Thin Places - Eric Weiner Opens a New Understanding

Iona Abbey - Scotland
I love that Eric Weiner, author of The Geography of Bliss wrote an article on Thin Places.  The niche is so narrow and Eric's high profile and the New York Time's wide distribution has opened up the subject of thin places to a wider audience.  To date most people who write about thin places are academics or clergy.  Eric revealed the concept to the traveling world - to ordinary people.

So what are thin places?  


My one sentence definition has always been "places where the veil between this world and the Otherworld is thin."

I wrote my answer to that question in an article published back in 2001. Over the past eleven years ago since I wrote that article,  Walking Through Thin Places has been translated into many languages and republished in hundreds of journals, magazines, e-zine, documents, sermons and websites.  This one paragraph from the article shows up in my Google alerts at least three times a week, meaning that it appears on some new web page Google has indexed.  Does that mean I'm an authority? No. It means not a lot of people were writing about thin places.  I'm happy that Eric has jumped into the game and elevated the visibility.

Thin Places are ports in the storm of life, where the pilgrims can move closer to the God they seek, where one leaves that which is familiar and journeys into the Divine Presence. They are stopping places where men and women are given pause to wonder about what lies beyond the mundane rituals, the grief, trials and boredom of our day-to-day life. They probe to the core of the human heart and open the pathway that leads to satisfying the familiar hungers and yearnings common to all people on earth, the hunger to be connected, to be a part of something greater, to be loved, to find peace.
Labbacallee Wedge Tomb - aka The Hags Bed, Co. Cork


Eric Weiner weighs the concept of two co-existing worlds - a physical world and an eternal world, in his article Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer.  He describes thin places.  He states "They are locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever."

I love the article because Eric is speaking for the common person.  The one who goes into a place and somehow is transformed for having gone there.  The non-scholars and non-academics who sense something special about a particular place are represented in Eric's article, and he has opened up a whole new concept to the average traveler.  Hooray for Eric Weiner!

Understanding of Thin Places Goes Deeper


Eric is a travel writer known for traveling the world.  His great gift is his ability to write about travel in the context of a story.  It makes the reader feel as if he or she is right along with him.  He so casual, so conversational, so real.

But I disagree with Eric on airports and bars being thin places -  and bookstores too, "especially Powells of Portland, Ore." (nothing against Powell's). I think what he was trying to say is that these  places bring out a sense of transformation in us... that's what makes them thin.  Thin places are where we feel good.  He states that Jerusalem is not a thin place because it's now "thick with animosity and weighed under with historical grievances."

Kildavnet Cemetery, Achill Island
It almost seems as if the implication in the article is that we can create these thin places or destroy them at will by our actions.  We can build an atmosphere around the site with a cathedral or church or bar or airport or tear it down with an attitude.   But the main thrust of the article eludes to there being some ephemerality (is that word?) that meets you in certain places and Poof! You're in a thin place.

I didn't invent the concept of thin places.  People in the Celtic traditions have been talking of thin places for centuries.  The Irish language has words to describe and define thin places that we Anglos have translation for.  What I have learned from these humble people and loving teachers of Celtic spirituality is that the place itself is different. 

Thin places do not dictate the behavior of God.  God is everywhere and we don't need to be in a thin place to connect with the Divine presence.   We can feel God's presence anytime, anywhere - at church, at a bar, the airport, Powell's Books, on the beach.  We may sense God at special times of the day - twilight and dawn.  But that simply means we are spiritual people and by the grace of God we can connect at will.

Thin Places Are Inherently"thin"


The concept of a place being thin in and of itself gives religious people angst.  It doesn't fit in their doctrine. I've lost several friends who fear I've been claimed by the dark forces, and become a witch, a new age freak.  One recently said to me, "We fear we've lost you to the other side."  I've been held up to criticism on the Internet on blogs of pastors and religious leaders who negate my beliefs because they're not Bible based - therefore can't be true.

The older I get the less I care about people these people.  I miss those friends who have walked away from me until I'm "healed" or "brought back."  But I'm not walking away from what I know is the truth.


The truth is that some places are special.  I've felt it.  I've seen it. And I've been changed by it.

Kevin's Kitchen - Glendalough - Co. Wicklow

These places were special long before anyone could write about them or read about them.  Call it energy, call it thin, call it mystical.  Some places are so cloaked in the presence of the Divine that the human spirit, if allowed can sense their energy.  People are drawn to these sites,  and then drawn back to them.  They are transformed when they visit them.

 The ancients knew this.  They had a way to understand the concept of thin places.  It was an understanding uncluttered by scholarly knowledge or religious doctrine. The charism of those places was felt long ago and the sites were marked.  This is the reason there are churches, cathedrals, high crosses, stone circles, pyramids, temples and an endless stream of seekers coming to those places.

Shrine at the Well of the Wethers - Co. Kerry
 And I also disagree about thickness of Jerusalem, not because I've been there, but because sadness, grievances, and bad blood do not negate thinness.  I remember visiting Northern Ireland during the Troubles and seeing the razor wire, the militant graffiti, the soldiers stalking the streets and crouching in the alleys in Armagh and Portadown.  I was stopped coming out of Tyrone by a soldier whose machine gun was inches away from my face as he leaned through my car window.  Yet the high crosses and stone circles in the Tyrone landscape was no less sacred.  The Armagh Cathedrals did not lose their draw nor did the area surrounding the Navan fort.  These are thin places with or without the mark of hatred and grief.

Thin places are not places where God arbitrarily chooses to reveal his / her Divine presence in a more powerful way.  God does not change. Ever.

The best quote I ever heard on thin places was by Mark Patrick Hederman, Abbot of Glenstal Abbey in Limerick.  ....
On the summit of Mount Sinai, on the road to Santiago, God does not stand any closer or speak any louder.  But we listen better.

The thin place changes us.  We are transformed. That's why we keep going back and seeking out new places.

More reading -

2 comments:

  1. I’d like to offer a perspective addressing people who presume that thin places are pagan or un-Biblical.

    I’m a devout Christian, I grew up with a strong Bible education. My pastor is from Northern Ireland and some of my Celtic friends arranged a tour of the “thin places” of Ireland last summer.

    It sounded intriguing so I went, not having any particular expectation.

    I was not prepared for what I was about toe experience. Our first stop was at Dun Chaoin. I have over the last 10 years cultivated my ability to hear God, it had become much sharper. But when I went to Dun Chaoin it was like the download speed went up 5X.

    I experienced more of the same at the Mount Brandon stations of the cross.

    The striking thing was that the thin-ness followed me. I could spiritually return to a thin place any time I wanted to, and it would shift what was happening inside of me. The next day after Dun Chaoin I was journaling and God started talking me about some emotional crap I’d been trying to sort out for YEARS. Suddenly, stuff I couldn’t get rid of no matter how hard I tried started sliding off and disappearing.

    Some bad habits that I could not shake, fear that I could not get to the roots of, just dissolved.

    Not only did my evangelical mind have no grid for what had just happened to me, my charismatic mind was reeling. I started asking God - “What is this??? An animistic pagan ritual, or real deal, or what??? The questions any standard-issue, Biblically literate person should ask.

    I was hiking up Mount Brandon with a friend and he pulled out his Bible and it fell open to Genesis 28, where Jacob goes to sleep with his head on a rock. He then has a dream - “Jacob’s Ladder” - angels ascending and descending, with God at the top.

    Jacob wakes up and he says, “Surely the Lord was in this place and I did not know it.”

    So he built an altar of stones and called it “Bethel” which means “House of God.”

    The puzzle piece snapped in: Jacob was in a thin place!

    A pilgrimage is a journey to a thin place to celebrate a covenant.

    To understand thin places, you must question the reductionist Western conception of nature, where Christians believe the spiritual realm and nature to be entirely separate. The Bible does not teach this. Psalms says “The whole earth is full of his glory.” "The heavens declare the Glory of God."

    Are there thin places in the Bible? Yes. You see them all over once you recognize it. Bethel. Any location where the patriarchs built an altar. And then there is Zion. How many verses, chapters, entire books, yearn for Zion?

    It is because Jerusalem is a thin place.

    In the temple there is the Holy of Holies. You will notice that thin places are often embattled places. Jerusalem is one of the most embattled places on earth. I had gone to the Wailing Wall a few years before. I didn’t have a word for it, but I felt the thin-ness. Also the conflict, with the Dome of the Rock on the other side. The most contested place on earth.

    I had been to other thin places as well, but not had language for them before. The Notre Dame Cathedral in Montreal. Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship aka Catch the Fire. Places in my own church. Bethel Church in Redding California is transforming the entire city of Redding into a thin place, you can feel the Spirit everywhere you go.

    The Old Testament talks about the “high places” where people built altars and worshipped Baal. Solomon failed to tear down the Ashira poles, and planted the seeds of his own destruction.

    The thinnest place of all was Eden. Nature there responded to the spiritual authority that was not yet broken. After the fall, the man and woman were forced to leave.

    Intuitive people have always felt this. There are thin places all over, colored and flavored by what is practiced in those places. Mecca. Sedona. Iona.

    And when we practice the presence of God, we make the space we inhabit thinner.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Perry. I love your perspective. I've posted an excerpt of your comment on the Thin Places Facebook Page. https://www.facebook.com/thinplaces. I think it's something that all my readers would value. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts.

      Mindie.

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