We Are About Relationships
Have you ever heard the term “thin place?” Apparently, the ancient Celts believed there were “thin places,” where the veil between this world and the next grew thin, places where heaven and earth nearly touched, places that felt especially sacred and inexplicably holy. Even though the term was first used by people in pre-Christian Ireland, we Christians sometimes borrow the term to talk about our own experiences of God. Whenever we get a glimpse of the kingdom of God, whenever we feel God’s presence beyond words, whenever we experience a glimmer of the holy, we might say we have witnessed a “thin place.”
I think I’ve experienced some “thin places” recently. On Saturday night David and I went with Anne and Dave Hook to hear the Nashville Chamber Singers’ Christmas concert. (We ran into a few other church members there, which makes me think we need to start a fan club!) As we talked later about the concert, Anne described how certain moments during the concert felt like “thin places.” When the voices in the choir struck a stunning chord as they sang of Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, or when the sopranos sounded like one voice as they sang of the wonder of the shepherds in Bethlehem, the kingdom of God felt close. We were somewhere between heaven and earth. We were almost suspended in time, hanging in a “thin place” as the music of eternity held us up.
I experienced another “thin place” on Sunday morning. It happened during the 11:00 service at the communion table. We had begun the Great Thanksgiving and the music of the piano flowed underneath us. Then I spoke the words of the liturgy: “when we turned away, and our love failed, your love remained steadfast.” I was overcome with the grace and faithfulness of God. Even when we turn away, even when our love fails, God comes to us. God keeps loving us. God keeps pursuing us.
And as the liturgy continued, I found myself caught up in the vision of God’s kingdom, “that day when justice shall roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream, where nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” This vision of God’s kingdom, and the feeling that we all are part of it, nearly took my breath away. This is what we’re waiting for during Advent. This is what we’re preparing for and hoping for. The kingdom of God in all its fullness is coming. The day of the Lord is drawing near.
God surprised me there at the communion table this Sunday. God drew close in a way I wasn’t expecting. I hadn’t done anything to prepare for communion. I’d worked on the sermon, but that part was over and all I had to do was to read my part in the liturgy. It was already printed. I didn’t have to think about it. But even when I wasn’t prepared, when I wasn’t expecting it, God showed up and opened a window into the eternal.
Maybe that’s the grace of Advent. God’s coming doesn’t depend on our readiness. God is coming into the world, ready or not. Our job is simply to stay awake and keep our eyes open so that we can recognize those “thin places” and recognize Christ when he comes.