Being in a Thin Place

“Surely God is here and I knew it not! It is the house of God, the gate of heaven!” Jacob. 

George McLeod, the founder of the Iona Community, coined a phrase which has stuck in Christian speech. He coined the phrase “thin place” to describe those places that God seems to haunt, where the veil seems more fragile than usual. Many Christian people think of Iona, Holy Island, Wells and Glastonbury, Glendalough and the St David’s Peninsula as “thin places” – people have always been drawn to these places to pray, listen, watch. In our secular age, they are still drawn there – some to paint and some to write or just to be. Maybe you have a “thin place”, a place to which you feel drawn back, a place in which you feel enriched, enlarged or accompanied. For me, that place is East Suffolk, the countryside around Aldeburgh, Woodbridge and Orford, a magical, forgotten coastline with wide estuaries, alive with birds. There is a little candlelit room above the entrance to Blyburgh church that for me is both a “thin place” yet dense with a loving, quietening presence. I pilgrimage back there each year and sit in the silence, saying Thank you, thank you. 

I love the ending of the film “Life As A House”. The final shot is of the house the family have lovingly built at the top of the cliff above the sea. As the sun sets, the voice says “If you were a house this is where you would want to be built. On a rock. Above the ocean. Listening. Listening”. They had built a “thin place”. 

Perhaps you might explore whether you could create a “thin place” of your own. I knew someone who had a listening place at the top of the garden. She smoked a contemplative cigarette there 4 times a week. Another person I knew, whose life was full of grief and confusion and pain, had a crying place. She went with the dog to a stile across some fields and wept there. We can create “thin places” in our homes, places where we are quiet, listening spots. I have had for many years a small table with stones and candles in a corner of the study, the place I sit or kneel each day, listening, being there. 

Because, of course, the spiritual journey is about learning to be ourselves a “thin place”, a place where others will find themselves listened to, met with compassion, received with mercy. Jesus was a “thin place”. He was the place where all the love of God broke through. We are called to learn to be like him. 

Tim Marks