James’s Blog: Thin Places.

I believe in Thin Places. I have two favourites. One is old and one is new. One is inside and one is outside. One is here and one is there.

Canterbury Cathedral is old, at least in terms of this country and its identity. It’s been rebuilt several times over the years, but for nearly one and half millennia it has been a site set apart for the service and worship of God. As you wander around it, you can be thinking about the excesses of the established church, the corruption and insipidity of the Anglican faith at its worst, but why should you not be awed by this building? By the size and the beauty. By the devotion that its construction required. (The idea that God cannot be glorified by good old fashioned ingenuity and hard work is nonsense by the way). Even in this enlightened day and age, hundreds of visitors are daily looking at stained glass windows and reading Renaissance graffiti. There is something special here. Fifteen hundred years of prayer and song and liturgy? That has to leave a mark.

I will stroll down into the crypt and amble to the Chapel of St. John. I may pause to look at the prayers that people have written to be placed on the altar. I will sit and look at the window that shows the harlot drying Jesus’ feet with her hair. Even though there may be tourists, I can be silent and listen. I can meet with God. Fifteen hundred years of prayer and song and liturgy, and I add mine to become part of something greater than myself. A blink of the eye for God, but an eternity of praise.

The second place is on the other side of the world. On a small farm on the Belubula, in a place called Canowindra. Many of you won’t have heard of it, or of a missionary couple named Ian and Irene, who gave part of their farmland over to Cornerstone. Over forty years ago they planted a grove of poplar trees on that farm. I believe that the plan was for the trees to be sold for matchsticks. That was the plan, but those trees are still there, dead and dangerous, and still very flammable. But that grove has seen more than twenty years of prayer and worship and weddings. I have been involved in all three. Australia is a beautiful country, yet so alien compared to England’s green and pleasant fields, and I have sat in the silence of that grove on many a summer morning. I have shed tears and sang songs. I have sat with kangaroos and sheep and birds. I have heard God in some very specific ways, and He and I have wrestled in that place many times. He usually won, but not always.

Thin Places, the Celts called them. Places where the boundary between this life and the next is worn and frail and the freshness of the Kingdom bleeds obviously into the mundane beauty of this world. These places are real, and so is the God who can be found in them.

4 thoughts on “James’s Blog: Thin Places.

  • July 28, 2016 at 7:42 pm
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    I believe in them too.I find Lindisfarne to be one,I love it.I also(and perhaps this is strange)find Pearl to be one.She seems to be very close to God,in a way that I can’t really understand,being with her is like visiting Lindisfarne. Maybe her school is too,it actually feels like being in heaven.Very mysterious and not at all in line with my fervent belief in science,but there we are.

  • July 29, 2016 at 8:20 am
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    This is one of the most poetic blogs you have written James and from where I am (both physically moribund in Haywards Heath) and occasionally struggling, it speaks loudly to those quiet places of retreat.

  • July 29, 2016 at 8:28 am
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    Cleeve Abbey, which is near Washford in Somerset, is a ‘Thin Place’. I had a very special (and completely unexpected) encounter with God there in the summer of 1991. I love the notion of ‘Centres of Christian Excellence’ and in its heyday this was such a place.
    And I’m sure the honey mead they used to brew was pretty knockout as well.

    • July 30, 2016 at 7:17 am
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      Thanks for all the comments. I like to hear about all the places where God shows up in our lives. I have another half-written blog post about sacred spaces, but it’s more of a rant at the moment and needs a lot of work before it’s ready to be released into the wild.

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