Musings From The Manse: Summer 2010
It’s been an interesting few weeks! As you read this I will just have had two weeks of holiday interspersed with a Minister’s Retreat on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne – and as I reflect on my experiences, I realise how fortunate I have been in coming into contact with some of Earth’s ‘Thin Places’.
‘What is a thin place?’ you may ask! In the Celtic tradition it is place that gives us an opening into the magnificence and wonder of God – and there is a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller.
A thin place, then, is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God. Contemporary poet Sharlande Sledge gives this description:
“Thin places,” the Celts call this space,
Both seen and unseen,
Where the door between the world
And the next is cracked open for a moment
And the light is not all on the other side.
God shaped space. Holy.
It is no wonder that thin places are most often associated with wild landscapes – and one such place I found was at the top of Helm Crag at Grasmere.
We were staying in Ambleside, thanks to a Christmas gift from our eldest son and daughter-in-law, Dan and Lowri. After a particularly ‘full’ Lakeland Breakfast, Colin and I agreed that we should go out for a walk. It was a lovely day – so with guide map duly purchased – we set out on one of the ‘short’ walks suggested – only 3 miles! The trouble was that most of it was vertical!
Despite the fact that my body may have indicated otherwise, I did not have a coronary – and though it may have taken us a couple of hours, we did reach ‘The Lion and The Lamb’ (a rock formation at the summit). Once I had got my breath back, I sat amazed at the wonderful view, and contemplated the forces of nature which had shaped the landscape. This truly was a ‘thin place’.
Coming down was possibly more difficult than going up – and the muscles in my legs certainly made their presence known the following morning, when I tried to get out of bed.
Other ‘thin places’ were found on the route between Ambleside and Ravenglass, when we took the Wrynose Pass and Hardknott Pass – a car journey I will not forget for some time! As Colin commented – ‘we should come up here more often’ – to which I agreed. How about we all meet up there for worship one Sunday morning!!!
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is another of those ‘thin places’, but not because of the sweeping grandeur of the mountains. A first time visitor to the island, and staying at the Lindisfarne Hotel, I found that once the tide came in and the causeway was closed, there existed a sense of solitude and quietness in which you could palpably feel the presence of God. Even the multitude of birds and seals (sadly didn’t see any puffins) which love to make their presence known, didn’t detract from this. And there is definitely something to be said about living in a place where life is determined by the incoming and outgoing tide.
I suppose the challenge for me now, and for all of us for that matter, is to find the ‘thin places’ that exist in my day to day life! Happy searching!