Thursday, January 5, 2017

Thin Places and the Christmas Season

There are two places in scripture where what we call heaven and earth come together in warm embrace: the birth and resurrection narratives.  Right now we are in the season of the birth narratives.  Embrace might be a little weak.  In whatever way one imagines heaven or the spiritual realm to be, it fully enveloped our world at the nativity and the resurrection.  At other times the two worlds seem to meet and touch each other in extraordinary ways, but we don't recognize them as envelopment.   Daily Office readings in the Christmas season bring them to mind with familiar stories.  Abram’s conversations with God that led him from his homeland to a new land of promise that in centuries to come would become a homeland for his descendants.  Jacob’s vision of the ladder that connects heaven and earth.  Moses’ meeting God’s presence at the burning bush.  Joshua’s conversation with God about what crossing the Jordan into the land promised to Abram so long ago would mean.  

They are reminders of the kingdom of God that Jesus said is not somewhere else, but at hand.  It is not in some other place or at some other time, but always here and now, wherever and whenever Jesus’ followers engage the world in his name.  The popularity of Celtic Christianity, Americanized beyond Celtic recognition, and often devalued into generic spirituality set against a rocky coastland, has exposed many of us to the idea of thin places, places where the spiritual and physical world come together in ways that they don’t come together elsewhere.  I have no doubt there are such places; indeed I believe I have experienced some of them.  What I don’t believe is that they are limited to designated spots that exist only at designated times.  They aren’t Brigadoon.  The world of our ordinary lives and the world we call spiritual are entwined with one another in every place and at all times. Moreover, it is not just any spiritual world, but the kingdom of God that is at hand.  To crudely borrow from the Cappadocians, it is perichoresis, a holy dance, that constantly enfolds us in both worlds. The questions is, where, when, and through whom is that recognized?

There are people we call saints, whether canonized or not, in whose lives we see that holy dance performed, but I don’t think it’s reserved for them.  My guess is that it is performed in many places at many times by ordinary  people.  Indeed, it can be performed by you and me whenever we choose to let it happen by loving others as Christ has loved us.  It’s a move from simply recalling places where and times when it happened to others, and joining in the dance that is always present.  It is the act of joining that opens our senses to the recognition that we are in a thin place, participating in the heavenly embrace  of the world through new birth and and resurrection to new life.




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