In Celtic Christian Spirituality there is great attention given to what the Celts referred to as thin places. A “thin place” is one where the division between the earthly and heavenly realm shrinks and, some say, you brush up against the divine. I spend a lot of my time thinking about these places of encounter. It is a vocational hazard as the director of a retreat and conference center. In many ways my job description is to manage and steward the thin place known as Canterbury.
Thin places need not be specifically religious. Historic spaces, art, places of natural beauty can transport you as they mediate something of the divine. I find thin places in conversation and interaction with people, where something happens, something is said and you know in that moment it has eternal value.
Recently I was in a meeting discussing Canterbury’s future. We talked about the practical things we need to do: fixing the road, upgrading guest rooms, constructing new buildings, and improving our operation. All of this was important and a necessary conversation. The discussion moved to the “why” of Canterbury. What is Canterbury’s purpose? Why do we exist? Someone spoke passionately about Canterbury being a center for faith and transformation of people and culture. He called for a D-Day moment where we would work to see lives changed, people healed, families mended, broken things restored. We would work for a comprehensive prosperity for individuals in body, soul, mind and spirit and a restoring of the foundations of society that will yield justice, opportunity, growth, hope and peace. In that moment of the conversation, I realized I entered a thin place where something sacred broke through.
Have you ever been in that moment where a word was spoken, an image was revealed and you found yourself catapulted to a different place? You were still there in the room but you knew wondrous forces had just touched your heart and mind. You found yourself inspired? Inspiration is part of what thin places are all about. This life and earthly existence can become so routine that we miss the real and valuable aspects of life. We can find ourselves like the hamster on the wheel working hard but getting nowhere.
To touch such a thin place is a journey of discovery. Life is too short to live uninspired. There is so much to know, experience and do. What fuels dreams and adds richness to our lives is to sprinkle our tasks and to-do’s with such inspiration. It is delving beneath the daily and necessary routines to discover moments that raise your sight to see something more.
Martha Berry, the founder of Berry College (my alma mater), believed in raising people’s vision. There were probably several hundred buildings on Berry College’s campus. Each one had a spire. You would expect to see a spire on a church building but Martha wanted spires on not just chapels but classrooms, offices, barns and storage sheds. They all had spires. Why? It was to get you to look up, to see that all of this life can be and maybe, just maybe experience a thin place.
Photo credit: Kumweni via VisualHunt.com / CC BY