Recently I read a fascinating book on Celtic Christianity called Thin Places: An Evangelical Journey into Celtic Christianity by Tracy Balzer.¹
Balzer asserts that both pre-evangelized and Christian Celts recognized there are times and locations where the line between the physical world and spirit world become “tissue paper thin.” These are places where our soul suddenly feels a contentment and connection to the Divine that is often obscured by the busy forgetfulness of day to day minutiae. According to Balzer, “any place that creates a space and an atmosphere that inspires us to be honest before God and listen to the deep murmurings of his Spirit within us is thin.”²
The Celtic people usually associated these thin places with locations of splendor: a trembling grove of hazel or oak trees, an isolated monastery located atop a rugged island, or those magical moments of dawn and dusk where night and day blend their secrets.
In my middle-aged years, I live for those brief tastes of startling transparency between my soul and the unseen reality behind this one. The problem is, these moments are incredibly illusive. I’m unlikely to experience one unless I’m actively pursuing it and so often normal life gets in the way of that. However, there are a few places where I’m able to brush aside the veil that separates me from the completely unfettered connection I long for.
The first location where I experience this blurring between the spiritual and physical is destinations of both extreme beauty and remoteness. One of my favorite thin places is the wilderness area between Crested Butte, Colorado and Schofield Pass. It’s not easy to get to, but the wildflower-kissed hillsides of summer, trembling golden aspen of autumn and snowy peaks of winter are worth every effort. Their beauty takes my breath away and reminds me of the vast glory of our earth. A glory that reflects my Creator.
Another place I encounter the thinned veil is in times of suffering. It’s during moments of fear (whether real or imagined), doubt or pain that I become truly desperate and lean more fully into my Father. Suddenly, the imagined separation between God and me thins to a place of near transparency. In the good times, my business, self-reliance, and control issues usually shove God to the back seat (or even the trunk) of the vehicle. An unexpected treasure of the hard times is this heightened sense of God’s love and presence. I am less distracted so I am able to see the reality of His closeness more clearly. It is my choice whether or not to lean into this closeness.
My last, favorite thin place occurs during my writing, but it’s certainly not there every time I sit down to my computer. Sometimes days, weeks or even months will go by without me feeling a sense of connectedness to my story and the Great Story we are all a part of. Instead, I clunk along, with words that don’t come close to expressing my true feelings and stories that are a weak imitation of what God has put in my heart.
But just like a journey to a place of remote majesty or perseverance through a time of struggle, the thin places of my writing will come only after I’ve pushed past something. I often notice these times emerge when I’ve made some sort of sacrifice.
Usually this sacrifice happens when I’m at a moment of complete drudgery in my manuscript or article. It would be so much easier to organize the silverware drawer or clean the tiles on my backsplash than force myself to edit something for the hundredth time or push through a difficult passage. At this point, it’s only by sheer force of will that I make myself write. The whiney toddler in my head, must sit down and eat her vegetables. But once she swallows down a few bites of brussels sprouts, she looks around and realizes she is surrounded by a feast: a feast of words, stories and the remarkable bounty of human imagination.
When I struggle through an obstacle, whether it’s traveling to a remote location, choosing faith in the face of a dark moment, or forcing myself to write despite a mental gridlock, it’s often there that I’ll finally arrive at a unique thin place.
The difficulties and stress of the journey give way to a place of soul-nurturing beauty. I enter that state where I feel my spirit draw near to my Creator and together we rejoice: in His glorious creation, in His grace and sufficiency, in the words that flow from my mind and into the pages before me.
I cannot always exist in the thin places. Daily life makes that impossible, but I can make it a habit to pursue them. For myself and for all fellow travelers I pray this ancient prayer:³
God be with thee in every pass,
Jesus be with thee on every hill,
Spirit be with thee on every stream,
Headland and ridge and lawn;
Each sea and land, each moor and meadow,
Each lying down, each rising up,
In the trough of the waves, on the crest of the billows,
Each step of the journey thou goest.
¹ Balzer, Tracy. Thin Places: An Evangelical Journey into Celtic Christianity.Leafwood Publishers, 2007.
² Ibid., 29.
³ Alexander, Carmichael. Carmina Gadelica. Edinburgh, UK: Floris Books, 1992. p. 195.