My friend Suzette used this term as she told me about her retreat on the Isle of Iona, off the coast of Scotland. I recently came across this phrase for the second time—and in reference to the same place. This time it was in James Emory White’s new book, A Traveler’s Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying through the Christian Life. He explains that the Celts believed the spiritual world “was always close to us, but that it was at these places that the veil between the two worlds—the material and the spiritual—was lifted. Islands were particularly noted for their ‘thin’ nature.”
Suzette says a thin place is anywhere it’s easy to be in connection with God. It’s a place where God seems to frequently break through to meet people’s needs.
Wheaton College Campus in Wheaton, Illinois, feels thin to me. I’ve wondered if it’s the effect of so many, many prayers being said there over the years, so many minds and hearts transformed and dedicated to live “for Christ and His Kingdom.” Knowing the history and being surrounded by the glorious old stone buildings and the beautiful landscaping, I find it easy to believe good wins. All is well and all will be well and all manner of things shall be well, as Julian of Norwich perceived.
Suzette’s husband Martin, an indomitable traveler, doesn’t believe in thin places. God is everywhere, and you don’t need to go to a certain place to communicate with him. Fair enough. And yet.
White’s book makes a compelling case for the significance of particular places.
Each of the nine chapters takes us to a unique and remarkable destination. White is our tour guide, describing how the place looks as we arrive, pointing out things we should notice. We start in Oxford at the Eagle and Child Pub, marvel at the beauty of the Chartres Cathedral in France, reel at the stark oppression portrayed at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg and still apparent at the Dachau Concentration Camp. He even takes us to St. Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt at the sight of the burning bush. These places serve as jump-off points for White. Each chapter becomes a meditation on a different topic, all relevant issues regarding life in Christ. The book would work well as a prompt for discussion groups. I found it mentally engaging and spiritually nourishing.
Only a few of these locations seem to be thin places. The others might be better described as thick–with the history they bear and all they have to say to us.
What geographical places have struck you as particularly thin or thick? Where have you been made aware?