I first heard someone use the phrase “thin place” a few years back at a Montreat Conference. I had not thought about that phrase before, but during my entire time in Montreat – and on each subsequent visit – I became more and more enthusiastic about this notion of “thin places.”
As I understand the term’s use, “a thin place,” describes those unique places in our lives where the boundary between heaven and earth is especially thin. It’s a place where we can sense the divine more readily. I would go so far as to say we even have “thin moments” in our lives, like our wedding ceremony or watching the birth of a child.
Whether it is a thin place or a thin moment, the intimacy with God is extraordinary. The barriers that seem to separate heaven and earth evaporate and perhaps, just maybe, the stage is set to allow God more deeply in. Perhaps these places and moments help create an environment that allows for life-transforming experiences to take place.
I am certain that there are hundreds of thin places for each of us, but I want to share two of the most amazing thin places that I have had the blessing of experiencing. Most recently, I helped to lead a group of 22 youth and adults on our journey to attend the 2014 Montreat Youth Conference. I arrived in Montreat full of the normal anxiety that any leader might have. I wanted to make sure we traveled safely, we were ready to register properly and I wanted the participants (especially our first-timers) to enjoy their time at my favorite thin place.
A few days later and this amazing place softened hearts, opened minds, and the Spirit was present. An amazing sense of calm came over me and I was able to watch as our group transformed into young people excited to be in Montreat, able to embrace new relationships, and speak of God and their relationship with Him in a different and authentic way.
For me, many things stood out as special moments from our time at the Youth Conference. But the words of the Keynote leader – that what you reach for has everything to do with what you are rooted in – resonated deeply with me. What I realized is that I like what I reach for when I am around dynamic young people, excited adults, and Montreat. I like what I reach for when I see a young person question his or her faith and instead of discarding those feelings, embrace the possibility that God is at play in his or her life. The bottom line is that I like what I reach for when I am in a “thin place.” My time in Montreat once again helped center me and equipped me with the tools I need to step back outside the gates of this wonderful place. It is truly a gift that I wish everyone could experience.
I discovered another one of these special places during a recent trip to Jordan. During this business trip, I took some time to visit the Jordan River Baptismal Site of Jesus. This protected region of Jordan is truly holy ground. John the Baptist walked the region. There were churches from different denominations built in this preservation area. As we visited the site believed to be where Jesus was baptized, I sat along the old riverbed and a slight breeze blew through the hot arid air. I looked up and saw two or three doves flying in the sky against a bright blue backdrop. We walked down to the river bed and I saw countless Christians being baptized in the waters – some from the Jordanian side of the river and some from the West Bank portion of the river. It was a site I will never forget. As we walked back up the path to where our vans were parked, I saw the bell tower of The Orthodox Church of John the Baptist.
There, sitting in the window of the tower, I saw a white dove perched. I stared at the dove and a second one flew up and landed next to him. For that brief moment in time, I felt like I might be walking and experiencing one of the thinnest places I have ever had the privilege of visiting. There was no doubt in my mind or body that God was present at that place, at that time.
I believe there are many thin places in our lives. Whether you visit a biblically historical site or you find yourself in the mountains of North Carolina – I hope we all keep our eyes and hearts open for those unique places (or moments) where the boundary between heaven and earth is especially thin. It is truly a gift to experience them.