Thursday, December 14, 2006
A Thin Place
Yesterday in class my friend
Marlaena and I were talking about how we both discuss issues of ministry, theology, etc. better when we have time to think and ponder something. A few minutes later Dr. Purves asked if anyone in the class had every experienced what the Celts call a "thin place." To the Celts thin places are real physical places where God's presence, heaven and/or the kingdom of God, are closer, more real, easier to sense and experience. "In the Celtic tradition such places that give us an opening into the magnificence and wonder of that Presence are called 'Thin Places.' There is a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God." (
explorefaith.org) The island of
Iona is and was a place that the early Celtic Christians believed was a thin place. As I was driving to work today I remembered an extremely "thin" experience and place for me. Of course it took almost 24 hours for me to think of it at the question was posed. About a year and a half ago I was mountain biking in the hills of western Maryland. It was about a two and half hour ride and I was alone. I had read in a book or on a map that if I took a 1/3 mile extender about 3/4 of the way through the ride I would find a gigantic and ancient Red Oak tree. I took the extender, it traversed a rocky down hill will small maple and oak trees thickly shadowing the ground. In most cases very old forest growth is found is groves, so this seemed strange to see only smaller trees. When the trail leveled out I saw an opening in the forest. Not an opening where you could see the sky, but an opening of the forest floor, thick foliage still blocked all direct sunlight. At the center of the opening was the trunk of the old Red Oak. It was surely the largest tree I've ever seen (I've never seen the Redwoods or Sequoia's of California). It was not the tallest tree, most of it's height had been pruned by the centuries of wind, rain, and heavy snow, but the the diameter of the trunk was breathtaking to me. I got off my bike and walked around the old tree. It reminded me of the ancient terebinths, sacred oaks, mentioned in the Old Testament; the places where pagan worship took place. I wondered how this tree had survived the persistence of the loggers for so long. All the rest of the trees had been cut down at some point, probably 50 to 100 years ago, but this one tree remained untouched. For some reason I felt led to rest under the tree, I didn't fall into a deep sleep (I suppose I could say I did and then this could become a true Celtic legend), but I did pray. I felt some deeper connection with God's creation through a big old piece of living wood that he saw as a seedling 230 odd years ago. I guess that was a thin place for me, I'd like to go back.