I had never heard the phrase “thin places” until recently. I was talking with an acquaintance, who was describing a beautiful, magical place she visited in the mountains where she had something of a spiritual experience. “It was one of those thin places,” she said. “You know?”
I didn’t know, but I pretended I did. I got the gist, even if I hadn’t heard the phrase. I turned the phrase over in my mind for a while, and then I forgot about it.
A few weeks later, someone on Facebook wrote and posted pictures about visiting a “thin place.” That’s weird, I thought. Maybe I should Google what that actually means. But I didn’t. I turned the phrase over in my mind a bit. And then…you know…I forgot about it.
A new friend introduced me to a music duo I’ve become obsessed with called “Lowland Hum.” I downloaded their album a week or so ago, because I particularly loved their songs “In Flight” and “Palm Lines.”
So imagine my surprise when I download the album entitled “Thin” to find a song called “Thin Places.” Yeah. THAT happened.
But guys. I still didn’t look it up. I just kinda “whatevered” it and filed it under random things that happen to me.
Meanwhile, over the past several weeks I seem to be collecting profound and spiritual experiences that are changing and molding and shaping me and my life. And, in the midst of this strong trajectory of change, I also keep having these moments of clarity and stillness in amazing places.
Last weekend, I attended a beautiful yoga retreat on the Eastern shore of Maryland with some really beautiful people. As I sat in meditation, it felt like I could somehow become softer, go bigger, connect more vastly with what is. I wondered, briefly: is this what’s meant by a thin place? Driving home, I listened to that song over and over as I was driving over the Bay Bridge, trying to figure out what it meant.
I think I’m supposed to write about this now, I concluded.
When I got home, I meant to look up the lyrics but found, first, a link to an NPR article wherein the artists explain each track on their album.
And here’s what they say about the song “Thin Places”: “Thin Places” was written during a writing retreat on the eastern shore of Maryland at a property overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. When I wrote the central guitar part, it immediately conjured the imagery of tall grass fading in and out of focus on the edge of a body of water. Some of the lyrics recall strange instances in which something unexpected jolted me into hyper-awareness and gratitude. The song references Andrew Wyeth, who’s work seems to share a color palette with the clearings surrounding the Chesapeake Bay.
So basically? They wrote that song where I was. Looking where I was looking.
Bloody hell, Universe, I’m listening, okay? Stop it with the freaking theatrics.
So yes — I Googled the term to find a meaning. Apparently the concept originates from Celtic mythology and is the idea that in thin places the visible and invisible world come into closer contact; a place where the “veil” between Earth and an eternal world is “thin.”
Somehow unknowingly, thin places have always been an essential part of my existence. There was a particular spot by the stream in the woods when I was a kid that I swear felt different. I felt comforted, and comfortable, and peaceful there in a different way. There was the used bookstore that felt somehow holy in spite of the moldy books and junk they sold. The spot under the railroad tracks I like to hike to near my house now brings me to tears for no reason I can name. The labyrinth at the Bon Secours retreat center is magical. That particular place near the spring in Ohio had an energy I can still close my eyes and evoke, but have yet to feel anywhere else. I have collected holy places like rocks in my pocket. I know them to be essential to my well-being.
And – I am also an agnostic, and don’t believe in the “invisible” or “eternal” world or that there is some divine force that exists beyond the veil. And – being the enigmatic person I am, I love this concept. One doesn’t have to believe to know something to be true, apparently.
And that gets to the heart of what I’m sitting with these days.
One doesn’t have to believe to know something to be true.
I don’t believe, as the Celts stated, that thin places are places where we are able to come close to knowing or experiencing God as a separate entity. That old moldy book/junk store did not have a thinner veil between Earth and the divine realm somewhere between Judy Blume, the endless trashy romance novels, and the pink flamingos and plastic dog poop they sold. Believe me.
But the thing all of these places had in common – the spot under the railroad tracks, the yoga retreat, the place in the weeds by the creek as a kid, and even the nook amongst the mold and books – was that they were places I could unapologetically scrape off the layers and be. These places became thin because I was able to see myself more clearly. And then? It opened up so much beauty and breathing room.
We’ve all had these moments, right? When we feel we have been in a place where we could embody our skin, even if only for a moment? The feeling of getting to unburden your soul and leave the messy pieces out to dry in the sunshine while you bask in the weightlessness of setting everything down outside of yourself, even if just for a second.
Andrea Gibson, in “Say Yes” (my favorite spoken word poem ever), writes:
“This is for no becoming yes
for scars becoming breath
for fear becoming trust
for saying I love you to people who will never say it to us
for scraping away the rust and remembering how to shine
for the dime you gave away when you didn’t have a penny
for the many beautiful things you do
for every song we’ve ever sung
for refusing to believe in miracles
because miracles are the impossible coming true and
everything is possible…”
One doesn’t have to believe to know something to be true.
Let’s scrape away the rust and remember how to shine, beautiful people. One doesn’t have to believe to know something to be true. Just start scraping, and shining and making those thin places.
The world needs a thin place that looks just like you.