A Thin Place

The old Celtic Christians had this idea of ‘thin places’, places in the world where the veil between heaven and earth (which they supposed to be three feet apart) was particularly thinned, with heaven trickling through the veil so that one could experience and feel the presence of God more tangibly there than other places. The more I have thought about it, the more I think there is something to it and this past weekend I caught a glimpse of just what the Celtics were getting at.

This past weekend Alex and I drove up to the Central Coast to go to a wedding of an old friend in San Luis Obispo. The Central Coast has a special place in my heart for various reasons: I love the openness of the landscape compared to Southern California, I love the rolling hills, green or golden depending on the season, sprinkled with gnarled, ancient looking trees, I love the clean air coming off the wild ocean, colder and more dangerous than the waters down south. I have countless childhood memories of Morro Bay and Cayucos, so many they tend to blend together into a distinct ideal, a particular picture with a tangible atmosphere.

The ‘thin place’ (if I may be presumptuous) I’m referring to is an old house on a dry grassy hillside in Cayucos overlooking the ocean. This house belongs to Bill and Lois Roark who have been family friends my whole life. They knew my dad before any of us, before my mom even and my dad reckons he has spent 1/20th of his life at their house on the hillside. The memories I have of the house are a bit spotty: spending time in their old redwood hot tub, or picking the blackberries which grew under and along the deck with my sister, watching the surf come in silently below, seeing dark shadows of owls and other nighttime creatures in the evening, but mostly I remember how beautiful and calm I always felt. Something about looking down at the ocean, or up the hill watching random deer or cows grazing, filled me, even as a child with a deep sense of God’s peace.

Going back this past weekend, I experienced the same thing, and as I sat around the lunch table listening to conversation I looked around the house and noticed it hadn’t changed a bit. Bill and Lois have lived at the house for 40 + years and have loved God in it for that time. I believe the fact God has been worshiped and glorified there for so long has left a spiritually tangible mark, one that is easy to miss but not really hard to find if you are looking for it. The house has a palpable tranquility, despite the fact conversation volume tends to be near yelling levels since Bill and Lois are in their mid 80’s. But for me it goes beyond the mere tranquility of the surroundings and ventures into stranger and harder to describe territory. The best word I can think of is depth. The house has an unexplained spiritual depth, a sense that God is not far off, like you could go sit out on the deck and you’d be closer to him than you ever have, like you could hear his voice, soft but clear and he would have a conversation with you like he has with many over the years. I wonder how many times Jesus has comforted someone on that deck, spoken words of encouragement or calling, shared the sorrow of a deep loss or the joy of new life, or simply sat and watched the sunset.

I’ll admit, I’m not sure if the sense I got had more to do with my own family history there or something else entirely, but there was no mistaking the sense of God in that place. I think places like that have marks, residual reminders of the glory of God, of the many prayers uttered and answered, of mornings when the presence of Christ was a quiet comfort and of the days or nights when the beauty and wonder of Jesus was overwhelming, those moments when heaven didn’t merely trickle through the veil to earth but burst through it like a river. Something of heaven remains, subtle but present nonetheless and it is up to us to find those ‘thin places’ and simply be. Be silent, be overwhelmed by the peace of God, be open to the whispers of Christ, and be fully yourself in the quiet presence of the Creator.

Read more