As we wrapped up our final meeting of the year in my Education for Ministry group this week, we went around the room sharing how we might approach things differently going forward, given the insights and inpact our studies had made on us. I thought about this, and decided that what I wanted to do was pay more daily attention to seeing and feeling the thin places around me. Read more about these places here. You may be familiar with this concept, which originates in Celtic tradition and denotes those places where the separation between earth and heaven is quite thin. Heaven and earth, the Celtic saying goes, are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter. The article above also says that you don’t really plan to go to a thin place-you stunble upon one. I agree and disagree, as you will see.
I have been lucky enough to travel to many places in my life, I have been on many mountaintops, and I have walked in many a lush, green forest. I have seen churches and cathedrals that awed me, cities and towns that inspired me, and driven madly over roads that made me feel that I was flying on the edge of the world. Most of the thin places that I have felt were quiet, but I suppose that would not always be the case. For me, getting out of and away from the hectic routine of my world, away from the cacophany of daily life, away from the many demands made on all of us, is the way to begin setting myself up to be in a position to feel and see a thin place. Some of my past and more recent thin places involve religious sites, historical places, flying and hiking.
One of the more recent thin places I visited was the Notre Dame Cathedral in Montreal, QC. See one of my photos of this magnificent place below. When we walked into this cathedral, I was quite certain that I would immediately burst into tears. The emotion that overwhelmed me, the sense that I was so much closer to God, in an instant, was powerful beyond description. Churches are most always beautiful in their own way (we saw at least a half dozen on our recent trip to Canada) , but the history and the presentation and the sheer magnitude of the earthly, physical response to the heavenly was almost close enough to reach out and touch. If you have not seen this cathedral, and you are ever in Montreal, go there first. As our concierge in the hotel told us, “There are three things you do in Montreal. One, go to see Notre Dame. Two, climb the mountain (Mount Royal). Lastly, eat and drink!
Another place that I felt I was much closer to heaven was on a high ridge along a hiking trail in the Sandia Mountains outside of Albequerque. I had flown out, rented a car, driven to the very top of the mountains, and then hiked all day along a long, dry, beautiful ridge trail that spanned much of the mountains. The highest point, Sandia Crest, was 10,678 feet. If you look at a picture of these mountains and see the bristle of radio and TV towers at the top, that was where I parked my car before the hike! I did not see another soul for the duration of the hike. The terrain was wild, gorgeous and harsh, and I got lost at the very end of my trek, but I was able to find a road and regain my bearings. The solitude one feels at 10,000 feet, the feeling of being thousands of feet above the city and the valley floor below, and the trust that one must place in themselves to get in and get out, while exploring some rarely used trails, is exhilarating. I never felt afraid, lonely or isolated. God was there, I think, and maybe even an angel or two once they figured that I was really lost, exhausted and in need of some rescuing at the end.
Another two places in nature that were overwhelmingly beautiful were Rocky Mountain National Park and Staunton State Park in Colorado. Trina and I have hiked there together when out to visit my daughter and her family, and both are huge, wild and gorgeous. It is hard to do justice to places like these with pictures, but I have included one of each below that might give you a little taste of the sense of awe that you feel when being a very small human walking in a very large expanse of God’s creation. Again, one does not always go looking for these thin places, but once you are experiencing one, there is no doubt that you are there.
The last and problably most important thin place for me is one that is close to home. The Church of the Good Shepherd has been my church home for many years now. It is a small structure that is big on heart, service to the community and sharing the gospel with anyone who will hear. I love going to the church anytime, but holidays are the times that I feel the real closeness of heaven. I will share pictures from Christmas and Eastertide below, two of the most solemn and important times on the Christian calendar, and two times of year that Good Shepherd is at her finest.
Thin places are all around us. Be vigilant. Be aware. Slow down, put down your electronics and listen. Feel your surroundings. Just when you least expect it, heaven might be closer than you think.