Thin Places

From the bottom of the hill, I spotted dozens of stones peppered across the rise like the slanting teeth of a stone giant. I had come to a graveyard that was puzzlingly established on the top of the sandy mound. The gravestones I spotted below multiplied as I worked my way to the top of the hill. 

A small hill sat in the middle of the graveyard. There were wooden steps in the center of the smaller hill that appeared to lead into thin air. I climbed the steps to nowhere and came to a marvel that had been hollowed into the earth. Below me, surrounded by twenty feet of sand that was held back with stone retaining walls, was the perfectly preserved tenth-century Celtic church of St. Cavan, the hallowed patron saint of Inis Oírr.  

I worked my way around the roofless building to the low stone lintel entrance. I had to duck to enter a roofless nave only fifteen feet across and forty-five feet long. The concealing sands had preserved the intricate stonework as if the church had been constructed a hundred years ago. As I entered the sanctuary, my curiosity morphed into a sense of destiny, a divine rendezvous. I was overcome with a sense of homecoming.

As the noonday sun poured down upon the altar stone, lighting the church with brilliant sunbeams, I experienced the closest I have ever known to pure wonder. Dumbstruck, I stood in the thinnest of places. If I wanted to, I might have tipped into the eternal. I sat in awe. When I finally looked at my watch, I had been standing at the altar for half an hour. I would have sworn I had been there for five minutes. There was no other place I wanted to be at that moment.

There is a term used in Celtic Christianity explaining places where the eternal shines through into our world. Those sacred spaces were called thin places. They are known in every culture but seldom acknowledged. Like the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, the mountain hermitage of Eremo in Assisi, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity house in the slums of Kolkata, the communion table in your church, or the rising sun on the horizon as you sit atop a mountain, thin places seep wonder into our world. These are physical spots where the spiritual realm and the natural realm commingle. They come so close together they can usher a person into sublime awe. Thin places evoke a spiritual response.

Donald Miller, in his memoir Scary Close, describes thin places. “There’s no rational explanation for that kind of emotion (in response to a thin place) except perhaps, at times, we accidentally tear a little hole in the fabric of reality, so something on the other side shines through, exposing the darkness of our routine existence.”

We have all experienced moments in our lives when we are overcome by a sense of wonderment, where we want to fall to our knees and embrace something bigger than anything we’ve found in this world. These moments of wonder are sometimes as wide as the sky and sometimes as small as a keyhole. Thin places remind us that our real home is not of this world. 

After a decade working in parish youth ministry Shawn started Wonder Voyage Missions. Over the last 15 years, WVM has led thousands of pilgrims to over forty countries. Shawn is a storyteller and an award winning filmmaker. He is an author who brings the gift of engaging narrative to our journeys. Shawn is dedicated to creating voyages that give people abundant opportunities to encounter God.

1 Comments

  1. Avatar John Spencer on March 4, 2023 at 9:48 am

    Wonderful

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