FMM 4 4 14 Thin Places
Considering that I have long been a fan of all things Celtic (an ancient Indo-European tribe that wandered from East Europe as far as the British Isles, and mostly settled in the wild country of Scotland, Wales and Ireland), it is strange that I had never heard of the phrase ‘thin places’ until recently. But I could immediately relate to the concept. There have been many times in my life that I have been forced to stop and gaze, amazed at the beauty of a place, humbled by the simple splendor of nature.
I remember many years ago on a ride through upper Manchester in Jamaica, stopping by the roadside. I walked to the edge of the road. In the foreground were neatly tended hillsides with rows of yam hills, bamboo supporting rods holding green leaved vines. Further away the mountains of north Clarendon unfolded. I felt as if I was at the top of the world. As I breathed in the view, trying to imprint it on my memory (photos never do these special places justice), a dreadlocked Rastafarian walked up to me and asked me: “You OK, miss?” I could only laugh and point to the view and say “I am just looking at this beautiful scenery.” The dread looked where I was pointing as if to say, what scenery?
Sometimes we have to be reminded of the thin places that are around us. We think we have to travel to exotic places and pay big money for the privilege of recognizing how fortunate we are. The other day I heard of a poetry competition announced, to think of a place in South Florida and write a poem beginning “This was where I…” and I immediately thought of the Everglades. It is said to be a rare place, a particular type of subtropical wetland filled with marshes, sawgrass, cypress pines and mangroves. It seems far removed from the manmade concrete jungle which surrounds it. Wander through the hammocks and spot alligators, egrets, herons and turtles. In the natural quiet you know you have found a thin space.
My visit to the Grand Canyon was another such place. With the immensity of the view, the endless undulations of rich red rock formations, I remember being speechless, unable to take it all in. I also felt as if I should be chanting psalms glorifying the creator of such magnificence. This was the spot where my father told me he had to turn his back on it and go eat an ice cream! Too much!
But mountains have always been extra special places to me. When driving through the mountains I see myself as a part of the organic landscape, and yes, when you stop and clamber on top of the rocks, you know you are that much closer to the divine, standing in that thin space. The phrase is such a beautiful description of the recognition of how fragile our life really is.
But thin spaces can appear in some of the special moments of life. When we are reminded of our mortality we are in that place, that space that prompts us to appreciate what we have right here and right now, for it can be gone in an instant. Whenever we have an event like a mass shooting (again, in the US it seems far too frequent), we are given the opportunity to remember that in a second life can change. The Buddhists teach that suffering comes from longing for life to be other than it is. For wishing for and holding on to things that can change in an instant. They warn against attachment, for material things can be lost. They remind us that the only thing certain in life is death, the only unknown is the time of our death. This reminder is not meant to depress you, but to make you hold on to the present, to truly appreciate today, this minute, these people in your life, for tomorrow is not promised, is not guaranteed.
With this at the front of your mind you can create your own thin space around you, carrying that reminder that life is precious, that we should show our love and gratitude daily, not just on those designated capitalist marketing schemes like Mother’s Day! Carrying that mindfulness helps you not to waste time in petty arguments, getting impatient with the shortcomings of others. It helps you to look for what is special in each person you meet, makes you recognize the beauty that surrounds you, makes you listen to the stories of others.
This morning I hope you can stop and pay attention to the thin spaces in your life, and stop and breathe them in. Even if your drive to work is full of stressed out rushing commuters, I bet there is a beautiful touch of color in the eastern sky, maybe a sliver of a new moon fading in the west. There may be a special cloud formation, or a flock of ibises flying in search of food. For those who are emerging from a particularly brutal and long winter, it may be those touches of spring that remind you that patience will eventually be rewarded. We must look for thin spaces, and when we do we will see them everywhere.
Chant a psalm people! Sing a song joyfully, and love this life you are living. This is all we can be sure of, with all its trouble and strife, there are still far more wonderful moments to enjoy.
Have a wonderful weekend family!