Thin Places




Hebrews 10:19-20


(19) Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,

(20) by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,


Last Monday was Halloween, which triggered some memories for me. Like many of you, I grew up playing trick or treat on Halloween. When I was a teenager, we lived on a street on a hill; so as a trick, I would roll all the neighbor's garbage cans down the hill. I did not roll my own family's garbage can because I knew that my father would make me gather up that garbage and roll the can back up the hill next day. As it usually happened though, some friends of mine played a trick on me and rolled my garbage can down the hill. That worked out for me better than you would have thought, because the next day when the neighbors were down at the bottom of the hill picking up their garbage, and grousing about, “who did this,” I was there with them and saying the same thing, “Who did this, those rotten scum”--which meant that the neighbors never suspected me. As a kid, I did all the other Halloween stuff--wore funny costumes, carved jack-o'-lanterns from pumpkins, bobbed apples at parties. Sometimes we went to haunted houses, sometimes we gathered around an old kerosene lantern and told each other scary stories. A relatively new Halloween tradition that I have heard about is that some folks spend the night watching the scariest movies they can find.

All that is just good fun, but once Halloween had a more serious purpose. Halloween is an old Celtic pagan holiday. It probably arose from the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-an or sow-in), which fell on the last day of autumn. The Celts believed that on this particular night the physical and spiritual worlds were close together and magical things could happen. To ward off evil spirits, the Celts built huge bonfires and offered animal, and perhaps even human, sacrifices to their gods.

According to Celtic lore, Samhain is a time when the boundaries between the world of the living and the world of the dead is thin, allowing spirits and other supernatural entities to pass between the worlds. In addition, it was a time when human beings could come closer to their gods.

The Celts not only believed that there were thin times of the year, they believed there were thin places, places where we can almost see the world of the spirit, places that vividly revealed the presence of God. There is a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. In a thin place, you can glimpse the glory of God. A thin place is where the door between worlds is cracked open and we can see light from the other side. Thin places are most often associated with wild landscapes--rugged seacoasts, mountains lost in the clouds, windswept islands. The Irish call such places the “sanctuaries of creation.”

Now this was old Celtic pagan belief, but when the Celts, the Irish and the Scots, became Christian they did not change this belief. They simply saw it from a Christian perspective.

For example, Iona is a small island off the western coast of Scotland. Historically it was a center of Celtic Christianity. According to tradition, a monastery was founded there in 563 by Columba and twelve companions. The monastery was hugely successful, and played a crucial role in the conversion to Christianity of the Picts, who at the time occupied much of Scotland. Iona quickly became a renowned center of learning. Remember that in the Middle Ages every document was copied by hand. At Iona, there was an industry devoted to copying manuscripts. Because of this history, many Christians believed that Iona was a sacred place. Add to that the isolation of the island, its great natural beauty and tranquility, and that explains why many Christians view Iona as a thin place.

So, what do you think of all this? Are there “thin” times and places when the presence of God seems to be upon us in a special way, Of course there are, and you do not have to go to Iona to find them. Just a few weeks ago, I was walking through Rosehill Cemetery, a hundred yards from where I speak, feeling the presence of all those who had gone before me in their quest for a greater vision of God, feeling that God was with them, and that God was with me. That was a thin place, a thin time, for me at that moment. What makes a thin place? What makes a thin time? It is not the place and not the time because God is in every place and every time. It is me. When I am ready to see and touch and feel God, God is there. God is reaching out to us in love in all times and places.

We need to reach back. We need those thin places and times desperately. When the everydayness of life almost overcomes us, when we feel beaten down by tedious details and endless tasks, we need to hear the silent music and feel the divine rhythm of the ebb and flow of God’s love.

It is so easy to lose our sense of God. We do not lose God. God is still there, but we lose our feeling, our understanding, that God is there. That can be frightening. We may be brought up in a Christian home, we may attend church frequently, we may have read the Bible from cover to cover, but sometimes we come to a point in life where God is just not there for us. There is no communion with the Divine Presence, no touch from the other side.

When this happens to you, and it will happen to you, what do you do? You need to get to a place where the veil between this physical world and the eternal world is "thin." We need to remember that while we walk around in the mud of every day life there is only a tissue that separates us from an awesome God.

In the Bible, this closeness between God and us is described in terms of the veil that separated the holy of holies from the rest of the tabernacle. When the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, God gave instructions for building a tabernacle or tent, which would serve as a sanctuary where God would be present to his people. An outer court or porch gave entry into a section call the Holy place. The holy place was a rectangular structure and at one end there was a curtain beyond which was the holy of holies.

In the King James Version, "Holy of Holies" is translated as "the Most Holy Place." This is in keeping with the intention of the Hebrew, which was to express the utmost degree of holiness. The most holy place was the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle, and later the Temple in Jerusalem, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Only the High Priest could enter the most holy place and that only on Yom Kippur. Exodus describes the making and hanging of the veil of separation.

(31) "And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. It shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it.

(32) And you shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, on four bases of silver.

(33) And you shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy. (Exodus 26:31-33)

Ask the ancient Hebrews, where is God. Their answer would be, "He is right there behind the curtain in the Most Holy Place." That is the OT. The NT gives us the further revelation that Jesus brings us through the veil. In ancient Israel, the ordinary Israelite never saw beyond the veil. Even the ordinary Levite or priest never saw beyond the veil. To put in the language of the ancient Celts, the thinnest place in Israel was the Tabernacle, but you could never quite see beyond that curtain.

Most people do not even get that close. They think that heaven is a distant land and that is where God is. It is a place where God and His angels live, somewhere high in the sky off beyond the fartherest galaxy. Consequently, here we are mostly condemned to everydayness. We eat and sleep and go to work and watch TV, and get up the next day and do the same thing all over again. Boring.

However, the NT gives us a different understanding of reality. The reality that we touch with our senses certainly exists. What your eyes see, what your ears hear, what your fingers touch, that is real. The whole evolution of matter that our science has uncovered is real, but that is not all there is. There is another reality equally real. That spiritual reality is not millions of light years away; it is as close to you as your own breath.

For the ancient Israelites, God was as close as the most holy place in the tabernacle. Jesus brought God even closer than that.

In Mark's gospel, when Jesus was crucified, we read, “Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last, and the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mark 15:37-38). When Jesus died on the cross, the veil was ripped apart. What does that mean? Hebrews 10:20 is a commentary on Mark. It says that Jesus opened for us a new and living way through the veil. His death ripped the veil between God and man and thus gave us free access to the Father. Therefore, the only thing that can separate us now from God is a refusal to believe in Jesus.

The whole earth is a thin place. God is right here with us. The problem is we do not know it. The problem is not God. The problem is us. Heaven only comes down when we go up. Heaven only descends when we learn to ascend to the throne room of God. Heaven only is released when we come back down to the earth and bring heaven with us. Heaven remains locked up until a child of the King learns how to unlock it and bring it to the earth. And there is an art to doing this. We call this the art of passing through the veil.

What we need is to learn how to pierce this veil every day and bring the spiritual into our daily lives. Unfortunately, here is where the dark side tempts us. Here is where the devil comes in. The enemy works to keep us from seeing through the veil. Satan brings questioning into our minds. The devil brings doubt, frustration. “There is nothing over there. There is nothing to believe in. There is only ordinary stuff. Go forth and be bored the rest of your life,” so the Devil speaks. Go forth and be a half-person the rest of your life.

Here is another basic insight of the NT. Believing in Jesus enables us to see through the veil and that changes and transforms us. The spiritual changes the physical. The spiritual transforms us. That is our answer. That is the key to life. The eternal is where God lives. The eternal is where we are called to live. We are eternal beings. Our bodies die, but our spirit lives on. We were designed to live in an eternal place. Heaven is that place. The good news is that you do not have to die in order to experience it. We can experience eternity right now. We can bring heaven to earth. However, we must first go there ourselves. We must pass through the veil. We do this through the ministry of the HS made available to us by our belief in Jesus. There may be practical things that we can do to help ourselves, to help our awareness of another dimension.

We should unplug from this world. Turn off our cell phone, our Face Book, anything and everything that distracts us from getting into that eternal place with God. We should quiet our mind. Turn our thoughts off. The eternal is not found in our mind realm. It is found in the spirit realm. We worship God. We listen to God. We work for the Lord. What we hear God saying, we say. What we see God doing, we do.

But ultimately, this is not something we are going to do on our own. Hebrews 10:19 says that we have “complete freedom to go into the Most Holy Place by means of the death of Jesus.”

Passing through the veil was one of the secrets of Jesus’ ministry. He lived a spiritual life during His earthly life. He tuned into what the Father was doing. He got into the throne room and He fixed His eyes upon the Father. Once He knew the will of the Father, He came to earth and exhibited what He saw. Finally, he died so that you and I could have that same kind of life.

Thus, we should live in constant wonder, aware of the thin veil separating this life and the next, attentive to God’s accessibility and to the transitory nature of our physical world. William Blake was a mystical English poet of the early 1800's. It is said that once “some persons of a scientific turn of mind were discoursing pompously, and to him distastefully, about the incredible distance of the planets, the length of time light takes to travel to the earth, when he burst out, ''Tis false! I was walking down a lane the other day, and at the end of it, I touched the sky with my stick.” [Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace (New York: Riverhead, 1998)] Now Blake was not speaking scientifically. He knew that in a scientific sense, these folks were probably right, he was speaking spiritually. His sense of God was that close. Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life: One as though nothing is a miracle. The other as though everything is a miracle.” No matter how much we understand our world intellectually, we need the sense that it is all a miracle, a gift from God, an opportunity to see beyond the here and now into eternal glory. The fully awaked Christian lives the miracle, walks with God, and reaches out to touch the sky.


If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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Last Modified: 05/02/13