When God called to Moses from out of the burning bush, he told Moses, “Remove your sandals from your feet. The place where you’re standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).
I’ve often wondered, is the ground where Moses stood holy because of its location, or was it holy because God was there, making his presence known?
People travel from all over the world to visit certain places: shrines, cathedrals, temples, monasteries, and monuments that have been deemed holy. When I enter those spaces, I come expectantly. All of my senses are tuned into the presence of the Holy Spirit. Something feels different.
Is it holy because of its location, or is it holy because I expected to meet God in that thin place, where the separation between heaven and earth seems narrow?
“Heaven’s my throne,
earth is my footstool.
What sort of house could you build for me?
What holiday spot reserve for me?
I made all this! I own all this!”
“But there is something I’m looking for:
a person simple and plain,
reverently responsive to what I say.”Isaiah 66:1-2 MSG
What Are Thin Places?
In the ancient Celtic Christian tradition, “thin places” are where heaven seems to come close to earth, so close that the place is deemed sacred. Whether in nature or made by humans, thin places inspire awe and wonder. They conjure a sense of being connected to something bigger than yourself.
God’s Throne, God’s Footstool: Thin Places in Nature
Many of us can relate to the need to go somewhere to experience the presence of God. Examples of those kinds of pilgrimages are scattered throughout the Bible and throughout history. Sometimes you just need to get away, break out of the mundane habits and rituals of your everyday life, to awaken anew to the wonder of the world around you.
Thin places can be found all throughout creation. Between God’s throne in the heavens to God’s footstool on earth, the oceans and lakes, mountains and valleys, forests and rivers, sunrises and sunsets can all be thin places we venture to and expect an experience with God.
However, if you get stars in your eyes about the ocean, have you ever talked to someone who lives within easy driving distance? Or perhaps you live in a tropical climate and dream about the magic of snow-covered mountains? Have you heard a resident of Buffalo talk with the same degree of reverence?
What Makes a Place “Thin”?
When you’re traveling, your senses are tuned to the world around you in ways they may not be in your everyday life. Everything is new, everything is wonderful, every detail unfamiliar. There’s something “other” about this newness.
But one person’s tourist site is another person’s backyard. It isn’t the place itself that makes it sacred. There’s something else going on in these thin places. It is as if the experience of seeing something for the first time pulls back the veil of normalcy to reveal the sacredness in its core. In these thin places, we can see the Good, the Lovely, the Beautiful, the Real, the True that God baked into all of creation when he called everything “good.”
In these thin places, everything is sacred.
Temples of the Holy Spirit
It doesn’t even have to be a physical space to be a thin place. A deep, resonating conversation with a good friend or fellow believer could happen on an everyday street corner, on a boring old bus, in an unremarkable coffee shop, and yet, could you feel God in this place? Or perhaps a serendipitous moment, God connection, and Spirit nudge causes joy to rise and gratitude to pour freely.
As a whole bunch of image bearers, carrying around the breath of life, breathed into us by God himself, we’re a collective temple of the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes I’m a closed corridor of that temple, shut down and under renovation. No light comes in, no light leaks out. In that shadowy condition, you could place me on top of the most magnificent mountain or sit me beside the most placid lake and I would be unmoved.
But if I open my heart and my eyes to see the God-Spirit caught in all these other temple corridors, the curtains that separate us from the divine in each other disappear. We are, together, in a thin place. That is the beauty and divinity of Christian community: the body of Christ together, a temple for the Holy Spirit, a walking talking laughing dreaming weeping celebrating manifestation of love, one giant thin place.
Jesus Christ, the Ultimate Thin Place
If a thin place is where the separation between heaven and earth is thin, then in Jesus Christ there’s no separation whatsoever. He is fully God and fully man. He is where heaven meets Earth. He tore the veil in the temple, closing the gap between God and humanity forever. In Christ, nothing can separate us from God’s love.
You Can Go to a Thin Place Anywhere
The power of sacred space is that you can even visit it in your imagination. Close your eyes. What is the place in all the world that feels the safest to you? Now that you’ve pictured it, invite Jesus into it. Take off your sandals, feel the earth beneath your feet, the ground in your imagination is holy. That safe space is a thin place, open and available to you and the Lord alone, a place where heaven meets earth, and you can go there whenever you want.
Thin Places Make Everything Sacred
Celtic Christians were deeply connected to the natural world. They considered every aspect of life to be intertwined with the divine, even and maybe especially elements of our everyday life. This understanding pulls back the layers of mundanity and can turn every chore into a treasure chest of God’s love.
Spiritual practices like meditation, mindfulness, prayer, journaling, lectio divina, gardening, walking, and more slow down our frantic pace and open our senses to what God might be up to just underneath the surface of our everyday lives, until every place, every person, and every moment becomes sacred, infused with meaning and purpose, fueled by hope for future completion by a God who loves his creation.
Thin places reveal that everything is sacred.