Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Thin Places

"In the Celtic tradition such places that give us an opening into the magnificence and wonder of that Presence are called “Thin Places.” There is a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God." ~Sylvia Maddox

Milwaukee's Lake Michigan shoreline last June with most of the beach under water.

I had never heard the term "thin places" until All Saint's Day when Fr. Tom referred to it in his homily.  He said that thin places are part of ancient Celtic Spirituality and they describe the point where heaven and earth are closer together.  He explained that oftentimes these are places in nature, what we might call by the more familiar term "holy ground" but that they could also be places in time such as All Saint's Day when, through the saints and their witness and their prayers for us, heaven and earth come very close.  I am fascinated by the whole idea of thin places and have been spending quite a bit of time thinking and praying about them. 

After Fr. Tom's homily I immediately thought that the Mass and Eucharistic Adoration would truly be thin, where we could feel the presence of God most deeply and literally as we receive Him in Holy Communion.  As I knelt to offer my prayer of thanksgiving following Mass I pondered the reality of a God that wants to be so deeply united with my soul that He makes His way through space and time to physically take up presence within my body each time I receive Holy Communion.  And not just me, but everyone! There is nothing more remarkable!

Later on All Saint's Day, when the temperature reached a balmy sixty-five degrees for the November climate in Milwaukee, my husband and I enjoyed a peaceful walk along our favorite Lake Michigan beach to search for sea glass.  Over the course of the last year, we have noticed our beach shrinking and shrinking as the water levels increased.  There was very little beach left at all the last time we visited the lake in September as the water was as high as the rocks and grass far to the west of the lake.  But on this particular visit, most of our beach was back and we marveled at how much more space we had to search for our treasures.  Only God Himself could cause such drastic changes to the shoreline and it made me feel very small to realize what little power we humans have, for only God can truly control the earth and the sky despite our feeble human attempts.  I thought of the scripture passage from Job 38:8-11:  "And who shut within doors the sea, when it burst forth from the womb; when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling bands?  When I set limits for it and fastened the bar of its door, and said:  thus far shall you come but no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stilled!"   And the passage from Genesis 1:9-10:  "Then God said, 'Let the water under the sky be gathered into a single basin, so that the dry land may appear.'  And so it happened: the water under the sky was gathered into its basin, and the dry land appeared.  God called the dry land 'the earth,' and the basin of water he called 'the sea.'  God saw how good it was."   

My daughter, Mary, had to wade through the water to reach this rock last summer,
but now it is completely surrounded by dry land.

I always thought of my visits to the lake to search for sea glass as sacred time in a holy place.  Each time I search for sea glass I am drawn ever more deeply into prayer as I ponder the beauty of nature, as I consider how Jesus Himself spent a great deal of time on the seashore, and as I find soft little shards of glass that feel like jeweled gifts from God.  When I search for sea glass I am certain that I am always transported to a thin place, only I had never thought to call it by that name before.

All Saint's Day Sea Glass Treasures

After our sea glass time of prayer, I went to the local abortion mill for the closing prayer service of Forty Days for Life.  St. Herman's of Alaska, A local Orthodox Church has been holding a Sunday afternoon Moljeben Prayer Service each Sunday of both the spring and fall Forty Days campaigns and I was eager to join them for this final service of the season.  The air was already heavy with incense when I arrived and a small group of people were gathered in prayer.  As the prayers were beautifully chanted and the bells of the incense thurifer jingled their own prayer of praise for God, I was deeply struck with the thought that this too, this place of death and destruction, was also a thin place.  What made it thin were the souls of innocent babies who met their Maker as they were violently torn from their mother's wombs.  I was certain that God must be particularly close in this place of sorrow and torment and that He must grieve deeply over the tragedy of his unwanted creations, His little human babies.

Moljeben Prayer Service photo source of Milwaukee Forty Days for Life
I'm sure that I will continue to ponder and look for the thin places in my life just as I have always done in my forever search for God's presence in my life, and I will praise and thank Him each time I feel that, in His goodness and His mercy, He draws ever more closely to my heart in love, goodness, beauty, joy, sorrow and suffering, for God is in all places, all times and all emotions.  He is All-Love and I am deeply grateful for His abiding presence in my life.

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