I’m enjoying, and appreciating, my sabbatical. A priest is granted a sabbatical period away from work to renew energy, to rest, to reflect and to pray. I’m trying to do all those things!
One of the foci for my sabbatical is experiencing and reflecting on ‘liminal places’ or ‘thin places’, that is, places where the spiritual world and the material world seem very close. I’ve visited a few different places which could be called liminal places, and I have appreciated the importance of one’s attitude to such places – how it helps to go expectantly, as a pilgrim.
Rocamadour, which I visited a few weeks ago, was an amazing place in central France. Now not so great a pilgrim centre as Lourdes or Walsingham, but unique and laden with prayer and history. Pennant Melangell was a beautiful special quiet place in the centre of a remote welsh valley. The small cave of St Robert of Knaresborough was a place of quiet seclusion on the banks of the River Nidd. Just three examples of very different places where many have felt close to God and where they have come away with a different perspective on life and the world.
Some such places are well known, and are centres of pilgrimage, others are much more personal or private, and may be places which evoke memory and peace in our own life stories. They may be very close to home or far away. Here on this blog there are one or two other examples, for example from Vilnius here and – at a King’s shrine here.
Have you such a special place? Have you a place where you feel or have felt God to be very close?
Do read the interesting comments below. If you wish please do share about a place which is a thin place for you in the comments here. Thank you.
I shall be at a Quiet Day at Pennant Melangell tomorrow and agree that it is truly a thin place. Despite the hordes of pilgrims and tourists I also find Assisi and the sites associated with Saint Francis and Saint Clare bring me verey close to that special threshold.
I have found two places where I feel especially close to God. One is a Methodist chapel, used only three or four times a year now, but quite old. The second was an Episcopal Church in Waco, TX, also quite old. I’ve also had this sensation of closeness to God in several ancient churches in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
As a chaplain at University of Rochester (New York) Strong Hospital, a 750+ bed institution, I have had the experience of that quiet, thin spot between Heaven and Earth in our Intensive Care Unit. All the beds are private with one Nurse for every pair of rooms. Sitting with a patient with a respirator working, monitors muted and family waiting, I can easily imagine a hush falling on both sides of “the curtain” as living and immortal wait for that holy transition. Later, after the room is vacated, and cleaned, that anticipatory hush seems to be part of the walls, of the building itself.
Thanks for the comments so far and Anne Watkins writes:
I’m fortunate enough to work and worship in one of those places, — where God’s kingdom seems pretty close — not perfect, mind you, but definitely close … and good
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT — http://www.stpaulsnorwalk.org and on FB: https://www.facebook.com/StPaulsontheGreen?ref=hl
And also from the States Jay Denne writes:
Thanks for sharing your blog. Recently, I was inspired by a passage from “The World is a Wedding” by A.M. Allchin to write about my “thin place” – a cemetery near an abandoned church, where my ancestors (descendants of immigrants from England and Scotland) once lived.
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And more thoughts are coming in (Thanks to all who are contributing)…
Bob Pierce, also from the US comments: “Holy Cross Monastery on the Hudson River in New York State has been one such place for me. The labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco is another.”
Diana Pyle adds: “Lindisfarne, Holy Island, UK., which I visited……Iona, which I would love to visit.”
And Bonnie Crawford: “The ocean…. Especially Cape Hatteras….at sunrise.”
And from the UK:
Peter Dryburgh comments: ” I find it remarkably easier to find a ‘thin place’ when out in nature or rambling in the woods – being in among Gods creation does that – opens both my eyes and heart to His wonder, but as I live in the city and dont get out very often, I find little spots where I can quiet down and find that same wonder, bang in the city, people watching, or quietly reading – it is often more of a challenge with the noise and bustle, but the noise and bustle can become our meditation with God in such places, well for me anyway!”
And how sometimes such places may be real but within us – this from Sarah Smith “Meditation and visualisation allow me to find a place of peace and tranquility. I picture a clearing in a forest. A couple of weeks ago, I was actually in a forest sitting by a pond the sun was shining. I could hear birds singing, hear the plops of fish jumping for their supper and see their ripples. Surrounded by Nature, yet solitary, in tune with the environment. That is a little piece of heaven that I was able to bring back to London with me.”
I have found several thin places in my spiritual journey.
Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, in Kansas City, Missouri , where I was ordained is a very peaceful, quiet place. “Old Trinity”, my parish in Independence, MO, was established in 1834, and is a very holy place; i feel such peace when I am in the nave or at the altar.
Cemeteries area also thin places. I remember taking my children to cemeteries when they were young. They’d ask what the names on the stones meant. “Every stone tells a story of someone who lived, and loved, and died,” I’d tell them.
Being with the dying is also a thin place. Too many times I’ve sat with someone, and when they take their last breath I quietly begin that wonderful prayer, “Depart, O Christian soul…..” and I feel Shekinah, the presence of God. Death is a holy time, and a thin, thin place where God is felt.
Sometimes the ‘thin place’ is in our mind and imagination and we can ‘go’ there in prayer – Diane Pyle writes to us: “.I knew all about Lindisfarne before I went there and I planned my whole trip to UK around visiting there. Yes, I had expectations and I was not disappointed. Regarding Iona – I do know a lot about it as it was the fostering “mother” of Lindisfarne, but I will not be able to go there…just read books. And that’s OK”