The title of our Sacred Space Christmas Carols was 'A Thin Place'. So what does that mean and what does it have to do with Christmas?
A thin place is a phrase used for millennia, coming from the mystical world of Celtic spirituality and the Celtic Christians, who were deeply connected to the natural world and considered every aspect of life to be infused with the presence of the Divine, even in the ordinary elements of everyday life. Historically the ancient Celts viewed thin places as locations or moments in the cycle of the year where the veil between the world and the spiritual realm diminished. Today thin places are more commonly considered to be locations, in which there is an undeniable connection to the Sacred. I view them as sacred times when the presence of God comes near to us individually or communally. Some places seem to lend themselves to being ‘thin’ more readily than others, for example Iona. But others can be our favourite place in nature, or the place at home where we pray.
Over the last 7 years, I have provided opportunities to open up that space for our groups. From the sensory, appreciative experiences in beautiful, natural places; to weekends where we have intentionally slowed the pace in each other’s company; and in weekly meditation too; these have all been invitations to slow down and become aware that God is present with us. These practices are essentially good for us anyway, as modern research affirms. My desire for you to experience these sacred times is based upon my own joyful experiences.
I have been blessed with a number of them, varying in intensity, so I will just describe a couple. The first I can remember was the most amazing, when I was about 10 years old on a Sunday school camp. I responded to the call to become a Christian, by saying a specific prayer with the adult leader. We were alone and I had no specific expectations, as it was all new to me. To my enormous joy, I was transported into heaven and was walking on top of white, fluffy clouds (I hadn’t been in a plane at this point, but I later found out it looked just like flying above the clouds on a fine day), and I was with someone, who I assume was Jesus. The joy, love and peace I felt are indescribable! The experience was brief and I was ‘back’ as if nothing had happened – and I don’t think the person with me had any awareness of my experience. I assumed this was what happened to everyone at this decision point in their lives, but apparently, it’s not the case. It made an indelible impression on me though.
Another time, was during a holiday in NZ, while visiting Littleton Harbour. I was gazing at this beautiful scene and God came near, filling me with awe and delight again. Other times have been in more ordinary places, where I’ve prayed regularly – at home, or in a Church building. There is no formula, but stillness and quietness seem to be important factors, combined with reverence.
At this time of year we particularly remember the ‘Thin Place’ experience of the shepherds out on the Judean hills to whom the Angel announced the birth of the Messiah, and who were given a glimpse into the heavens and of the Glory, the massive overpowering, terrifying, presence of God.
At Christmas, we remember the most important, and ‘Thinnest Place’ of all, the place where the veil between Heaven and Earth melted away, where God wasn’t just close, but actually broke into our space-time in that manger in Bethlehem - God with us – Emmanuel. (See more here: https://unboundedchurch.com/2020/12/25/the-thinnest-place/ )
The danger in seeking thin places, is of becoming self-indulgent and just desiring the transitory experience. It’s understandable we would seek them, but let us focus on appreciating the Giver primarily. The baby Jesus we’ve sung about, grew up to become a bold man, who over-turned some harmful religious and societal traditions, taking the side of the poor and the victimised. He taught his followers to do the same. And in this time and space, that is us. Thin places graciously give access to the God who loves all people, and all creation, inviting us to join in and be the hands and feet, hearts and voices that enact the care.
So, I encourage you to have a few minutes of silence now, to be still and invite God, who loves you and all of us, to come near to you and speak to your heart - and then to respond.
The articles here are currently written by Liam McKenna, Lane Cove Community Chaplain.