Monday, December 4, 2023

Thin Places, Holy Spaces: Where Do You Encounter God?

Have you ever heard someone talk about a “thin place”?

Perhaps they were recounting inspirational sites visited on a recent pilgrimage or sharing about how journeying out into creation always draws them closer to the Divine. They might not have even been talking about a place at all, but instead a Sacred moment spurred on by spiritual practice or a deep conversation that pierces the soul.

Whatever the circumstance, which can be as unique as one person is to another, one thing is common: a thin place is a location or moment in which our sense of the Sacred is more pronounced, where the space between the transcendent and the commonplace is exceptionally narrow.  

A phrase used for millennia, the term comes 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 (or perhaps, especially) the ordinary elements of everyday life. While 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 and they could encounter those who had gone before them, today thin places are more commonly considered locations in which there is an undeniable connection to the Sacred.

Some thin places have been well-known to seekers for centuries and have become popular places of pilgrimage, such as the isle of Iona in Scotland or Lourdes in France. Other thin places are particular to our own experience of God and serve as touchstones as we seek to encounter the Divine. For pilgrims in search of Sacred Encounter, thin places serve as direct portals to the Divine, offering particular moments and locations in which we can more readily dwell in the presence of God and cultivate the transformation we desire. 

Whether you are journeying to a pilgrimage destination abroad or are seeking sacred pauses in everyday life, you can begin to incorporate thin places into your spiritual practice through the following steps:

1. Discern your thin place intentionally

If you are traveling abroad, what is a location that has always seemed particularly mystical to you, both reminiscent of the Sacred and awakening something deep within? True, this might be a traditional pilgrimage site, but it could also be a location that has significance or appeal that is unique to you, whether you’ve traveled there many times or have only visited in the depths of your soul. 

For journeys at home, what is a place in your everyday life that is certain to remind you of the presence of the Divine and call you back to your True Self? This might be a quiet corner in your home, a nearby garden, or even a local cafe. Don’t forget that thin places can be moments too, no matter the location, such as conversations with a Soul Friend or time spent in spiritual practice. 

2. Visit your thin place regularly

Pilgrimages abroad invite us to dwell in thin places for a significant amount of time, basking in their presence and gleaning from their wisdom. At home, the extraordinariness of thin places can become an everyday occurrence when we make a commitment to visit our thin places regularly as part of a sustained and nourishing spiritual practice, whether daily, weekly, monthly, or annually.  

3. Guard your thin place fiercely

To declare a place “thin” is to name it as Sacred. A thin place is a location or a moment that should be treated with reverence. Just as you would approach a cathedral with honor and sincerity, so, too, should you approach the thin places of your soul with the same honor and reverence. After all, such locations and moments could be considered cathedrals of the heart—vast spaces where the True Self and Divine dwell freely in sacred communion. 

This also means that it is important to guard your thin place against things that might desecrate it. Throughout time, cathedrals have been considered places of sanctuary, and thin places are sanctuaries for the soul. Places of refuge and safety, sanctuaries guard against forces that seek to interfere and impose. In order to guard your thin place and preserve its sanctuary, it is imperative to establish firm boundaries.

For those on pilgrimage abroad, establishing boundaries might look like not traveling with someone who does not share your reference and holding your journey and its many thin moments close when you return. Guarding thin places at home includes ensuring that those around you honor your thin place and that you, too, approach your visit with the same reverence, leaving behind all that can distract you from the Sacred that you seek.


Where have you experienced a “thin place”?

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