As you read this, I am preparing to travel to the island of Iona in Scotland, which is famously known as a “thin place.” Thin places have nothing to do with weight loss. A thin place is defined in Celtic Christianity as one of “those rare locales where the distance between heaven and Earth collapses.” In other words, a place where the presence of God is readily experienced or a place where one is more aware that very little separates us from the holy.
It takes some effort to travel to Iona. I will fly from Boston to Dublin Ireland and then onto Edinburgh Scotland. Then I will take a train to the west coast of Scotland and board a ferry for the island of Mull. From there I will travel by bus or taxi to the other side of the island in order to catch another ferry which will take me to Iona. When I get off the ferry, it will be time to walk since there are very few cars and no public transit on this tiny island. My destination will be the Iona Abbey which has a simple guesthouse that welcomes pilgrims from across the globe for weeklong stays. We will experience the hospitality of the Abbey and form a community together as we worship, prepare meals, and share experiences together.
This journey is the final piece of my sabbatical. The pandemic prevented international travel last year and I am looking forward to the opportunity to have this long-anticipated trip now. I will be traveling with my lifelong friend Patti. We have known each other since pre-school and have experienced many retreats and adventures together; this will be our first international trip together and we’re both filled with gratitude at the prospect of sharing this experience.
As much as I am looking forward to the trip, I realize that one does not need to travel thousands of miles using multiple forms of transportation to experience God’s presence. Instead of encouraging you to travel to Iona (although, if you get the opportunity – please take it), here is my question for all of us – where is a thin place for you? Where do you encounter the holy?
If you can think of a special place or two, when do you go there? Because it does take some intention. We are blessed to live in a beautiful area with rolling green fields, flowering trees, lush woodlands, ponds, and an array of stunning scenery. We also tend to rush through it or to dwell in it oblivious to the miraculous creation all around us.
In order to experience the mystery of a thin place, we have to choose to slow down, unplug, and make time to notice that God is in this place.
When I return I will have stories to tell about my encounters in the thin place of Iona. I hope you will have experiences to share with me, as well. Because what we know about our loving God is that God wants to be found by us. God is not hiding. Rather, we must open our hearts, minds, and spirits to discern the still, small voice of our Creator.