Sunday, March 19, 2017

Seeking "Thin Places"

Hagia Sophia or Aya Sofya in Istanbul, Turkey. I wasn't expecting to cry when I entered this mosque that was formally a Byzantine church. But I did. The Chora, the little sister of the Aya Sophia overwhelmed me too. I lost my composure there, and had to exit for a few minutes so I wouldn't embarrass myself around the Japanese tourists. The Byzantine frescos and mosaics were sublime--truly a "thin place."

The ancient pagan Celts, and later the Christians, used a term called "thin places" to describe spaces and places that take us, even for a moment, to another world. They believed that heaven and earth are really only three feet apart, but in "thin places" the distance is even shorter. A"thin place" for them was the isle of Iona (now in Scotland)--a wind swept isle that brought them closer to a spiritual world--a place where they were transformed. I guess the ancient Celts understood they became better humans by going there. "Thin places" are where we are inspired, stirred, feel a tug and get a glimpse from another place. People all over the world seek "thin places" to enlighten them. Sometimes our daily world is so "thick" with confusion and murkiness. We all need to sojourn to "thin places"--whether it is faraway or even in our own home.

In a New York Times article, Eric Weiner writes of his travels and wanderings to "thin places." These are not usually high traffic touristy places. Or at least they do not have to be. With humor, Weiner states, "It is, admittedly, an odd term. One could be forgiven for thinking that thin places describe skinny nations (see Chile) or perhaps cities populated by thin people (see Los Angeles). No, thin places are much deeper than that. They are locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we're able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent. . . ." If we are as Alfred Lord Tennyson penned, "part of all the places I (we) have met," then it is important to find and linger in "thin places" as much as possible.

I have been to many "thin places" in this world. Many times I have been overcome by feelings or impressions, that this is indeed a light-filled place. Sometimes the stirrings come because of certain people who are with me. Other times I hear whispers of divinity in high rocky cliffs, aspen tress, expansive seas or deserts. Occasionally, it has been a place that I have sought to go to--like a temple or other places of faith. I am sure I have been in some "thin places" that have eluded me too--not realizing the illumination that resides there. And in times of grief or sadness, a "thin place" has added a layer of joy and light when clouds gathered in.

A "thin place" can be sought after, such as a person going on a pilgrimage. But also we can serendipitously bump into a "thin place"--sensing that it is a corner or pocket in the world where we need to be at that moment. They are sacred occasions, even if they last a moment. My husband, a physician, has related to me many times about being in a "thin place" in a hospital room. Virginia Hinkley Pearce explains, "A 'thin place' is ... where we experience a deep sense of God's presence in our everyday world. A 'thin place' is where, for a moment, the spiritual and natural world intersect."

Since my husband and I will celebrate our 33rd anniversary this month, I was reminded of when he invited me to a family reunion at a beach house in Balboa Island before we were dating--a "thin place" for us. I had been friends with him for a long time, but he was determinedly trying to change my mind. He wanted to be more than friends. As I walked in the gate of the outdoor patio that afternoon in Balboa Beach, I was unprepared for what was before me. His father, a WW2 veteran who had landed on D-Day and was blinded six weeks later, was playing the harmonica to his granddaughter, Christine. She sat there in her wheelchair, with a tender smile on her angelic face. I had never met Christine, but I had heard that she had cerebral palsy due to the umbilical cord that was wrapped around her neck at birth. The doctor had not realized there was another child when he delivered her twin minutes earlier.

Joseph and his dad playing music together long ago.
I remember coming to a halting stop when I entered the patio that day. There was a swelling love that was real and palpable in that space. I wiped a tear away. The tides of light were that strong. It seemed irreverent to proceed further so I just stood there and watched a blind grandfather who had never seen his granddaughter or any of his grandchildren or children, for that matter, play music to someone he loved. Upon hearing the music, Christine was calmed and happy. A serene peace filled the air in that "thin place." Perhaps it was in that moment my heart opened to my future husband. It is a sacred moment to me that transformed my life. I am glad the spirit of the music was not lost on me on that patio long ago.

Happy Anniversary! I am so glad I listened to the music on the patio that day....
Blogposts about home:
I believe the ancient Celts were right: we all crave a "thin place" or holy space to tarry for awhile. And perhaps, our home is the easiest place to start. That brief interlude or intersection of time in a "thin place" can jolt us into new awakenings that can transform us. Never underestimate an ordinary place, like a patio....

Here are a few "thin places" I have loved. What are yours?

The Teton Valley in Idaho, US--an endless place of beauty and revelation for me....  Post about the Teton Valley:

On a visit to India, my friend, Ashok, with his sister before her marriage. He gathered with his parents and sister to remember the last time as a family of four before his sister brought another person to the family. With all the rituals and traditions associated with Indian weddings, there are many moments of light. 

A favorite painting by Brian Kershisnik called The Sound of Books
Thoughts, ideas, words call out in "thin places." They bring sparks to our minds that make us more alive.

Jerusalem, one of my favorite "thin places."

My parents dancing at my father's 80th birthday party while their nine children and spouses looked on. Do they have grandkids? Just 55, that's all.... A blog that is a tribute to my parents:
The Prove Temple in Provo, Utah where my daughter was married last fall. So much love within those walls....  The Provo Temple was previously the Provo Tabernacle, built by Mormon pioneers. A fire destroyed much of the inside a few years ago, but with new construction, paintings, and stained glass windows, it has become a new sacred spot. 

Being with my family in Reykjavik, Iceland. Knowing that my ancestors fished and rowed those waters was like coming home to me.... Blogposts about Iceland:

Flatey Island, Iceland where my great grandfather was born. When I stepped on the small island that is only about a mile wide, I felt earth and heaven loosen its grip. Places where our ancestors lived are "thin places."
Music always brings us to "thin places."
Blog about music at home:
Elias lighting a candle at the Duomo Cathedral in Milan, Italy. The Duomo, the fifth largest cathedral in the world has the most statues and gargoyles. Six hundred years in the making, with 78 architects, it is an undoubtedly thin place. John Taylor once remarked when going in a cathedral in England, "If the Dark Ages were so dark, take me to them. I see so much light there."

On a recent trip to Milan, I was finally able to view the Last Supper. It was done by Leonardo Da Vinci from 14904-1498 in the Dominican monastery of Santa Maria delle Gracie. Each person's personality and character shone through on the beloved fresco. Art has brought me to many "thin places" in my life with artists such as Michelangelo, Monet, Caravaggio, Van Gogh, Gerrit von Honthurst, Pissarro, Durer, Rembrandt....
Blog about Italian art:

While in Milan, I was able to view Michelangelo's third pieta--one is in Rome, the other in Florence, and this one is in Milan. The master sculptor worked on this pieta for about 30 years, even in the final days of his life. When I walked in the room with this sculpture in the middle of the room, there were only hushed tones. The sculpture evoked a reverent mood to those who entered. Although his pieta in Rome was finished when he was 25, catapulting him to fame, this one he continually chiseled at in the last decades of his life. It was never finished. It made me think that in older years, we realize that the fast tempo of youth cannot be sustained. Although his vision for this pieta was never fully realized, it shows his constant bravado to shape it and bring it to life. I like the fact that Michelangelo never gave up his dream to have Mary hold up the standing Christ .

One of my tender times is watching my son with autism paint. It is a "thin place" where autism washes away, and creativity and joy enter his space. He is making aspen tree trunks.

Meet Miriam who I met yesterday at the Picasso exhibit here in Doha. Miriam has not been able to walk for seven years, but through her painting she still has so much cheer. Although she spoke little English, I was brought to a "thin place" yesterday meeting her. Her dogged determination to bring color to those around her with her personality and paintings inspired me. We were instant friends.
Last summer painting in my favorite barn with people who uplift and inspire me. Tresa, in the middle, would die of cancer a few months later. We all innately knew our time of "thin places" was ending with our dear friend. Thus, every moment was cherished. And now we know she will compress those spaces between heaven and earth just a little more often.  Blog about Tresa:     #creatingopenshearts


  1. Maryan I so enjoy your blog posts. "Thin Places", I love the image this phrase brings to my mind. One "Thin Place" for me is when I am standing beside one of my sisters at a very sacred place in the temple. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences. ❤Lou

  2. I haven't read your blog posts for awhile, but this title caught my eye and I'm glad I read it! I love the imagery of thin places. Some of them are quiet places, in the mountains, in my house, in the forest, the birthplace of Joseph Smith in Sharon,VT or the temple. Sometimes my running becomes a thin place. I have also found thin places when connecting with another person on something that really matters to them. I had the privilege of observing 5 births during my OB clinical and every time it was a thin place when that baby was born. Sometimes they are moments throughout a day for me like the day my Grandma died or the days my girls were born. Thank you for the opportunity for reflecting on thin places in my life, where I have felt God's love and a sense of peace.

  3. I think you know most of mine. So glad I got to share a few thin places with you along the way. Thanks, as always, for sharing.