Thin Places

by Mike McKinniss

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about” (Gen. 22:2).

Most cultures throughout history, unlike our own dull secular modernism, have held a keen awareness that there is a supernatural world beyond the scope of our natural senses. There is something (if thing is the right word) out there.

Moreover, many cultures have also believed that the natural and supernatural realms interact. Peoples the world over have known, intuitively, that there is an unseen realm that has some effect on the world we touch and see, and vice-versa. The questions of how and why, then, are the great pursuit.

The Celts (my people!), for example, held an ancient belief in “thin places.” These were locations on the earth in which the barrier between the spiritual and the natural worlds seemed to be particularly thin and therefore highly permeable. That is to say, that in most places the spiritual world could be accessed, but perhaps only with great difficulty. In a thin place, however, one could interact with the supernatural with much greater ease.

I suspect I’ve encountered such places myself on occasion. In the meanest terms, these are the kinds of places in which you simply feel you must be inexplicably quiet. Certain churches or cathedrals have had this effect on me, like St. Paul’s in London, but also some rather unexpected spots.

One spring I took a job painting the exterior of a friend’s beach home. As I explored the home little by little throughout the week, I found that I was continually attracted to this one particular part of the house. Just what attracted me to it, I could not say. Though it was somewhat set off from the rest of the house, as a home office might be, there was no aesthetic distinguishing it from the rest of the house. Still, there was a tremendous feeling of peace and warmth in that one particular space, which was unlike the rest of the house.

Later, I spoke to the friend who owned the house, and I mentioned to him the unusual but positive sense I had about that one particular room. “That’s interesting,” he replied. “That’s the room where my wife and I stay when we’re down there.”

Now, I knew this couple to be people of prayer, very serious prayer. And I knew that the rest of the extended family, with whom they shared ownership of the house, were not.

I wondered whether they had carved out a thin place in their own vacation home. Was it possible to establish a physical location where God could be more easily reached simply because of the hours, years or centuries that people had gathered to seek him on that spot?

Among the most fascinating accounts in the Old Testament comes in Genesis 22, in which Abraham is challenged by the Lord to sacrifice his one promised son Isaac. Abraham is led to a particular hill where he intends to slaughter his own beloved son in worship to the God who had given Isaac in the first place. Of course, Isaac is not sacrificed. The Lord provides a ram for that purpose, but the intent of Abraham to give all he had to the Lord on that hilltop somehow marks the place. The name of that spot was Mount Moriah.

Several generations later, King Solomon begins construction on a house for the Lord; the Temple where God’s people could commune with the living God, where they could offer their worship and the Lord was sure to listen for generations upon generations. This building site was Mount Moriah (2 Chr. 3:1).

What an encouragement! The places where we pray and worship the Lord–in our homes, our churches, our cars, our offices–inherit the deposits of our praise. These deposits are not lost or stolen, but gain interest. And others we do not know will be greatly blessed by the thin places we helped establish in our own time.

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