idea of sacred places and a longing for home, I keep coming back to the Celtic idea of "thin places." CAOL AIT - spots in the world where the physical world and the spiritual world come close, the barrier between them is thin. This idea often refers to holy sites, but also refers to in-between places and times (dawn, dusk, forest edges, the seashore). Apparently in these landscapes that are not quite one thing or another the spirit world has an easier time breaking through. As much as I find the concept of thin places appealing, I'm not entirely sure what I really think.

I remember hearing a very evangelical pastor say in a sermon once that dusk was useless. At dusk one has neither the light of day or the darkness of night, so its obviously useless. My reaction to his words was to invoke the Celtic ideas of thin places - dusk is an in-between time, the time when the fey and fairies enter our world, a time when magic can happen! Not that I necessarily believe in faeries, just in the beauty of the concept. I like the idea of there being specific places or times where one finds it easier to connect with spiritual things, but I also have some theological issues with it.

If I don't believe in a gnostic dualism that separates the physical and the spiritual and I think that God is present everywhere, how can there exist "thin places"? Would not all places and all times be equally as conducive to spiritual experiences? That is what I've always been taught - one can pray whenever and wherever. Pray in the car, pray while you run. One can even apparently find God in a state of the art, aesthetically empty, contemporary church. God truly is everywhere. But even with that theologically concept firmly in my mind, I still see evidence of "thin places."

Certain circumstances and specific places are known to help people connect with God. Is it all just psychological, and if so what does it really matter? If escaping from the ordinary to a special place helps one put aside the clutter in one's mind that crowds out God, then yes, God is more accessible in that place. If a person feels more at home - more at peace- in a certain physical location, then yes, they will mostly likely be able to experience God there. So is it just the results of our collective unconscious or consensual imagination that have us all naming the same places as functional "thin places" for us all? Is that how sacred places are formed?

I know I'm just thinking aloud here. And that these are only lighthearted musings in my attempts to reconcile my theology with my romanticism. But there is too much truth in both approaches for this to be a clear either/or. I see this in the resurgence of contemplative practices and experiential worship practiced in many emerging churches. The answers are more complex than many of us protestants were taught to believe. So I will continue to ponder and occasionally think aloud.

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posted by Julie at 10:20 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 7/09/2007 06:18:00 PM, Blogger Kay

    ... the spirit world has an easier time breaking through.

    Hmmm. I've never heard that definition of "thin places" before, at least not in a Christian context. It doesn't have anything to do with dualism or the breaking through of the spirit world.

    I like the way Marcus Borg explains it - that a thin place is any place, time or situation that facilitates a mediation of the sacred. For Borg, it's the Eucharist. For me, it's a good cup of coffee on the porch during sunrise.

    God is there, within and without us, all the time. But in certain circumstances I can feel and connect to God more than I tend to do during everyday "mundane" life.

  • At 7/09/2007 11:35:00 PM, Blogger Erin

    "my attempts to reconcile my theology with my romanticism."

    This is very much my challenge, too. Theology is supposed to be intellectual, not emotional, and I've always been equally both - if not a definitely on the romantic side. I'm glad you're voicing these things, it is helping me.

    God is equally everywhere, but I think He created the thin places and our perception of them to benefit us, to help facilitate our experience of Him, not because He's more there than somewhere else. Something I'm thinking.

  • At 7/10/2007 07:23:00 AM, Anonymous sonja

    Hmmm ... I also love the concept of "thin places" and have known about them all my life. In fact I'm sitting on top of one right now. We're having our vacation in a cottage on a point in Lake Champlain ... about 100 feet from a place that I've always felt was a thin place. A couple of years ago I found out that the Abenaki Indians used it for 100's of years as a sacred ritual site. So I think there is something to it.

    I wonder if "thin places" are places where God is not necessarily more present, but where the glass is clearer (use the metaphor of Corinthians 13)? So while S/He is equally present in all places, we are able to be more aware in the thin places (able to see and hear more clearly) ... does that make sense?

  • At 7/10/2007 08:20:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    sonja and kay, I like your ideas of places that mediate God better than others - not that god is more present, its just an easier place to connect. That does push beyond the dualism I've often associated with this idea.

    Erin - I think we've been taught that theology is not emotional and that is not exactly a good thing. To divorce the study of God from the emotive response leaves out the mystery, the healing, and the love aspects of who God is imho. As in most things, there should be a balance.

  • At 7/26/2007 08:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    "Thin places" are also known as liminal spaces existing in-between phases of existence. The idea is very much built around a focus on life cycles and the patterns of the Earth. People, throughout history and definitely before, have used rituals to mark the transition between one phase (childhood) and another (adulthood). Marriage is also one. The "rituals of the Earth" take place on "thin" times - equinoxes, harvest and planting times, etc. Thin places are where there is some kind of boundary between two elements - between the land and the sea, the day and the night, the land and the sky, etc. God made it all. The cross on the hill and the steeple point to a higher plain.


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