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Just over 10 years ago, our eldest child, Ami, was born. To mark Ami’s birthday, I’d like to tell you the story of the day that he came to live with my wife Phoebe and me. It goes like this:
It is the Celts who give us the language: Thin Place. The notion, however, exists in just about every culture that there is. A thin space is somewhere in which the divine is just under the surface of things, in which the barrier between the everyday and the numinous is especially permeable. The isle of Iona in Scotland is a famous example. For many of us, the inside of a church or a theater is another. A beloved camp or cabin might be a third.
In thin places, the conversation with God that we call prayer comes a little more easily. In thin places, there is a gentle invitation to relax into love and generativity and peace. In thin places, as a wise old friend once said, there is a burning bush around every corner.
Ten years. Ten years since Ami was born. Over these last few days, I have been remembering and wondering. Wondering if we might speak of encountering thin places not just in geography but also in experience. I have been wondering about the thin place (the thin experience, perhaps?) that was Ami’s birth.
Ami was born on a hot afternoon in our home in Vancouver, BC. He came fast. Phoebe and I had entertained thoughts of a water birth, thoughts of listening to Bach. But we didn’t have time to do much more than call the midwives and Phoebe’s Mom and sister. This child was in a hurry. The clock on the wall said that about three hours elapsed from when Phoebe’s labor began until our little boy was born. But for me, on that afternoon, time stopped moving in its usual fashion. On that day, two kinds of time intersected: the horizontal, within which we live our lives, and the vertical, within which God moves.
In that timeless instant of creativity, of possibility, of “yes,” I stood in a thin place and I caught a fleeting glimpse of eternity. I had what the folks in AA call a moment of clarity, a moment when the deep secrets of life danced on the tip of my tongue. If I could have pulled up the floorboards, I would have been able to reach down and touch the face of God. I’m not sure to what I may liken that experience. The closest analogy that I can think of is the big and hard privilege of being with someone when he or she dies.
It probably ought not to be a surprise that it was after Ami’s birth that Christianity, and the Episcopal tradition in particular, started to make sense to me. I had been to church perhaps a dozen times before that day. But after I stood in that thin place of new life, I suddenly yearned for church — yearned for its rhythm, its symbols, its practices, its beliefs, its community. I yearned them in order that I might have a structure within which I could respond to the deep wonder of his birth.
I’m curious. Where are the thin places for you? Are they somewhere that you can find on a map or with a GPS? Or, perhaps, do your thin places rest within the garden of beauty — in music, in literature, in an evening of laughter with friends? Or are they in experiences of big change, such as in the birth of a child? Or are they still somewhere else?
Where is it easiest for you to notice God? And in those thin places, what is it that the loving voice of God is whispering to you?