The walls of the ancient church are impregnated with incense. Candles flicker before the icons. Faded frescoes of Saints crowd round us; on columns, walls, ceiling. And in this moment I am aware of a palpable Presence. Centuries of worshipers have stood where I stand. Liturgy. Eucharist. Body and Blood. I hear them still…
The storm raged all afternoon. Dark as night. Rain hurling itself against windows. Thunder shaking the house. Explosions of lightning. Now, its fury is spent. And like a child who has cried itself all out, the world is soft. Clean. Curls of mist rise toward a sky that is painting itself in swirls of violet and azure, with flecks of gold. I stand barefoot in the wet grass and am completely lost in the extravagant glory of this…
We fall to our knees, faces to the floor, as the priest intones a lament, “Today is hung upon the Tree, He who did hang the land in the midst of the waters. A crown of thorns crowns Him who is King of Angels…” When the singing ends, silence lays heavy…like a blanket. Then the silence is rent by hammer slamming against wood. And I feel each blow like a kick to the stomach. And I am there, kneeling in the mud of a Judean hillside as the sweet body of the Lord is brutally nailed to a cross…
“A sacrament is when something holy happens. It is transparent time, time which you can see through to something deep inside time…you are apt to catch a glimpse of the almost unbearable preciousness and mystery of life.” ~Frederick Buechner
The Celts called them thin places. Sacred thresholds where the veil between us and the world beyond dissolves…for a space. Much of the time, they just happen. They are gift. We cannot construct them. Or reconstruct them. Most of the time, we cannot even adequately explain them. All we can do is ready ourselves to receive them.
“Is there anything I can do to make myself enlightened?”
“As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.”
“Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?”
“To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.”
~Zen master to his disciple
Herein I recruit voices of wise ones to speak to some of the practices and ways of being that tend to make us ready for these up close encounters with the Holy.
Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals…
The Father spoke one Word, which was his Son, and this Word He speaks always in eternal silence, and in silence must be heard by the soul.
~St. John of the Cross
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
~ Richard Rohr (from Psalm 46:10)
We see that it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.
…Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes…
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Give me the strength that waits upon You in silence and peace. Give me the humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens.
The most courageous thing we will ever do is to bear humbly the mystery of our own reality.
Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being.
…I don’t know exactly what a prayer is
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
In the beauty of God’s own economy, these encounters are not gift for us alone. As these moments spent in the Presence permeate our being, we become gift to others.
If our lives are truly “hid with Christ in God”, the astounding thing is that this hidden-ness is revealed in all that we do and say and write.
God utters me like a partial thought containing a partial word of Himself. ~Thomas Merton
If the idea of thin places appeals to you. If you crave a space to be refreshed and inspired…to converse, to commune, to be… I invite you to join me at Luminous. I am especially excited to hear from one of my artist heroes, Makoto Fujimura. I have written about his remarkable illuminated gospels HERE, and his intriguing talk on Liminal Spaces (a prophetic/creative slant on thin places) HERE. The painting at the top of the post is Fujimura’s “Still Point Evening“.
*This post was inspired by the Luminous Project. Luminous is a creative spiritual event in Nashville May 1-3, 2013. To find out more, check out luminousproject.com. You can use the promo code ‘BRINGitHERE’ to get 35% off the registration price.