Thin places are spaces of mystery and encounter where we meet God in ourselves, in others, and in the wider world. In each person’s life are thin places where we experience God’s presence in a powerful way that stirs the soul. Entering thin spaces is an opportunity that we don’t normally have—to slow down, to pause, to look with fresh eyes, and to recover a sense of wonder about the world. In these thin spaces we are broken open, and we encounter ourselves, our relationship with others and with God, in a deeper and more authentic way. Truth makes its home in these broken-open places, and we often receive the gift of new insights and memories. As we become more understanding, compassionate, and authentic, we open up to new ways of seeing, fresh avenues of thinking, and ultimately, transformed ways of being.
While the concept of a thin place is an ancient one, it holds real meaning for us today as we try to make sense of the world around us and, indeed, within us. On the road to transformation we can look to saints as guides for how to navigate the thin places where God is waiting to meet us. On the surface, St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Patrick of Ireland may not appear to have much in common, especially considering that their lives are separated by about 1000 years of history. But a deeper look at both men’s lives reveals several interesting parallels, particularly with the spiritual traditions and practices associated with them.
Trust as a Thin Place
In a single day St. Patrick tells us that he “would say as many as a hundred prayers and at night only slightly less.” (Confessio) This is expressed most beautifully in the Lorica, also known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate, a prayer form well-known to the ancient Irish but written three centuries after Patrick’s death. Patrick knew the precariousness of life and death but trusted in God no matter the circumstances. “Whatever happens to me, good or evil,” he said, “I must accept it and give thanks to God. He has taught me to trust in him without any limits.” Trusting in God without limits is also a theme for St. Ignatius, who also modeled a life of surrender to God and expressed this theme in his famous prayer, the Suscipe.
Finding the Gifts of God in All Things
St. Ignatius and St. Patrick were both gifted with profound, mystical lives, yet they also emphasized that God is found in the ordinary moments of life. In his writings, particularly his Confessio, St. Patrick remarks that the presence of God is all around us. Everything, including his very own life, “was the gift of God.” St. Ignatius Loyola urged his followers to find God in all things, and if we seek to find God in our daily lives, God will speak to us, but first we must attune our presence to him. Jesus invites us to “seek and you will find” (Luke 11:9), but we are often so busy and distracted that we fail to see him. St. Patrick and St. Ignatius remind us to seek God in the ordinary, everyday moments of our lives where God is present in the here-and-now.
Leaning Into the Mercy of God
Sometimes the decisions we make in life or the experiences that happen to us through no fault of our own can bring us low and to the edge of despair. St. Patrick and St. Ignatius had such experiences. “I was like some great stone, lying deep in the mud,” Patrick tells us, but God “in his mercy lifted me up” and “placed me on the very top of the wall.” (Confessio) This is an echo of Ignatius, who cried out to God in his sorrow, “Pardon me, O mercy of my God, for having despised so long Thy mercy’s voice! In deep sorrow and contrition, I cast myself at Thy feet: Have mercy on me.” (Francis W. Johnston, The Voices of the Saints) When we go through trials in life, both saints remind us that instead of turning inward, we should turn to God and lean into his mercy.
Thin places are often wild, messy places of rawness and beauty where God is waiting to renew and restore us. By journeying with and finding parallels between St. Patrick and St. Ignatius, we find encouragement to confront whatever we might find in our thin places and move forward with God’s grace.
Participating in our Lenten read-along of Braving the Thin Places? Introduce yourself in the comments below! And post your thoughts, favorite quotes, or reactions with #lentreadalong on social media.
Thanks for your insight which will help me to have more trust in Jesus and in his mercy. i believe at the end of this Lenten period and the rest pf my journey on earth it will be real U-turn to God.
Thanks Julianne. Life is a brief pilgrimage. Human beings are fragile and mortal. Lorica and Suscipe are good companions for the onward journey.
I love the old traditions of the Church. I love the old traditions of the Celts. You said, “they did not live as if God were far away, and neither should we.” I hope to be more aware of the thin spaces I encounter and to be more in touch to my spirituality.
I have read the Introduction at least three times since listening to your webinar. It seems so simple, yet it is so deep. Looking forward to the rest of the book.
Reading the introduction to your book made me aware of the many thin places I have already experienced in my life, and look forward with joy to discovering more. I usually read far too fast, so I’m glad to be encouraged to take this book at a gentle pace with time to absorb its wisdom and insights.
I am a woman in my mid-seventies, married 50 years this May. I am originally from New York City; my husband Hugh is from Johnstown, County Kilkenny, Ireland. We lived in Swords, County Dublin for several years in the 1990s before returning to the U.S. My great-grandparents were all from Ireland, immigrating from around 1849-1860 and settling in New York. We have two adult daughters, both married, and a 6 year old grandson. I was interested to read, Julianne, that you got your Masters degree from Mater Dei Institute in Dublin. I attended a one-year program on Theology and Spirituality there in 1995-96, and can honestly say that it was the best thought provoking and satisfying program I have ever had.
Now on to some comments about your book. In the introduction, “At the Threshold of a Thin Place,” on page x you wrote “The Celts, known for their love of threshold places at the edge of life such as Sceilg Mhichil…. places that seem to be ‘thin,’ or places where the veil between the worlds of heaven and earth seems especially permeable….” On page xviii you referred to “the Celtic love of thresholds, boundary spaces where time and emotion are marked differently than in the everyday.” I could see myself standing on the coast, looking at the sea, ringed in safety by the lighthouses, the beacons. I loved the Irish coastal weather report, naming each point in turn, Mizen Head, Valentia, Slyne Head…the coasts ringed around by the guardians of the boundaries. Now I know why that image seems so comforting, and yet almost other-worldly. I am so looking forward to the rest of the book, and our Read-Along.
Very interested in following you into my “Thin Places”
I wonderful book! Captured me from the very first page. I realized how special/ precious moments in my life were and continue to be. Read it through once and now with the read along I am reading it again. Thank you for your gift.
The image of “leaning into His Mercy” is very beautiful. It makes me think of the way a child leans into her father when a stranger comes near–knowing that the loving parent will protect the little one from danger.
How much more we can lean into Jesus and know that He will protect us from the evil one, from sin, from ourselves when we lose our way.
Thank you, Julianne. May you and your readers find many Thin Places this Lent.