Thin Places

Many people recognize the phrase “thin places”, an early Celtic Christian metaphor for those times or places when the boundary between the sacred and the everyday feels “thin,” when the distance between heaven and earth collapses and God’s presence is more strongly felt. We catch in such places a glimpse of the divine and those glimpses transform us.

There are some particular locations that are widely recognized as thin places, such as the Kealkil stone circle in Ireland, or the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, or LaVerna in Umbria, where St. Francis received the stigmata. And many people go in search of places that have developed a reputation for being thin. I frequently come across posts or articles talking about one or more of such thin place (and just read one yesterday, prompting this post).

It is important to remember, however, that thin places can be anywhere for us. The danger in identifying certain “special” places is thinking that one can’t penetrate the boundary between the everyday and the sacred unless one is in a spot someone else has already labeled as a deeply spiritual place.

“Thin” places can be anywhere. I think of what I label Thomas Merton’s four foundational religious experiences: one occurred in his bedroom, one in a Church in Havana, on on a street corner in Louisville and one at a sacred site in Thailand. If Merton could find God on a street corner Louisville, a thin place for you could be a street corner in your own town, or your bedroom, or a church, as well as at one or another well-known sacred site. Yes, there are certain places that are special for a lot of people, but others can be uniquely special to you.

We need to allow ourselves to be completely open about where and how God might appear to us. To recognize that the distance between heaven and earth can collapse completely for us any time and in any place.

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4 thoughts on “Thin Places

  1. I think of these spaces/places as “holy ground” — the Blessed Trinity Shrine Retreat, about 45 minutes from here is one of those “thin places” for me and many people I know. I come to expect an encounter whenever I pass through the gates… so, perhaps the attitude I need to take is to expect an encounter at every corner, in all situations. Allow it to happen.

  2. I wrote about an experience I had here more than 6 years at a memorial Mass, where I felt the holy break in: http://hermanojuancito.blogspot.com/2007/12/thin-places-irish-and-other-celts-often.html
    But I also think one of the dangers of “thin places” – especially connected with specific places can be a temptation, like Peter’s, to want to stay there, on the mountaintop of the Transfiguration. I’ve had that in a visit to the Holy Land nine years and to Assisi this past February.
    I had to recall for myself the need to move out from those places to the more mundane and boring places where, as you so well remind us, can also be “thin places,” where the holy breaks through.

  3. While I was attending Fuller, I once visited a Catholic charity in Los Angles that did a lot of work with the homeless. Your point was their point. And they added that if they had waited to get to one of those specified thin places, they would be a long time waiting. They just did not have time. Rather, they had to learn to see Jesus in the faces of the people they served.

    I love this notion that on a walk in the city, on a clean boulevard or a nasty back ally, each and every person we see is made in the image of God, (suits and homeless alike) and that puts us in close proximity to the divine–as close as a far away mountain retreat.

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