Finding (or rather… being found by) Thin Places

“You know, we could go camping this weekend…”

Those words, uttered in the kitchen on a Wednesday night is how our adventure started.

With just ten weeks left of living in my home of three years, I want to soak up all the time I can with these roommates that have come to feel like sisters. Macy was in her final days of a break before heading into another semester of nursing school. After some travel plans fell through, this idea made itself known as a brilliant Plan B.

Reveling in the shiny newness of our spontaneous decision, we debated where we should go.

“Somewhere we haven’t been before…”

“But somewhere close-ish…”

“And by a body of water!”

“Ooh. Yes.”

And just like that, Saturday afternoon, we loaded up the car with a few essentials (my new tent, hiking boots, a C.S Lewis book, whiskey…) and we hit the road.

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Two hours and one Sonic trip later, we ended up at the Harry S. Truman State Park. You guys. This place felt like the most well kept secret. I was one part mad I’m only just now discovering this hidden gem, and three parts delighted by the subtly stunning beauty we discovered in central Missouri. Winding roads weaved in and out of a network of peninsulas and bluffs that make up the Ozarks. The tidy efficiency of the Missouri State Park system, with brown and yellow signs pointed the way to quaint locations such as “Wild Turkey Ridge” and “Devil’s Backbone.”

I was once again reminded of just how alive I feel when I am on an adventure. When I choose to seek out beauty, even in a place that has become familiar. The joy I feel when I say yes to simple, good things. All of me rejoices when I jettison the comforts of my cozy couch and numbing Netflix.

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We found the perfect spot, near the water, and even, joy of joys, a dock on which to watch the sunrise the next morning. We pitched our little tent (dwarfed by the mansion tents  that those expert campers around us were lounging in) and got the lay of the land.

Elated by the sheer perfection of this campground, we set out for a short hike before dinner. The trail loop we picked promised an array of midwestern fauna. A moss carpeted green canopy gave way to a savannah of quietly dancing grass. It was there, up on a ridge, overlooking the lake, with lavender skies bleeding to apricot, I felt that Macy and I had stumbled into a thin place.

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Photo by Macy Brisben

Wait—what is a “thin place” you ask?

You know. Because you’ve probably been to one before. I had, many times, but only recently heard of this term, first used by Celtic Mystics (got to love the Irish.) Shauna Niequist, an author that I adore, wrote about it in book I’ve been reading, Bittersweet, so it’s been an idea in my attention collection recently.

“A thin place, according to the Celtic mystics, is a place where the boundary between the natural world and the supernatural one is more permeable—thinner, if you will…a place where God’s presence is almost palpable…places where the boundary between the divine world and the human world becomes almost nonexistent, and the two, divine and human, can for a moment, dance together uninterrupted.”

Now you know what I’m talking about, right? These places that we find, often when we aren’t expecting it, where something inside us senses this glory, this deep feeling of rightness, and for a fleeting moment, everything makes sense. Or maybe it’s that we make peace with the mystery. All I know is that I love the way Shauna said it, and my heart totally resonates—it’s these moments of dancing with the divine.

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These thin places can be anywhere, but they aren’t predictable. If I were to go back to that wildflower bedecked ridge, the thin place may not still be there. It was a beautiful moment, and the holiness did reside in that physical location. I just know it. We can’t use a GPS to find them, we can’t manufacture them, or force our way in. We find them, or they find us when our posture is one of open expectancy.

I’ve found thin places on stormy beaches near Muir Woods and on the top of plateaus in central Brazil. And those Irish discovered them for a reason. I do believe they are all over that Emerald Isle as well. 

But I’ve also stumbled upon thin places on quiet walks in my neighborhood, or even in my car while driving to my parent’s house. There’s this secret spot on the Missouri River just north of town where I’ve found that the veil between ordinary and holy was translucent, and I’ve often returned there and found clarity and peace.

Ordinary and mundane, or extravagant and sacred, I think thin places are everywhere. At least that’s what I’m beginning to suspect. It seems like I find them more when I’m traveling, but maybe that’s just because my eyes are more open to the beauty around me when I’m somewhere new.

“Truth abides in thin places; naked, raw, hard to face truth.  Yet the comfort, safety and strength to face that truth also abides there.  Thin places captivate our imagination, yet diminish our existence.  We become very small, yet we gain connection and become part of something larger than we can perceive.”  —Mindie Burgoyne

We are changed when we encounter this holy ground, just like Moses was. When I find myself in a thin place, things are put into perspective. My eyes are taken off of myself. I realize that a lot of my “emergencies,” aren’t. My heart feels reminded of who and why I am as I glimpse the reality of this Divine Beauty.

I am refreshed.

I am renewed.

I am restored.

And thin places can be physical locations, but these heaven-meets-earth moments can also arrive in certain occasions, ceremonies, or even seasons.

Like a season of transition.

(There’s that word again. I just keep bringing it up, probably mostly because I’m in the midst of one, but I think they are so important for just this reason!)

I deeply believe that times of transition are ripe with thin places. Maybe our hearts feel raw and vulnerable in the upheaval of all certainty and consistency. Our eyes are unveiled and we see just how close the sacred is to our ordinary humanness. God’s almost tangible presence has been a consistent closeness time and time again during transition. I feel the invitation to look up from my navel-gazing and see his hand extended. I sense a deeper desire to be rooted in the present moment, to Be Here Now and not miss it by distracting worries or regrets. 

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Photo by Macy Brisben

The thing about transitions is that they often have to do with identity. The where, or the what, or the with whom changes, and it brings up deep questions of identity and purpose. Rather than tailspinning into an existential crisis, these thin places are a reminder, anchoring us to the Truth of who we were always meant to be, who we are in the process of becoming.

“Thin places…transform us—or, more accurately, unmask us. In thin places, we become our more essential selves. —Eric Weiner

Where have you encountered thin places in your life? What does it look like to engage with the present ordinary moments of familiarity and routine, looking for thin places? How are you being invited to dance with the divine?

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Finding (or rather… being found by) Thin Places

  1. C.S. Lewis called them “glimpses of glory” and I find them in stories and music more often than nature – although you’re right, Ireland is chock full of thin places!

    I seek these experiences occasionally, by picking up a book during a free minute or watching a movie or listening to music in the car. But more often than not, it seems that I’m surprised by those moments when I least expect them. Which, again, makes me think of Lewis (his autobiography is called “Surprised by Joy!”).

    Thank you for the reminder to “dance with the divine!”

  2. Oh Allie, this is so beautiful! You have such a way of capturing feelings and putting them to words! I have never before heard the phrase thin places, but oh, have I felt them!

    For me it is that precious time when I am spending moments with someone nearing the end of their earthly time. It is in those moments when I feel as though I am getting a glimpse of the divine. I get such an urge to touch Him, feel Him, be with Him, as I feel things of this world become boggy and “thick”.

    Thank you for your articulation. You are so special, and gifted! Cannot wait to see what your transition and adventures reveal next!

    Love you so!

  3. Holy hell! This concept is fantastic! I absolutely love your mind, and the way you put things to the pen. The idea of “thin places,” is one of those that we all understand, but you capture so well here! Gah! Love this so much!

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