|Iona Abbey - Scotland|
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|
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|
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 -