Kierkegaard once stated that life is best understood backward but must be experienced forward. I think this may be particularly true about travel. While I am not “globe trotter” by any definition, I can say that as I look back on the places I have been blessed enough to visit, it is clear to me that those places that left an indelible mark on my heart – those places I long to return to and hold a special place in my memory – are places where I felt inspired and at peace; where I felt as though the hold this planet had on me was not as strong as the connection I had to the home waiting for me in eternity. Such places, it turns out, have been identified for years and are known by the Celtics as “thin places”: places where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine.
Finding ourselves in these thin places does not necessarily lead to life-changing spiritual breakthroughs, whatever that may look like, but they can disorient us; confuse us. We can find ourselves jolted out of old ways of seeing the world and more readily accept the world as God sees it.
I believe many of us seek these “thin place” experiences over and over once we have experienced them and are often disappointed when we can’t find them again. We go back to the same place at the same time of year and day but somehow, it’s just not the same. The connection to something beyond us has disappeared and we can easily become disappointed with God as a result.
Thinking about these times of wonder and disappointments, I find myself wondering what is it that truly creates those amazing moments? Is it truly the place? Is it a rip in the fabric of time that is only visible at exactly the right time in the right place?
To me, I think that these moments occur not because of the physical location or time, but because of the condition of our heart at that moment; that we find these thin places in times when we are thoroughly focused on God and His will for us instead of being distracted by our personal wants and needs. I would go so far as to say that the “thin places” are times when we land on that narrow road that Christians and others of faith are called to walk upon.
That road is, as you have probably come to know, very difficult to find let alone stay on.
I personally imagine this road to be almost as narrow as a tightrope; a place we need to truly focus in order to stay balanced upon it and a place where, more often than not, we simply stumble upon rather than encounter purposefully. The forces of materialism and selfishness pull us from side to side and we tilt, stumble and often fall. But occasionally all the pieces fit together and we find ourselves centered, focused on God and His path for us.
We’re able to do this when we love as He does; love one another without boundaries, accepting all of the people God places in our lives for the individuals He created them to be regardless of their thoughts, beliefs, words or actions; when we love them despite how challenging they may be from our human, selfish and judgmental perspective. When we have those moments of truly loving those around us, the desire to get stuff or reach for the next rung on the ladder falls away and the distance between heaven and earth narrows.
Finding ourselves in those thin places is a gift to us from God; an intimate reminder that there is a purpose to our time here and a connection with Him that is both eternal and can be glimpsed here on earth. But as I mentioned previously, the harder we try to find these thin places, the more elusive they will likely become because our focus becomes skewed because we are no longer simply focused on God and finding ourselves in this special place, but focused on the experience. The thin place becomes more of a consumer event – a “what can I get out of it” time – rather than what it was originally – a “God thing.”
The thing we each need to remember – or at least I need to remember – is that in order to narrow the gap between heaven and earth, we have to focus purely on God and His will for each moment of our lives.
This is, to say the least, challenging.
We are fed a non-stop barrage of the things we “need” to be truly happy. It seems that no matter where you look, we are told our lives are empty, unfulfilling and a disappointment to us and those around us. We get caught up in the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality of having to make more money to buy the right stuff to fit in with the right people and live in the right place. It’s not just exhausting, but it is truly a never-ending process. The reality is there will always be someone else who makes more or has something that looks really cool or that lives in a house that is what we consider to be the epitome of success and continuing to focus on the things we don’t have not only takes our eyes away from God, it furthers the frustration, bitterness and anger that is so pervasive in our world today.
As people of faith, we need to remember to change our focus from the material to the ethereal. When we do this, we may indeed find ourselves in one of those special “thin places” more frequently, but even if we only find these places once or twice in our lifetime, working to separate ourselves from the worldly negativity and focus on reflecting God’s perfect love to those around us will keep the memory of these times alive and help us find balance in the more difficult moments in life.