Thin Places

This is the devotion I wrote for the Custer County Chief for Thursday, July 9, 2020. Thanks to The Chief for running weekly devotions from the pastors of the Custer County Ministerial Association.

Here’s a different view on the idea of thin places.

Where do you experience God most meaningfully and regularly?

My Protestant tradition has a tendency to disregard questions like this. We believe in a God who is everywhere always, and so, logically, anywhere we are is a place in which we can and do experience God. Right?

But as I’ve been reading the Book of Genesis lately, I keep coming across scenes in which a particular space is named with special significance. I’ve often read past these places and names, favoring the story’s plot development. And yet, God inspired scripture to reveal who God is and how to live in the presence of God, so these names must matter.

Turning through Genesis, we see people’s experiences of God at wells, rivers, mountains, and trees – see the oaks of Moreh and Mamre (Gen 12:6, 18:1). When Sarai’s Egyptian slave girl, pregnant with Abram’s child, ran away, “The Lord’s messenger found Hagar at a spring in the desert…on the road to Shur,” and she named that well “Beer-lahai-roi” – or Well of the Living One who sees me, or whom I’ve seen (Gen 16:7, 14, CEB). When Jacob awoke from a dream-vision, he named the place Bethel saying, “The Lord is definitely in this place, but I didn’t know it…It’s…God’s house” (Gen 28:16, 19).

In Genesis, places matter. The early Celtic Christian tradition spoke of “thin places” – places in which people regularly and meaningfully experienced God. Often these places became sites of prayer, worship, and even pilgrimage. They were places, like the teaching oaks of Moreh, in which people sought out God’s presence and instruction.

In Punk Monk, Andy Freeman and Pete Greig say, “[Sometimes] being in a place of sacred beauty can soften our hearts to encounter God” (loc 595, Regal Books, 2007). The named places of Genesis challenge me to remember, name, and return to physical spaces in which I experience God’s presence through prayer and community. And so I ask myself, and us, again: where do we experience God most meaningfully and regularly? May God guide us to our own thin places, where our hearts are most open to God. And there, may we be refreshed.

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