The brilliant Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “The world is in truth a holy place.” He was echoing the words of the prophet Isaiah who wrote, “the whole earth is filled with God’s glory.” God’s presence and glory can be perceived anywhere if we have “eyes to see and ears to hear.” Yet it is clear certain places, people and things help us tune into the reality of God’s presence more easily and directly. Even Jesus regularly sought out particular types of environments to pray, re-centre and re-charge. He typically chose remote places of solitude in nature (wilderness, mountains, gardens, lakesides, etc.)
Most Christians have encountered at least one place or person that mysteriously opened them up to God in a unique and profound way. Certain objects also become thin places for many. For instance, the Bible has become a thin place for me. It has been helpful to let go of my childhood view of Scripture and approach it as a “thin place” that enlivens my connection with God.
Discovering thin places that empower us to tune into the Divine Frequency are important for our faith and spiritual development. However, one of our primary callings as followers of the way of Jesus is to become “thin places” ourselves. When we are “thin” together in the context of community, remarkable things can occur.
As a child I came across an account in 1 Samuel chapter 19 that made a lasting impression. In this story King Saul had decided to kill David because he was a threat to Saul’s throne. Saul heard that David was hiding near Ramah with Samuel and a “school” of prophets so he sent armed guards to go and arrest David.
When they arrived they found Samuel and the prophets in a spiritually animated state. The presence of God’s Spirit was so intense that it overcame the armed guards and they too began worshipping, praying and prophesying.
When Saul heard what happened he sent another company of armed guards and they too became overwhelmed with God’s presence when they arrived and joined the worshipping community. It happened yet again, with a third company of armed guards.
Finally the frustrated king went himself to arrest David. When Saul approached the gathering of prophets in Ramah, the Spirit of God came upon him and he also fell into an animated spiritual state. The Bible says he stripped naked and lay at Samuel’s feet prophesying all day and all night.
What struck me as a child was how powerfully contagious this spiritual gathering was. How amazing that an assembly of praying prophets became such a thin place that unwitting passersby were overwhelmed with the presence of God and began participating in the worship! As I youngster I wanted to experience a church gathering like that! I still do.
Now I’m not implying this ought to be the norm for churches today, yet there have been a number of spiritual movements in different parts of the world since the dawn of Christianity that affirm this can and does happen.
I believe God’s intention for Christ communities is for us to be thin places. Perhaps more subtle than the gathering of prophets in 1 Samuel 19, but at the very least a gathering where the spiritual awareness, curiosity, hunger and sensitivity of everyone is enflamed.
Here are a few examples of communal experiences I’ve shared in that I believe became thin for everyone present:
- When a group of us met weekly to simply and silently be present with God for an hour.
- When a church decided to stop over-scripting our worship gatherings to flow in an “appropriate” and orderly manner and instead be guided by our attentiveness to God’s activity in our midst.
- When a multi-faith group I helped facilitate stopped dialoguing for one meeting and prayed together instead.
- When members of a small group I participated in stripped off our outer garments, like the prophets and Saul did in 1 Samuel 19, shedding our facades, personas and pretense and became “naked” (authentic and vulnerable) with God and one another.
I’ve reached a broad and rather generous understanding of “thin place” to mean any place, person or thing that animates or enlivens our spiritual awareness, curiosity or sensitivity. My hope is our churches will become increasingly thin places for us and the people around us who still haven’t found what they’re looking for.
Troy Watson is pastor of Avon Mennonite Church in Stratford, Ont. (email@example.com)