A Celtic definition of “Thin Places” has been passed down over time. They are places where the veil, which separates the physical world from the spiritual world, becomes very thin. Thin Places somehow help us sense spiritual presence. This veil definition may have roots in Jesus’ crucifixion metaphor he left for us in Matthew, Mark and Luke.
“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split…”
Matthew 27:50-52 (NKJV)
According to Jewish Law, this veil in the temple was there to separate the “people” side of the temple from the place where God dwelt, that place where no human could enter except the High Priest, and he could only do so once a year. But Jesus changed all of that. God of course is everywhere, and the Holy Spirit welcomes all responses to his open and no-veiled invitations.
In short, Thin Places are places which help us feel closer to God or his influences. They are places which nudge us so that we may calm our hearts and minds and prepare for God – who of course is already there. Our RRCB Sanctuary is a thin place for many of us, inside and out. So too is our Chapel and certain other RRCB rooms and grounds. Opening the Bible reveals a powerful Thin Place in waiting.
Fortunately, Thin Places are all around us. Ocean-side beaches are frequently Thin Places, particularly during a sunrise when observers may witness God’s creatures beginning their day. What a beautiful Introit. The awakening beauty is the choir and the silence is God’s sermon.
A number of years ago, I did an architectural study of Thin Places, seeking objective answers to how they engage with us so strongly. I discovered five clues. Two of the clues were very surprising, because those two powerful human place-engagement routes are customarily not taught in architectural schools. But they are in the heart of most of the known Thin Place sites.
Later I wrote a book about the five clues. I offer the following brief summary of those five engagement paths here for you, because such may help you discover Thin Places among us as places of very special spiritual preparedness. They may also nudge Glimpses of Faith for you as they have and continue to do for many others. Here are five ways I think Thin Places do that:
1 – Through History Density – Some Thin Places have many layers of occupant-place history. Others have brief ones. This clue is discernible as a function of three characteristics: (1) the number of people involved directly and indirectly at a place-event or events; (2) the length of time (layers of history) the event(s) took place; and (3) the human intensity (violence, death, etc.) in the event(s). Examples of history-dense places are ancient ruins, Stonehenge, Jamestown, Williamsburg, Richmond, many older college campuses, battlegrounds, Ireland, England, etc. One example may surprise you. Have you noticed the memorial flower clusters placed at what appears to be the exact locations of fatal auto accidents? Yes, the exact locations are important and are history-dense places where families of victims sense strong feelings of engagement with their lost loved one(s). The exact spot is where the loved one died. Perhaps one day quantum physics might explain the energy sensed at these history-dense spots by families and friends. If so, I believe we will also learn that this is a very similar energy that is present during prayer, particularly intercessory prayer.
2 – Through abundant use of Intrinsic Symbols – These are God’s symbols which have no human-story or cultured associations. They are symbols we react to intrinsically. Examples are light, the containment of space, color, shapes such as the circle, square, spiral, and lines which are diagonal, vertical or horizontal. The ratio of .618 to 1 is an ancient and important intrinsic ratio, often called the Golden Mean of proportion. It is abundant throughout God’s creation.
3 – Through limited use of Cultured Symbols – These are symbols which at one time were linked to a human story or meaning. The letter A is an example. When we look at the letter A we recall the grammatical meaning of that symbol and use it accordingly. That is possible because the story-meaning has been maintained by our practice through education and reading. Another successfully maintained story-symbol link is the Christian cross. When a Cultured Symbol’s story is not successfully maintained, the symbol loses it meaning and eventually it dies as a symbol. Most Thin Places I have examined do not rely heavily upon a large quantity of Cultured Symbols to trigger deep place engagement. They are instead often used as decorative media.
4 – Through Bio-Kinetics – This
engagement path recognizes human influence through place design as a result of professionally choreographed eye and body movements. This is similar to an artist guiding observers’ eyes through his/her painting, always bringing wandering eyes back to the intended focus or interest area of the painting, and holding it there as long as possible. It is much more complicated in three dimensions, but the goal is similar.
5 – Through Place Intention – While many place owners and leaders may not be aware of this clue, it is one of the most powerful of the five, in both positive and negative influences. Using this clue at the very beginning of place planning and design is a huge opportunity for facility owners, leaders, clergy and those in charge of mission statement accomplishment to weld that mission intent into the place design. This is evident in many ancient sites. Walt Disney also quickly saw the potential in this process and was a real pro at using it. Visitors to Disney World can clearly sense Disney’s genuine intent to continually entertain his guests. It is blended and woven throughout every building, plaza, event, shrub, costume, parade and program in the original Disney World sections.
I hope this helps you to discover the spiritual nurturing nature of Thin Places among your environs. One of them may be waiting to serve as your Mount of Olives or your Garden of Gethsemane, as they did for Jesus and his disciples. Following his example, we too might also serve as a Thin Place for others, revealing his highest intention – love.
by C. Page Highfill