These "thin places" are all around us, if we know how to look.
There are places where the veil between heaven and earth is stretched thin. These thin places are where we build shrines and Churches. We make pilgrimages to get to them, hike up mountains to find them, and go on retreat to encounter them. We also find them in rare moments when transcendent beauty crams itself into a single instant that seems to last forever. They echo back to us in music and through art. They may surprise us by showing up in the cooing of a baby, a child slipping her hand into yours, or in a quiet, early morning cup of coffee on the back porch. God’s voice whispers to us in these special moments and places.
For me, the place where the veil is almost translucent is in a church during Mass. From there, an infinite number of thin places spill out into the wildness of the world where we stumble upon them as we round random corners. They descend upon us like a sunset and spill out over the horizon. They’re the sort of places we want to take a picture of to save forever but the photo can never do it justice. Maybe the fact they’re impossible to save for later is what makes them so precious.
Afterwards, the experience of being in a thin place is hard to describe. What was it you felt during Mass? What made you spontaneously applaud when you saw the sun melt into lake Michigan? Why did your heart leap when your early morning walk wandered through fog that hung like incense over the landscape? These experiences are difficult to describe not because we’re not good with words, but because they’re mysteries that touch the infinite and words cannot contain them.
Thin places are often a specific place or at least a type of place. For instance, the cathedral downtown, a mountaintop vista, or a starry sky. But we may encounter one in a surprising location or circumstance. The places themselves aren’t magic, though; they’re more like a window that provides a better glimpse of heaven.
How do we find “thin places”?
The difficulty I have is that I’m often too distracted to look through that window. I miss so many of these places because I’m in the thick of my own anxiety, staring at my phone, or simply being careless with how I use my time.
The way to find thin places is easy to explain, but hard to carry out in real life. It’s easy because all it requires is to be willing and ready to look. This means patiently cultivating inner silence and waiting for the mystery to unfold. If I know that Mass is one of those places, I cannot allow my attendance to become spotty or allow myself to be distracted while I’m there. Or if I know that once a year I need at least a few days in a secluded spot in the middle of nature to be alone, I have to protect those few days on my schedule. We’ve all felt a sense of the sacred in any number of places – heaven is closer than we think – but we all too easily neglect to make the effort to return with any regularity.
Once we know where a thin place is, and how to recognize one when we encounter it, it’s as easy as just being there and having an open heart – which is also the hard part.
The effort is worth it, though, because as human beings we require moments in the presence of the divine. This is because we’re more than our bodies and we need to feed our souls, too. Our lives are not purely material and we need to spiritually renew ourselves on a regular basis.
Spending time in a thin place resets our perspective on what’s important in life. What truly matters is the calm, still place around which the busyness of daily life circles. That’s where we rediscover ourselves by renewing our connection with God. The longer we stay in the center, the further our anxieties and distractions spin away.
Thin places are most of all created out of love. When our love reaches out and touches God’s love, that’s when the spark happens, and it’s a spark that can light your soul on fire.