Please enjoy the latest issue of The Labyrinth.
Several years back now, when our kids were still quite young, we took one of our regular trips to Poughkeepsie for a week to visit my parents – back when they were still in their own home. One afternoon during that visit, Marcella, Nicolas and I took the short walk from my parent’s house to the LaGrange Rural Cemetery. When I was a child, living in such close proximity to the cemetery meant that we had many a picnic there. Later, when I got older, I used to like to go over and see the gravestone of my grandparents on my father’s side, whom I never knew because they both died the year before I was born. Also buried there are many other of our relatives and ancestors, in one large family plot. As we looked at all those family headstones, Marcella said she thought she and Nicolas should pray for each one of them. So, after I read the name on each stone, they both threw themselves on their knees in front of the tombstone, threw their arms around the stone and prayed silently.
I was a bit taken aback, then deeply moved. After they did this for 2 or three, I had a sense that what I was witnessing was a coming together of our visible world and the larger reality we call eternity. As I watched my children throw themselves into this praying of theirs with such gusto and abandon, as if it was something they knew how to do innately, I began to feel connection with our ancestors buried there in a way I had never felt it before. It was almost like my children were reaching through a portal I had never know was there, and opening me to a reality I had never stopped to notice in that place before.
In his book titled The Good Book, The Rev. Peter Gomes writes about the concept of Thin places. Gomes writes:
“ There is in Celtic mythology the notion of thin places in the universe, where the visible and the invisible worlds come into their closest proximity. These thin places are a border or frontier place where two worlds meet and where one has the possibility of communicating with the other.”
Over my 22 years of ordained ministry I have heard a good number of other people speak about having an experience they cannot explain in rational terms that leads them to believe they have come into contact with just such thin places. For some of these people it has been through the medium of dreams; for others it has been the unbelievable coming together of events that point to a larger reality beyond; for others still, it has been a voice heard out of nowhere or an actual encounter with a heavenly messenger. Maybe you have stood at such points in time and space and have heard, seen or felt that larger reality as well.
Such experiences are not soon forgotten. Though they come and go often in nothing more than a blink of an eye, they tend to stand out in our memory for the rest of our lives. If you have experienced this sort of thing you will know what I mean. Those experiences remain vivid in our memories, even years later. We love to turn the memory of them over and over in our minds as one might turn a smooth stone over and over in the hand during a walk along the beach. We love to turn them over and over again because in some way the memory of these thin places experiences comforts us even as we may wonder why they have happened to us, and what they mean.
As I have spoken to others over the years about thin place experiences I have noticed that the overriding feeling people have in response is hope. I think that is because these experiences show that there in more depth to reality than what we can see on the surface. At the thin places it is as if a corner of our material reality is peeled back just enough to give us a glimpse of what lies behind. And what lies behind is our eternal home, and that is why these experiences stick with us. They are markers on our path to our eternal home.
I think that hope in our eternal home and our connection to it here and now is what John the divine was trying to communicate as he wrote his magnificent vision he had of the heavenly city of Jerusalem, which we heard read from the book of his revelation this morning. John received this vision through his thin place on the island of Patmos where he was living in political exile:
“Far from his earthly home, quite possibly wearing chains while working in the forced labor camps of the Patmos quarries, John writes of a time when fear and sorrow and disappointment will no longer exist.” (Leonard Sweet, Homiletics April-June 1992, p. 31)
John the divine, who himself was likely well acquainted with fear, sorrow and disappointment, paints our eternal home as one where safety and security prevail – this is symbolized by the gates of the city being always open and the absence of any darkness. John tells us that all we could ever need is there int hat city, crystal waters, delectable fruit, healing for our infirmities. And once living there, we will never again forget that we are God’s beloved. The mark of Christ’s cross on our foreheads, which is traced there in oil at our baptism, will shine for all to see. And there we will behold God, face to face.
St. Augustine of Hippo once wrote to God, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” May our hearts find rest and hope in the promises of our eternal home. Promises spoken to us in heavenly visions like the one we read from Revelation this morning. Promises spoken to us individually in the thin places we unknowing stumble upon here in this reality. Promises reaffirmed over and over, and yet ever new, in the bread and wine of the Eucharist that we share here every week. Strengthened by the hope of these promises, let us be willing to live as thin places for others, so that the hope these promises stirs in us becomes contagious and the reign of God reaches into the here and now through us. Then truly we will live as part of the divine embrace that enfolds the universe.
In Christ’s name and for his sake. Amen+