Spiritual Practices: Looking for Thin Places

I have actually written on this topic before but since I spent the weekend training spiritual directors it is renewed in my mind. We watched a video by Dr. Barbara Holmes the author of Race and the Cosmos, Joy Unspeakable, and Crisis Contemplation. She talked about thin places in a way that broadened my understanding.

We often think about thin places being geographical, like the isle of Iona in Scotland, the Camino de Santiago in Spain, or the Rift Valley in Kenya. These are places where people feel the veil between heaven and earth is thin, where it is easier to experience God.

I also have experienced thin places in nature like the ocean or the old growth redwood trees on the west coast.

Geography is one way to experience a thin place but there are other “breakthrough” places as well. For instance, when you are going through a very difficult time and God seems to carry you. Dr. Holmes mentioned the Hebrew story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were thrown into a fiery furnace but somehow found God there and escaped unharmed.

I’ve had some rather harrowing experiences where God felt very near even in the midst of my fear and distress. When my son went missing in the Army (don’t worry he is okay) I was terrified. I remember being so scared as I was  going on a walk and then seeing a double rainbow right over me, a promise from God. I came home to a letter from someone I’d met only once, who didn’t even know what I was going through, and she said she was just thinking of me and praying for me.

The little ways God breaks through in times of intense disorientation and pain are beautiful.

I was thinking about suffering as a thin place and realized that our whole world is suffering right now. Covid has brought us all to this time of disorientation and distress. Perhaps it can be a thin place if we look at it that way. Perhaps we can see God carrying us through by seeing the small miracles like rain, a phone call from a friend, or the companionship of a pet.

What is helping you through this time of disorientation and distress? Where have you seen God?

If you’re having a hard time perhaps listening to a mentor’s podcast or watching an uplifting movie will help. I find Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast, Magic Lessons, very encouraging. And, when I’m sad I watch Harry Potter. The themes of friendship, sacrifice, and bravery always lift my spirits. We need each other during this difficult time. We can pray for our own transformation, we can love our neighbors, we can grow in our love and connection to God.

Blessings to you my friends. We will get through this.

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Spiritual Practice: Using Your Gifts to Bring Hope to the World

In our small group last night, our leader asked, “In the midst of all the chaos and pain, how do people of faith bring hope to the world?”

This led to a lively discussion which covered many topics, but the golden nugget of truth seemed to be that yes, we continue to fight for justice in a broader sense, and in a practical, day to day way, we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in the spheres in which we live.

Two members of the group work with at-risk youth; another runs a county program to help people with rental assistance. Yet another member runs a program for kids with behavior issues, and one is a retired man who spends his days caring for people who need help with repairs or shuttling grandchildren. We all have places where we can bring hope. We all have gifts we can offer that make the world a better place.

You might garden and share your produce with neighbors. You might have a car and take a neighbor shopping. You might bring baked goods to a lonely widow. Each of us, using the gifts we have, can bring our little light of hope and together we can light up this very dark world.

As one man in the group said, looking at history, there have always been dark times. Dark times bring out those who not only survive but thrive. Think of the faith of the black church, or that of immigrant populations. Those are the ones who will show us the way out of this dark place.

Phyllis Tickle, in her book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, talks about looking at this issue historically. When you look at history, you will see that every five hundred years, God throws a yard sale, to shake up the church, to break off the man-made calcifications and renew faith. We are in the middle of a shaking that is hard, but necessary. Christianity needs to return to it’s “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God root.” — And to step away from this ridiculous political mess it got itself tangled in.

So, what gift do you bring that you can press into during this dark time to bring a little light of hope to the world?

For me, it’s writing. In her amazing book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes:

“We may not have wings or leaves, but we humans do have words. Language is our gift and our responsibility. I’ve come to think of writing as an act of reciprocity with the living land. Words to remember old stories, words to tell new ones, stories that bring science and spirit back together…”

This is why I write. On my website, the tagline reads, “Infusing Reality with Hope.” Most all my stories have some dark issue of justice but end with hope. It is my desire that through my blog and books, I can bring my little light of hope to the world. Will you join me?

Tell me what gifts you are pressing into during this dark time.

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