The Celts have a phrase for the times where the “distance between heaven and earth is exceedingly thin”. You guessed it—they call them thin places. If you are a Jesus follower, you know exactly what this phrase is referring to. Memories of times when you feel you could reach out and touch Him. Times when the things of earth grow meaningless and small. Times when the kingdom feels big and the most important. Times where you get a little choked up because He’s so big and we’re so little. Times when you just know that He loves you so much even though you love Him so little.
It seems like these places usually take us by surprise and happen in unlikely places. I have felt the thinness in an organized church service before, but far more often they are in the midst of life.
Every time I drag my grill out into the front yard and dozens of neighbors join for dinner is a thin place for me. Somewhere amongst the laughter and basketball and ketchup on the tablecloth I almost always get a little choked up and a little more grateful for this abundant life as I know it.
Camping on Lake Superior, under a million glittery stars and glowing northern lights was breathtakingly thin.
Bedtime stories, sunsets, warm muffins shared with strangers, little hands reaching up in worship during VBS all can feel like Jesus is close enough to touch.
But one of the most profound thin places I can remember was during a silent meal shared with complete strangers. This winter I went on a silent retreat for 24 hours—I stayed alone in a cabin out of sight of any other signs of humans. It was lit with gas lamps and heated with a wood burning stove (whistling tea kettle optional, setting off the fire alarm not recommended, but that’s another story for another time).
Away from the tyranny of the urgent, my frantic heart slowed down enough to breathe deep and clear some of the cobwebs. At dinnertime, we were welcomed quietly and left to enjoy the warm soup, fresh salad and homemade bread with these words, “Around here, we enjoy food as God’s love made edible.”
I sat down across from a middle-aged man that I knew nothing about and ate in silence. After a minute of awkwardness and curiosity, I could tell that everyone was breathing easy and I returned to that phrase… “God’s love made edible.” I thought about the many times that God has been so close and made His love tangible to me, through people and places and things and moments. Where He has quietly and extravagantly provided for me in my language. I spent the meal thanking Him for these places and as I got up and pushed in my chair, I wiped away a stray tear of thankfulness. Only then did I glance up at the middle-aged man across from me and notice that he too was wiping away a tear. I don’t know what God was speaking to him, but I do know that Jesus had pulled up a chair to that table and had dinner with us.
I keep coming back to that moment to remember that Jesus is always that close to us. Always speaking life and peace and wholeness when we let Him, when we get quiet enough to listen.
And I keep coming back to the thin places because I think they’re really important. It is worship, yes. It’s enjoying life as God gives it. It’s never less than worship. But it’s more than that.
In these thin places, God is making us holy.
Remaking our hearts and longings and desires. He’s giving us a glimpse of His glory and helping us guard our hearts against lesser things. He’s giving us tastes of shalom, of redemption, of heaven. For a moment, our hearts live where they are supposed to live, in His presence, experiencing His fullness and there is nothing better.
But here’s the other thing I keep thinking about.
True thin places are only experienced in the presence of God.
If we were to pursue these thin places, these completely-at-peace-Saturday-morning scenarios as an end in themselves, they would slip out of our hands like sand. Since the whole point of a thin place is that there is no space between us and God, pursuing the space instead of God is futile. Satisfaction in vacations and nature and good food and people and places and moments will never come, because God is good and training our hearts to long for the real thing—the presence of God Himself. Thin places happen on the way, in the middle of a life poured out before God.
“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”