Celtic Christians have a wonderful expression for places where we more readily seem to experience God. They refer to these places as “thin places.” Thin places are those places where for some inexplicable reason God seems more present.
I have experienced a number of thin places. The sanctuary at our church is a place where I almost immediately feel peace and proximity to God. I don’t frequently slip in there to pray during the day, but when I do it is almost always a time of profound intimacy with God. Other significant place for me have been: a pond near my home in Hot Springs, a hospital chapel, and labyrinths I have walked in prayer.
We can encounter God anywhere and at anytime, but I find it helpful to know the thin places for me for those times when God isn’t so easy to hear and doesn’t seem particularly close. Psalm 99 speaks to me of three thin place.
Some thin places are places
The LORD reigns; let the peoples tremble!
He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
The LORD is great in Zion;
he is exalted over all the peoples.
(Psalm 99:1-2 ESV)
The language in these first two verses would have evoked thoughts and feelings about two prominent thin places for the people of Israel; specifically, the ark of the covenant,Jerusalem, and the temple. The readers would have thought about the ark because of the reference to God being enthroned upon the cherubim. The ark of the covenant was adorned with two massive statues of cherubim and it was a tangible link between God and the people of Israel. The Israelites powerfully and poignantly experienced God’s presence through the ark of the covenant.
During 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites carried with them a portable thin place of sorts, the tabernacle. the tabernacle or ‘tent of meeting’, was the place where they came face to face with God. The thinnest of thin spots in the tabernacle would have been the holy of holies where the ark of the covenant resided. The ark eventually found a home in Jerusalem. Zion or Jerusalem became the place where the temple would eventually be built and would become the geographic point of contact with God.
Where are the physical places that bring you peace and an immediate sense of God’s presence? What could you do to regularly spend time in these places in order to feed your soul and increase intimacy with God?
Some thin places are events
Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel also was among those who called upon his name.
They called to the LORD, and he answered them.
In the pillar of the cloud he spoke to them;
they kept his testimonies
and the statute that he gave them.
(Psalm 99:6-7 ESV)
In these verses the Psalmist is prompting memories of times when God was tangibly and undeniably present. The mention of Moses, Aaron and the pillar of cloud all evoke memories of the exodus and God’s visible deliverance out of slavery from Egypt. In essence, these verses silently beckon the reader to consider, “Do you remember when God…”
–Remember when God sent Moses to confront Pharoah.
–Remember when God parted the waters so that we could escape Pharoah.
–Remember when God lead us by a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day through the wilderness.
What are your “remember whens”? I remember when God rescued me from a deep depression. In times when God seems at the fringes of life and inaccessible to me, I can ponder that time when God delivered me from a great darkness and I am catapulted back into the reality of His presence.
When has God been obvious to you? When has God been undeniably real? When have you experienced God in ways that redefined your relationship with and understanding of God? These are good “remember whens” and it is good to reflect on these times regularly. Reflecting upon the times when God has been extremely obvious will increase your awareness of God. Reflection will also draw you into thanks and praise.
Some thin places are people
Certain people stir within me a desire to be closer to God or they have a presence about them that helps me feel closer to God. One of those friends is Kathleen Weller whom I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago. Kathleen is a woman of deep prayer. One of the effects of having spent hours in prayer is that a sense of peace abides upon her and you can feel it when you are in her presence.
In Psalm 99, Samuel is mentioned. Many of the Psalms were penned by David. If this psalm is written by him, I suspect that Samuel was a ‘thin place’ for David and that is why he is mentioned here. Samuel was the last judge and a prophet. More importantly to David he was the one whom God sent to anoint David as the next King of Israel.
Samuel came to David’s home town Bethelehem to find and anoint a king. Samuel went fearing that Saul the current king would hear about it and kill him. Nevetheless, Samuel was obedient and went. He was sent specifically to the family of Jesse, David’s father. Seven brother’s older than David were paraded before Samuel. They were not to be king. David, still only a boy, was left in the field tending sheep. Samuel sent for him and recognized him as the one called by God to be the future king of God’s people. He anointed him and God’s Spirit came upon David mightly.
This was a defining moment for David. Samuel was a defining presence for it was through Samuel that God spoke and touched the life of David. It was a touch that would forever shape his future.
Who are your Kathleens and Samuels? Who is inspiring to you? Who has played a defining role in your faith? Who are the people that you can spend time with that help you feel closer to God? Whom does God use to speak to you?
Wouldn’t it be awesome if each one of us was a thin place?
Lastly, as I finished pondering Psalm 99, the thought came to me that each one of us should be a thin place. Hopefully, we all mature in our faith to a point that when people spend time with us, they feel some sense of God’s presence. Hopefully, we are pockets of peace, love, hope, and joy that positively touch everyone around us.
My prayer for you
My hope and prayer for you is that you will actively seek out the thin places in your life and spend time there. I pray that through that time God will shape you into a thin place for others.
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