By Justin Eisinga – A Rocha Manitoba summer worker alumni
Have you ever been somewhere that made you feel closer to God? Perhaps when you sit on the edge of a particular lake or river, or when you walk through a cemetery? This experience of heightened awareness of God is parallel to a concept that is at the heart of Celtic Christian spirituality called “thin places.”
Through the centuries, as Christendom interacted with Celtic people throughout Europe and primarily in Ireland, this concept has continued to develop into a vibrant part of Celtic Christianity. The Celts are a people who have always felt a close kinship with nature, experiencing the earth itself as spiritual. Today, the idea of “thin places” is one that I like to use to describe my encounters with God in nature.
There is this spot close to my parents’ home, along the Forty Mile Creek, that is a thin place for me. This creek is a part of the Lake Ontario Watershed and crosses through the Niagara Escarpment in Grimsby, Ontario. This geographic feature runs throughout Southern Ontario and has been designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve; it contains some of the oldest forest ecosystems in Eastern North America. Along the side of this creek sits a rock shaped like a chair, and every time I visit my parents I like to sit on this rock and pray.
What I mean when I describe this place as a “thin place” is that when I sit by the water trickling down towards Lake Ontario, the veil between the Heavens and the Earth is thin enough to feel the reality of God’s presence. In other words, when I go and sit by the creek, everything feels right again. Contemporary Christian poet Sharlande Sledge puts it this way:
“Thin places,” the Celts call this space,
Both seen and unseen,
Where the door between the world
And the next is cracked open for a moment
And the light is not all on the other side.
God shaped space. Holy.
I went to this thin place recently. It was Christmas Eve, and it was the end of a long, challenging, and lonely year. I was feeling discouraged, anxious, and deflated. It was strange to feel so tired and sad on Christmas Eve. Sitting in this place, I recognized that the creek split the forest in two, with one half filled with flashes of green and the other half covered in dormant trees and dying leaves. The creek created an in-between space; standing by the water, it all felt pregnant with some sort of Hope.
“God loves things by becoming them,” says Richard Rohr. These words came to mind as I felt hugged by two competing images of the forest; one preparing for the hibernation of winter, the other teeming with greenery, all of it alive with God’s love. In this thin place, I was reminded that the stories of Jesus serve to tell us that God is with us. Moments in places such as these lift the veil that so often blinds us from seeing and being with God all around us.