The Thin Places
There is a passage in the Quran that informs Muslims that Allah is closer to humans than their jugular vein.
In Japanese Buddhism there is a wonderful understanding that is summarized in the concept of “yugen”: there exists the possibility in one’s life to experience the collapse of the mundane (physical world) into the divine (spiritual realm). That is, the dualistic nature of understanding disappears and one experiences the oneness of all things. It is often a depiction found in ink wash paintings.
Spiritual teachers living in India talk about the experience of the “still point,” a place in experience when one recognizes that one sits in the place of stillness that is found at the core of existence.
The Jewish hymn writers in the psalms claim that Yahweh surrounds one from behind and before. There is no place one can go that Yahweh is not.
This brief survey of some of the world’s great religions is simply to indicate that for most religious traditions what lies at the core of the tradition is not an adherence to a code or set of rules but the understanding that if one seeks a path and follows that path one might come to the experience where one finds the “divine” nature of self and all others.
To do so is to discover that the “divine” dwells within and that one dwells within the “divine.” And if this is a truth for one (me) then it is quite possibly the truth for all.
The path of most traditions that I am most familiar with includes a practice of meditation and prayer in their many forms. I was trained in meditative, or contemplative, prayer as a teen and I continue to be sustained by this practice. It is quiet. It is focused. It is about me.
However, the ancient christians in Ireland invite us to see nature, and/or a geographic location, as being a “practice” which can lead to a similar experience, that of falling into the divine or having the divine fall into us. These teachers talk about the veil, that very thin boundary, that separates us in this life from seeing the presence of the divine all around and in everything. They claim that there exist geographic locations at which we are able more easily to step through this veil, this barrier, and enter into the realm of the “divine.” A portal of sorts. They are called by the Celts, “thin places.”
For me such a place is the Holy Isle of Iona.
It is a place to which for centuries pilgrims have traveled in order to experience the “divine.” It is seen and experienced as a place where one can more easily step through the veil, which is very “thin,” and walk into the presence of the divine and come to know that the “divine” dwells within one as one “dwells” within the nature of the “divine.” It is a place that allows one to know Allah as being closer to one than one’s jugular vein; a place where dualistic thinking collapses; a place where one sits in that stillness before the mystery of creation; a place where you begin to understand there is no place one can go that Yahweh isn’t present.
Iona is one of those geographic locations where the veil is thin. But, the very truth of the traditions noted above is that any and every place can be a “thin place.” For if the “divine” is that present then the “divine” is that present.
That is why over the years I have listened to people share their experience of having had “something happened” when they climbed that mountain, or watched that sunset, or floated in that river, or gave myself to the warm desert wind, or saw a flower, or smelled a rose, or stood on the corner of that busy intersection, or heard the laughter of friends, or lived in community, or fell in love, or…