|The Shrine to the Thin Places at Doonamoe in County Mayo, Ireland, designed and built by Travis Price, AIA, with his students at Catholic University.|
Peter Gomes, theologian and chaplain at Harvard of blessed memory, has, I think, the best description:
“There is in Celtic mythology the notion of 'thin places' in the universe where the visible and the invisible world come into their closest proximity. To seek such places is the vocation of the wise and the good — and for those that find them, the clearest communication between the temporal and eternal. Mountains and rivers are particularly favored as thin places marking invariably as they do, the horizontal and perpendicular frontiers. But perhaps the ultimate of these thin places in the human condition are the experiences people are likely to have as they encounter suffering, joy, and mystery."Many think of "thin place" as an actual location, such as the mountains and rivers Gomes speaks of, or churches or monasteries and convents. And, it certainly can be that.
While I think of our own wee cottage, Llangollen, on the waters and marshes of Rehoboth Bay as one, I think less of "thin place" as being an actual place. Rather, it is, for me, a state of being.
It is a "place" in one's spirit and soul where one becomes more in tune with The One.
I have a Hospice patient - I'll call her "Gertie", she'll be 95 in May - who is, for me, a 'thin place'.
She was orphaned as a very young child and was sent to live with Aunt Stella, who wasn't really an aunt but a family friend. Aunt Stella had already taken in another young girl, also orphaned, and the two girls grew up as sisters.
That's really all "Gertie" ever did for Aunt Stella. Walk her to the trolly stop.
Aunt Stella could manage all by herself, thank you very much. And, she could have easily walked herself to the trolly stop but, well, this became "their time".
Walking and talking on the way to the trolly stop was their "thin place". It was really the only time of the day when they were alone together and "Gertie" learned to cherish the time as holy and the path they walked as sacred.
Aunt Stella cooked all the meals for them - and then, for Uncle Johnny whom she later married. Uncle Johnny was also blind. He played the piano and every Sunday after church the house would be filled with blind people who gathered in Aunt Stella and Uncle Johnny's parlor and sang and ate Aunt Stella's cakes and pies and drank coffee and tea.
And, laughed. "That was the best music," said Gertie, "that laughter was real medicine."
"Gertie" said that Aunt Stella was a great cook and taught her "how to cook blind".
"If you put your ear right up close to the oven," she said, "you can hear it. If you let the sound go into your body, you can feel it."
Then, she leaned forward, looked deeply into my eyes, and said, "Listen for the sizzle in life. Always listen, listen, listen. And feel what you hear. Your eyes may deceive you. Your heart may betray you. But, your body never lies."
These days, I feel more and more that I am living in "thin place".
I love my Hospice work. I consider it a holy privilege.
And, we are also preparing for our youngest adult child and her husband to deliver us our newest granddaughter, Willow Elizabeth.
She's due April 4, but could really come any time now. We are planning a home birth, complete with midwife and pediatric nurse practitioner who will also be present for the birth.
Living in the excitement and anticipation of life and new birth is a time of "thin place".
There's a quality in the air these days, as I prepare for this child's arrival that feels very much like when I'm around someone who is getting ready to go home to Jesus.
It's like that odd taste of steel on your tongue and in your mouth and the way the air feels still and fragile and bristles the hairs in your nose when you breathe it in just before - and then, just after - a rain storm. You know?
And, it raises the soft, small hair on the back of your neck and sends just a little tingle to your shoulders and down your arms.
Just the teeny tiniest of gentle little zaps (or sizzles).
It's something in your soul that says to your body: "Hey! Wake up! Pay attention here. Something is about to happen and you don't want to miss this."
That's what life feels like these days or me. Like a thin place.
And, when it's really quiet, as it is right now, I can hear "Gertie's" words:
"Listen for the sizzle in life. Always listen, listen, listen. And feel what you hear. Your eyes may deceive you. Your heart may betray you. But, your body never lies."
And, I close my eyes and begin the mantra of my new prayer, ""Ssszzzzzzzz....."
Suddenly, slowly, like the rustling of leaves, I hear the prayer with my whole body and spirit and soul, and the soft hairs on the back of my neck begin to rise and send just a little teeny tiny tingle to my shoulders and down my arms.
I find myself becoming more one with The One.
I stay like that for a time until I am "done" - awash with a sense of profound gratitude.
Then I wipe the small tears that have, like surprising divine gifts of blessing, appeared in the corners of my eyes and I say, "Thank you."