by Sparky Jamison
Every now and then, as I seek God in the everyday, I’m astonished to find that there is the thinnest of membranes between us, God and me — a time or place in which I can sense a nearness of spirit that’s hard to describe. Those moments are likely to leave me with inadequate words, for it’s an experience of profound comfort and grace and, dare I say, understanding of my place in God and God’s place in me. It’s not ecstasy. It’s quieter. But it’s so intense that it can’t be sustained for very long.
Marcus J. Borg, in his book The Heart of Christianity, uses the term “thin places” to describe this nearness.
[Thin spaces are] places where the boundary between the two levels [ordinary experience and the sacred] becomes very soft, porous, permeable. Thin places are places where the veil momentarily lifts, and we behold God, experience the one in whom we live, all around us and within us… A thin place is anywhere our hearts are opened. To use sacramental language, a thin place is a sacrament of the sacred, a mediator of the sacred, a means whereby the sacred becomes present to us. A thin place is a means of grace… sometimes our hearts are broken open by such experiences.
Borg goes on to say that thin places can be a literal place, or an experience. It can be music or art, joy or suffering. It can be worship or prayer. It is “the opening of the self to the Spirit of God by spending time in thin places — those places and practices through which we become open to and nourished by the Mystery in whom we love and move and have our being.”
The most profound such time was just after the death of my mother a few years ago. When she took her last breath, just before her heart stopped, a single tear slipped out of the corner of her eye. Just one very small tear. It might have simply been a physiological response to a body shutting down. Or it might have been something else. It stayed with me, and still does. It was a message to me of sadness and relief and love and surrender. And comfort.
In the days after her death I talked at length to those closest to me about God’s nearness in that moment. Words tumbled out of me, into willing ears and onto pages. I described the gift of bearing witness to her death, and her passage to God — where? — as a moment during which a window was open wide. And it remained open to me for many days. I had a sense in the days that followed that I needed to stay by the window and pay close attention to God as long as possible because I knew it would gradually, necessarily, mercifully, nearly close. And it did.
A prayer: Our hearts long to be broken open in this way. Mine does. When it happens, God make me willing to remain by the open window while I can.