In the recent BBC series The Pilgrimage, seven celebrities (although I’d only heard of one of them) walked the Pilgrim’s Way in North Wales. Along their journey, they discussed many aspects of spirituality and belief, and displayed both understanding and vulnerability (although the programmes were notable for the absence of significant questioning and criticism).

In one discussion, one of the participants suddenly realised that Jesus wasn’t fictitious but had been a real person (which, as one commentator observed, raises the question for the church as to how they had got to 35 without being told that before… and that it took a Muslim to do so). On another occasion, they visited a church at which we attended a bi-lingual service a couple of years ago and met the same vicar: a lovely reminder for us of such a beautiful part of the world.

Two or three times in the programmes, the pilgrims encountered ‘a thin place’ and a couple of them were clearly moved by such occasions.

The concept of a thin place is generally acknowledged to find its origins in Celtic Christianity. That development of Christian belief and the church that existed in the British Isles at the end of the second and beginning of the third century AD.

A thin place is generally recognised as somewhere where the Spiritual atmosphere of a location makes it easier to connect with God, almost as though there is no barrier between heaven and earth. For the television pilgrims, these were places at the top of a hill or where the horizon gave the perception that there was little space between earth and sky. For me, one such place is a bench atop the highest point of a hill at the retreat centre at Sheldon.

Other such encounters may be found in churches or similar buildings were the prayers and worship of hundreds of years seem to held in by the walls, creating a holy atmosphere. We may also experience that peace of God or similar feelings in unexpected thin places – sat in a shelter at the seaside, for example.

Perhaps there are thin places you have been to.

 

In a recent post I mentioned one of the great Christian writers of the 20th century, CS Lewis. In this one, I want to mention a writer about whom we know very little, not even their name. But their work ranks alongside many of the other spiritual classics.

The Cloud of Unknowing was written in medieval English in the 14th Century and is essentially about contemplative prayer and has led to the development of ‘Centering Prayer’ and other such approaches.

A thin place

The anonymous writer suggests that this ‘cloud of unknowing’ not only exists ‘betwixt thee and thy God’ but is a place in which we are to abide. A thin place, if you like. A place where, as one American writer put it, ‘This Unknowing is, paradoxically, a kind of knowing by not knowing. As the author asserts: “We can not think our way to God. He can be loved but not thought.” So, we dwell in a not-knowing (or claiming to know more than we possibly can) of God.’

It is in such places, in these times of not knowing, that we can often come to know or experience God even more closely. A place in which we cannot touch God but a place in which God can touch us.

 

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