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Thin Places All Around Us

By Revd Phil Wales

We are once more subject to temporary restrictions on our movement as a result of another lockdown and so unable to have the usual forms of contact with family and friends. Although we are unable to gather for worship, churches have, this time around, been allowed to stay open for private prayer and reflection. While it may be possible for some to visit a church, it is likely to be the case that churches may not be accessible because of the need to minimise travel.

Churches are sometimes spoken of as ‘thin places’, where heaven and earth are experienced as being closer to one another than elsewhere; places where it feels as though the divine is breaking through into this world. The idea of a thin place is an ancient one, coming down to us through the centuries from Celtic Christianity. Those who are reluctant to acknowledge God’s presence may try to explain away the idea by drawing on scientific, psychological or, sometimes, pseudo-scientific arguments to dismiss the reality of an experience which, so often, cannot be put adequately into words.

Being unable to go to church may become linked to a feeling that God may seem less close, further removed from our day to day lives. But, if we are not able to access these particular thin places to feel close to God, how then are we to feel God’s presence in our lives?

It may be tempting to seek explanations as to why some places are described as thin and others not and set out on a quest to find them. After all, Celtic Christianity teaches us that thin places are not only those which we might readily identify as being linked with religion. They may well be waiting to be made known to us. But if that is the case, how do we find them, or rather, how are we shown them?

In the Cloud of Unknowing, a book written by an anonymous author in the 14th century the writer seeks to offer spiritual guidance to another unknown disciple. The author is concerned with developing a practice of contemplative prayer as a way of drawing closer to God. One of the ways he talks about developing prayer is by becoming aware of two different forms of humility. The first type comes from recognising and accepting our shortcomings as human beings. This type of humility invites us to look inwards, towards oneself. The second is a type of humility which comes from being aware of, and focusing on, God and his gift of superabundant love for all that he has created. C.S. Lewis put it this way: ‘True humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.’

If we are to find, or rather allow ourselves to sense, these as yet undiscovered thin places, it is through meditating on God, God’s perfect nature and his superabundant  love. If we do, we may well be surprised by just how close heaven is in the world around us.