My Dear One,
Two summers ago I was blessed to set foot for the very first time on Iona, an island off the west coast of Scotland widely regarded as one of the world’s great “thin places” - a place where the distance between heaven and earth, this world and the next, seems nearly non-existent. I’d longed to go to Iona someday and my time there, although incredibly brief, in no way disappointed. It left such an impression on my soul, that I became an Associate Member of the Iona Community. I will renew my vows to the community on St. Columba’s Day, June 9th (more on that and my time on Iona in next week’s WayPost).
But I have a real concern about the the way we talk about Iona and similar places and I’m curious what your thoughts about it might be.
It’s not that I would disagree at all that Iona is a “thin place.” While I was there, I certainly felt closer to God and more deeply connected to our beautiful world and all that IS. Walking the streets, placing my feet into the sea, feeling the cold clarity of the abbey’s stones press through my skin, sitting amongst the still standing walls of the nunnery ruins, standing before sheep that seemed to survey my soul (A bit much? Try them!), Iona woke me up to the life that exists within my too-often dormant spirit. The winds coming off the bay brought with them the Breath of God, filling my lungs with newness and a sense that all I’d believed in my whole life, all I’d hoped for about who God is and who I am and who Jesus reveals both to be, came into alignment and was shown as truer than the most true.
I can say this about a select few other places in my experience: the Episcopal cathedral in St. Louis when I was a boy, the mountains of Wyoming when I was a teen, a cigarette and a cup of strong coffee on a particularly glorious morning at my kitchen table in college, the days my children were born, a few others. These were all “thin places” in their own unique ways.
I cannot say this about every place I’ve been. And therein lies the problem with “thin places” for me. I believe I should be able to say this about any place, about every place. My theology, that is my belief and thinking about God, submits that God is equi-present, equally available and offered to all peoples in all times and all places. One does not need to save up the money to fly to Scotland, take a train, a ferry, a bus and another ferry to reach Iona to feel close to God. If so, then spirituality becomes the realm of the privileged few. Iona does not fill the contemporary role of the Temple in Jerusalem for ancient Israel. God is already where you are, no closer or further away than God is at any other place.
I believe God was just as close in the barrios of Mexico where I walked among makeshift houses next to a dump where children rummaged for anything of value they could find.
I believe God was just as close on the streets of Detroit where I worked with teenagers to clean up a neighborhood trying to escape the gripping oppression of poverty.
I believe God was just as close last week as I scrubbed the sink in my bathroom, as I mowed the yard, as I went to work, as I filled my car with gas, as I slept in my bed.
All ground is holy ground. God blessed it and called it holy from the very first day of its existence.
At least that’s what I believe. So why isn’t that the way I always live? Why does it take a sacred spot in Scotland, a Bruce Springsteen concert, or the smile of someone I love to make me notice that God is in this place?
I’m always on Iona. This is what I believe. And this is the way I seek to live. Bringing this belief and practice into full integration is my spiritual work. How can I bring what I know to be true in Mind, into the alignment of felt presence in Strength, the awareness of unification in Soul, the actions of vocation in Heart? How can I bathe in the beauty of Love as a continual expression rather than an occasional awareness?
How can I not just believe in Jesus but simultaneously be Christ - in and through the world, as a living, breathing, loving expression of God’s presence to all those I meet?
This is our life’s goal. Not to become something we are not but to reveal something we already are - the divine image in every person, equi-present in every place.
There are no “thin places,” only “places.” What makes it sacred is the intention we bring to it. In this way, even the desecrated places can be made hallowed ground. Places are no different from other places in any way other than how aware we allow ourselves to become in them.
“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
- Jesus (Mark 13:37)
Or am I wrong about this? Do some places hold a special place among us or for us? Is Iona a place where God especially seeks to meet us? If I walked the Camino across Spain, would God notice and show up in the Cathedral in Santiago? If I got on my knees in Fatima, would it change anything? For centuries, people who made pilgrimage to such places believed as much. Was their faith entirely misplaced?
What are your “thin places?” What are the places that woke you up to your true identity and belovedness, the nearness of the all-mighty? What made them “thin places for you?” Do you believe that some places are inherently “thinner” than others? If so, what does that say about who God is? Am I wrong, mistaken, short-sighted in the ways I think about this? Leave a comment for us all to read below.
May God bless the places and spaces you already are, and every place you journey towards, awakening each one of us to the very near presence of the eternal I AM.
following The Way,
“Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden that its fragrance may be wafted abroad. Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits.”
-Song of Solomon 4:16