The contemplative trend continues to surface in Mennonite publications, as recently shown by a two part article called Moving thinward in the Canadian Mennonite by Troy Watson. It’s about ‘thin places,’ believed by some to be places where we can feel God’s presence more readily because the barrier between the spiritual realm and the material is thinner than in other places. Another article about ‘thin places’ was recently published in the MB Herald, called Find Yourself a Thin Place this Christmas.
Could this growing interest in Celtic spirituality and thin places be the fruit of a concern back in 2007 about Lilly Endowment grants that were being given to congregations and their pastors? These grants for pastors to go on sabbaticals with contemplative/emerging overtones have been as recent as 2012.
“. . . according to the Lilly Endowment document that lists the winners of the 2012 grants, pastors will:
. . . seek to regain spiritual vitality through the ancient Christian practice of walking as pilgrims in several countries—the path of Jesus in Israel, the path of the Exodus, some or all of the 500-mile Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) in Spain, the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul in Greece, Turkey and Italy—and making retreats in Benedictine monasteries, walking the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral, and living in sacred space on the Isle of Iona and other Celtic spiritual destinations.
Winners represent various denominations including Southern Baptist, Independent, Presbyterian, Reformed, Episcopal, United Methodist, Lutheran, Nazarene, Evangelical Free, and Mennonite.”
SOURCE: Question to the Editor: What’s Up with Lilly Endowment – Funding Pastoral Sabbaticals with a Contemplative Agenda
Whether or not Troy Watson’s recent visit to the contemplative community of Iona was due to a grant, he writes that he’s always been drawn to environments that evoke ‘a sense of sacred space.’ In part two of Moving Thinward he says that “…for Abraham, Jacob and their descendants, Bethel was a thin place” and of Mount Sinai, “This mountain was clearly a very thin place.”
Are there such places to be found today? We know from the Bible that the holy place (the temple) was the only place on the entire earth that God dwelt after sin and death entered the word and man was separated from God. Sacrifices ceased in the Temple in Jerusalem when it was destroyed in 70 AD, but access to the Holy of Holies, where God met man, was already no longer available by then because Jesus was the final sacrifice, once and for all, and the veil to the Holy of Holies was torn.
“Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh” Hebrews 10:19,20
Because Jesus is the only way to enter God’s presence, any so called sacred space we now make or attempt to find in order to enter that realm is idolatry. There can be no places on earth where the veil between us and God’s presence is ‘thinner.’ Where ever there are efforts to find thin places where God meets man, such as the contemplatives making their sacred spiritual spaces to sense God’s presence, or the practice of the presence of God through prayer techniques – it is idolatry. The God of the universe already made a way to dwell within each believer, by the power of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus sent after His ascension. Those who believe are now called the temple of the Holy Spirit. No place on earth is worth making the effort to find. He lives in us. Praise the Name of the LORD!
1] This is part one:
Moving thinward (Pt. 1)
By Troy Watson
Feb 25, 2015
I’ve always been intrigued with “thin places” long before I ever heard the term “thin place.”
Since childhood, I’ve been curiously drawn to old churches, temples, cathedrals, monasteries, ruins, holy sites, natural “wonders,” remote wilderness, solitary night skies—anywhere that evokes a sense of sacred space. Part of the appeal has been the beauty and mystery I so often find in these environments, but occasionally I’ve been so overwhelmed by divine energy in these places it was as if I’d stumbled upon holy ground.
I’m not the only one. Countless people have experienced God in places like these. Sometimes in exactly the same place.
Almost two years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the Island of Iona. Iona has long been considered a thin place by people from various religious and spiritual backgrounds. . .
Here is part two:
Moving thinward (Pt. 2)
By Troy Watson
Mar 25, 2015
(Volume 19 Issue 7 Canadian Mennonite):
2] Troy Watson is pastor of Avon Mennonite Church (www.avonmennonite.com/troywatson.htm) in Stratford, Ontario. He is the founder of the Quest Christian Community (www.questchristiancommunity.ca), an alternative faith community in St. Catharines, ON. (a Mennonite Church of Eastern Canada affiliated initiative) whose aim is ‘Christ Consciousness.’ Pastor Watson recently reviewed The Naked Now, a book by Franciscan priest Richard Rohr that explores the lost tradition of mystical Christianity. Of this book, Watson said “I highly recommend this book to anyone who has been reading spiritual authors such as Eckhart Tolle.” (See: http://www.mcec.ca/content/naked-now-richard-rohr)
3] Find Yourself a Thin Place this Christmas
*Photo of Altar in The Chapel The Chapel at Iona Abbey by James Denham