Guest Contributor Tony Acheson:
((I first started e-mailing things to interested readers here on MAG (in what was then known then known as “MAG e-zine”) in 2003 (see <http://www.geomancy.org/e-zine/index.html>), Back then, other geomancers wrote many of the articles. While Karin wrote a few of the initial pieces in this series of “Tip o’ the Week”, since then, I have written all of the Tips – until now. This was a sermon delivered earlier this month by my friend Anthony Acheson M.Div at his church, the Greensboro United Church of Christ, in Greensboro, Vermont, where I am presently sabbaticaling (if there is such a word. ; )
I am hyper-ecumenical, so I do not follow any particular religion, but among other connections with the One, Jesus is strong in my heart. This piece is a Christian take on the sacred spaces that I have made the focus of my work for the past forty-five years, so I am pleased that Tony has allowed me to post his sermon on... ))
The Power of Thin Places
By Anthony Acheson M.Div
on 1 August 2010
Reading: Psalm 27
A Thin Place In Vermont: Barr Hill
I have a musician friend who comes here to northern Vermont to play in one of our local concert series. He told me this week how important it is to him to be able to bring himself here amid the splendor and beauty of this unspoiled land each year. Despite the modest pay for performing, he told me that he keeps returning because of the profound restoration and renewal of energy that he draws from the lush aliveness of the rural hills and fields we are privileged to have draped around us. There is something about the colors of the plants and sky, the peace of the lake, the friendliness of the morning mists that brings him a kind of calm and healing that is precious and rare, and unavailable in the bustle of the urban or suburban areas where he has also pursued his career. City and country both have their role, of course, in the larger fabric of our lives. But there is something about huddling close to natural land in its original God-made version that provides us a form of food for our souls that is necessary and required for spiritual health.
Throughout history there have been specific places – such as, I believe, we enjoy here – which people have repaired to as unique access points to the spiritual world. The ancient Celtic peoples used to refer to such sites as ‘thin places.’ The Celtic thin places were special spots scattered throughout the British Isles – though they exist anywhere in the world -- where people sensed that there was only a narrow dividing line between this physical world and the spiritual realms that lay close at hand. These were places where people were empowered to experience deeper spiritual dimensions than may be found in the immediacy of their daily locations and preoccupations.
A Very Thin Place: Gallarus Oratory – a Celtic Christain Oratory
on Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry in south west Ireland
When Christianity became predominant, at least some of the Celtic Christians had the wisdom to keep alive these pre-Christian insights about thin places. They expanded the understanding to include not only ‘thin’ physical locations, but also what we might call ‘thin instants:’ instances when the spiritual dimension of things could be accessed and felt within the stream of human stories and events. Thankfully, the concept of thin places, eventually became included in at least some segments of the vocabulary of the Christian religion.
Alongside these special physical locations, there are also certain passages of the world’s great wisdom traditions, including our own Christian tradition, that can play a unique role in leading us into encounters with numinous powers. In her book, ‘Acedia and Me,’ Kathleen Norris has described the importance to her spiritual practice of reading, and re-reading, the psalms. Those ancient Hebrew poems and songs are resources through which she can consistently reconnect with Spirit, and rediscover the movings of God.
A few moments ago we heard one of those psalms. The words and images of Psalm 27 can be to us a kind of verbal thin place where human and divine meet in a beautiful closeness, as they say:
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; ?whom shall I fear? ?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life, ?of whom shall I be afraid? ?
Come, my heart says, 'seek God's face.' ?Your face O Lord do I seek.
Do not hide your face from me. ?
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord right here ?in the land of the living."
This psalm is a statement of spiritual confidence based on an ongoing and regular approach to God, and to the things of the Spirit. Psalm 27 happens to be only place in the Hebrew Scriptures [what Christians often call the Old Testament] where God is referred to as ‘the light.’ This is interesting and significant because the image of God as light is one that Jesus, and the New Testament generally, put a major focus on. We are told in the gospels that, ‘God IS Light.’ Jesus says of himself, ‘I am the light of the world.’ He also speaks to those around him and tells them, ‘You are the light of the world.’ When he taught he cautioned people to safeguard, ‘the light that is in you,’ and urged people to become, ‘sons [and daughters] of light.’ The fact that this 27th Psalm is the only place where the metaphor of God as light is used in the Hebrew scriptures; and the fact that Jesus made considerable use of this metaphor himself, would suggest that Psalm 27 was likely one that Jesus knew well, and one that may well have had a formative influence on his spiritual education, and on the development of his thinking and teaching. Psalm 27 may well have been one of Jesus’ scriptural ‘thin places.’
The theologian Dorothy Bass has drawn attention to one set of question we sometimes ask each other, such as: ‘How was your day?’ To ask, ‘How was your day?’ is a different question than, ‘How are you?’, which is highly routine and usually calls for a formulaic response, such as, ‘I’m fine;’ or, ‘I’m OK.’ But the question, ‘How was your day?’ is one that invites a more considered response. It invites an actual description of something that happened during the day, as well as how that affected us, or how we responded. ? Dorothy Bass goes on to tell the story of a mother she knows who has quite a different way of approaching that question. As she puts her kids to bed each night, their teeth brushed and their hair still damp from the bathtub or shower, she asks them this question: "Where did you meet God today?" And they tell her, one by one: ‘a teacher helped me;’ ‘there was a homeless person I saw in the park;’ ‘I saw a big bush with lots of flowers in it.’ And then mother shares with them an example of where she may have met God that day. Before the children drop off to sleep, the stuff of their day has become the substance of their prayers. And the events of their day have entered into the possibility of becoming a thin place for them. When they are given the encouragement to interpret their experience through the lens of looking for God in its events, they enter a potential thin place. They enter a zone with the potential to feel God’s presence as something that is very near.
What this story reminds me of is that to seek out and access those unique access points to the Divine demands of us proactive discipline and practice. It requires repetition. It requires repetitive behavior. It requires the discipline of habituating ourselves into patterns of life-affirming action that help us learn to see spiritual presences that are always around us, but are waiting to be perceived. An awareness of thin places reminds us that God and the spiritual world are inherently close. This is an important truth to remind ourselves of often, given the widespread belief that many of us have been trained into, that God is a being who is removed and far off.
Today's words from Psalm 27 invites us to seek out an increasing closeness with the Divine spirit, and to re-discover in our own personal experience what it means to sense and feel and rely on the Divine Light. These familiar words of scripture describe one writer’s description from nearly 3 thousand years ago of a thin place, a place where God’s spirit is especially close, and specially to be found.
May the gifts of this table and today’s receiving of this sacrament of communion be the same to us today: a thin place, a transparent opportunity through which the presence of God and the love of the living Christ is known to us in richness and in reality. This we pray in the name of the spirit of God. Amen.
Sermon by Rev. Anthony Acheson
I return to Blighty (England) day after tomorrow, so my Tips should return to normal next week.
9, Bove Town
Glastonbury, Somerset BA6 8JE
p.s. I'll be teaching an intensive experiential three-part workshop on ArchaeoAstrology at the British Society of Dowsers Annual Conference on the weekend of 10, 11, & 12 September. It is filling up fast, but there are still a few slots available.
p.p.s. If you haven't seen it yet, you can still see pictures of Luther's Hill, my beautiful home in Greensboro, Vermont that I wrote about in my last mid-sabbatical Tip. You can find it on Facebook, and Search for <Luther's Hill Lonegren>.