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Cheryl’s Reflection on Thin Places

A few weeks ago, I wrote on Thin Places. My wife Cheryl has now written on that theme, and says it better and with richer insight than me. So I'm posting her thoughts here. Enjoy.

Early Celtic Christians recognized “thin places,” places where the veil between heaven and earth is very sheer, or tissue paper thin. Places where prayers were easily uttered, and perceptibly heard. But even before Christianity came to the Celt’s, there was recognition of these places as well as thin times. The equinoxes and solstices’ were such times, with October 31st/ November 1st being the thinnest of the calendar year. Thin places included mountain tops (high places), and well or springs which were entrances to the underworld. Consider how many Biblical encounters with God occurred on mountains – Moses, Elijah, Jesus – all had several mountain top experiences.

After the Celts embraced Christianity, these sites became places to meet with God, to pray and listen, as they felt such a close connection to the spiritual realm. The Celt’s were a people of prayer and blessing. They had prayers and blessings for every mundane and routine task of their day, from milking the cow, to making the bed because they recognized the presence of God always with them, visible in all created things. One particular place of blessing was the hearth in the home. They blessed the fire each morning as they lit it, and then again in the evening as they damped it for the night. The hearth was the place of warmth and life, where the family gathered to eat, to play and to pray. The hearth often became a thin place, a place to meet God.

Two of the themes that were prevalent in Celtic Christianity were recognition of ‘presence’ and in response ‘praise.’ Thus, thin places became destinations of pilgrimage to meet with and encounter a closer presence of God. Today many still make pilgrimage to these locations: in the UK these include several places in Ireland, such as Armagh and Glendalough; St. David’s and Ffald-y-brenin in Wales; Iona in Scotland; and Lindisfarne in Northern England. As I have visited some of these Holy sites I definitely can attest to the closeness to God, a sense of the Spirit’s nearness, and the Word of God becoming freshly alive. One particular thin place I discovered was the library at the Abbey on Iona. Each morning I would spend 30 – 45 minutes in solitude, tucked in this ancient dark paneled room, positioned in the brilliant morning sun-beam as it streamed through the east window. Here, as I opened my Bible, it was as though the Lord had written the words specifically for me, the Word was living and active and touching a deep place in me.

I know I have been in many thin places throughout my years. I have had similar encounters with God, and not had to travel half way around the world to meet Him. The Sunday before we came to Wales, we worshipped at our friends church “The Forge” in Victoria. For me this was also a thin place. Amidst the chaos of running children, interruptions and distractions, the presence of the Spirit was so tangible and I could hear God very clearly.

As I have visited, experienced, and reflected on thin places I have encountered, three prevalent characteristics have emerged. Thin places are places that have been soaked in prayer. 1500 years on Iona, 500 years at Ffald-y-brenin but maybe only 10, 50 or 100 on Vancouver Island, but the longer and deeper the intercession the thinner the veil.

Thin places are places without fear. There is no fear of man, fear of the stranger, fear of evil, instead they are places of faith, of hope, and of blessing.

Thin places are places without pride. The leadership in these places is not driven by an authority figure or charismatic personality, but there is equality among staff. On Iona, the worship services were mostly led by young people and volunteers, each asked to bring the gift of themselves as an offering. At Ffald-y-brenin, though Roy and Daphne Godwin are the leaders, they know when to back away and allow their team to minister, and even more so, when to allow the Holy Spirit to do His work of convicting, restoring and healing and they step away completely.

I have been challenged to consider not where I need to go to find a thin place, but how I can begin to create thin places both now and for future generations. Is my home, my hearth, my church soaked in prayer? Do I live more in faith or fear? Am I controlling my life, my image, my family, my ministry, or do I truly trust that God is in control?

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