Recently, I went to Ireland looking for ‘thin places, as part of study of Celtic Church spirituality. The Celts held that the eternal and the temporal were separated everywhere in the world by a mere three feet. And in some places, the distance between was thinner still. They were aware of – and sought thin times and places at holy wells, in ancient monasteries, on the boundary of water and land, in the daily sunset and sunrise, in the fighting-elements of changing seasons. In such sacred rhythms, times and places, their lives were endued with a sense of the Holy and the awareness of God’s Presence.
In the early days of my journey (pilgrimage: I wanted to be a pilgrim and not merely a tourist), I wrote of a ‘thickness’ perceived – of an enormous sense of being guided and protected by Providence. As I travelled, seeking out places, information and experiences, I was aware of both inner and outer direction and that both were the evidences of God being with me and going before.
Reflecting on ‘thick’ and ‘thin’ I pondered too about our time together in worship, as God’s People. In a properly-prepared Christian worship service, roughly contained within an hour and thus writ-small compared to the many hours of the week, perhaps we should see all that will be in essence present in all the ingredients of life, lived this week. The brief, but thick and profound bit about stewardship (taking up the offering, etc. and consecrating it and counting it carefully), should also be about our stewardship in all of life. And similarly, with moments of praise and prayer, in blessing, songs, confession, in preparing to hear the Word, hearing the Word, and responding, the brief moments should be pregnant with more than they can properly contain.
Similarly, I have found that my month of pilgrimage was as thick as a bouillon cube, ready for life’s gravy or hot-water, in essence including all of the concentrated aspects and ingredients of my usual days and weeks, but in which I am often too blind or busy to realize God’s presence, leading and care.
It was a thick month full of unexpected but so-obvious coincidence and ‘chance occurrences and encounters, in new places and with new people. For instance, I was invited and honoured to read the Gospel at Evensong in the hamlet from which came my fore-bearers to Canada in the 1840’s. The man who led the service ‘happened’ to be a good friend of a pastor acquaintance of mine, back in Toronto. Though far from home, among the billions of the world’s inhabitants and in this remote place, we met in worship and new friendship in the centred-thickness of that evening Service.
Indeed, the whole ‘thick’ month became a thin place and period of time. I was profoundly aware that there was not (and never is) much separating me from God’s love, nor from His presence and care. Through thick and thin, God is always, everywhere guiding and providing, watching over all things –lovingly ordering my concerns and pathways, and yours too.
Who has seen the wind, neither you nor I,
But when the sheaves are bending low, the wind is passing by.
(Canadian writer, W.O. Mitchell)
Julian of Norwich said that she was ‘just a feather on the breath of God.’ The Breath of God, for which we pray, comes flowing through us. Earth’s wind blows, as Jesus noted, and God’s Spirit too, imperceptible Breath but with discernible results. God is with us. Though unseen, He can nevertheless be known. No longer oblivious, I was for that time immersed in the obviousness of God’s Presence. I still sometimes want to laugh or sometimes cry, at the enormity of the Gift. And I want to remember that He is near, whether or not I myself am present or aware.