Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Pilgrimaging 2

IMG_2007.JPGIs a place like Iona, the famous island off the coast of Scotland where Columba set up a monastic community, holy? Do you think some places — as places — are “thin” places? What is a holy place? How is a place holy?

In his wonderfully written book, In Search of Sacred Places: Looking for Wisdom on Celtic Holy Islands
,  Daniel Taylor and his wife (and family) reflects on his trip to Iona.
Jayne told Daniel that a certain place was Columba’s cell. Here are Daniel’s words:
“I can tell you that she is moved by seeing it, as she often is by places associated with devout people who have dedicated their lives to faith. I look at it for a minute and find that it doesn’t do much for me, as these places usually do not.”
Soon she says to him that it was not Columba’s cell but a well. This leads to further probings: 
“Do we experience the sacredness of a place, do we experience merely our desire that a place be sacred?” Then: Is Iona a holy place? Yes. Is Iona a holy place? No. Is Iona a holy place? Yes and no. Is Iona a holy place? I don’t know.

And yet Daniel Taylor finds at Iona a “serene presence.” The place slowed him down to a walk, and it invited him to reflect.

The holiness, he sees, at Iona got its hands dirty. The Celts did not separate the physical from the spiritual. Celtic Christianity is a Western version of the iconic theology of the East. 
Iona has farmers and a golf course and lots of sheep. And grace: 11 holes on the course and you can count your best nine!
Columba was not trying to escape the world to be holy, but to bring the holiness to everyday life.  Indeed, they were trying to find the holiness that is in all things and bring it out.
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posted August 25, 2010 at 7:28 am

It sounds like a lovely place and I sure would love to visit and find out for myself, but, I must admit, there’s nothing holy about golf when I play it!

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posted August 25, 2010 at 8:25 am

Amen on the spiritual/physical link.
Also, Iona was not just a “special” place because of its own land and buildings, but also because it was a launching point for so many new monastaries and missions.
It is not just represent a destination for inward reflection. It also represents a beginning for outward missions.

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Paul Soupiset

posted August 25, 2010 at 8:28 am

When I was younger [and more certain about everything], I eschewed the idea of thin places / sacred space, but after living a little longer, I can’t shake the belief that they exist. Yes, perhaps what makes them holy is the individual therein (for example, I might be the only one who feels that the creek behind my childhood house is such a space); perhaps it is also socialized (such as the feeling one gets when visiting a Holocaust site like Birkenau II, or when visiting Jerusalem [interesting to consider ‘holy’ for Jews and Muslims and what that means] or when visiting something closer to home like Glen Eyrie or The Abbey of Gethsemane). So to me it makes sense that it is socialized (for example: a third of your readers would count labyrinths as sacred space while another third would recoil, and another third indifferent), but that difference is not diametrically opposed to the Holy Spirit. In fact, it rather underscores the idea of pneuma rather than a jackboot lockset lesser spirit.

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posted August 25, 2010 at 8:59 am

I believe there are holy or sacred spaces, not that the spaces themselves are inherently more sacred, but that we make them so. Where are two or more are gathered, the Holy Spirit is present. When many hundreds, thousands or hundreds of thousands over the course of centuries bring their heart prayers to a spot dedicated to God, layers of hush and holiness develop, a palpable sense of the presence of God. We experience it in certain cathedrals that are more than dead space; we experience it in certain places. As Paul mentions, we experience it at holocaust sites, where the face of –to me–Christ– lives in the presence of an evil that humbles us.

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posted August 25, 2010 at 10:23 am

John McLoed used to talk not of Holy Places but of Thin Places… places where the barrier between heaven and earth was stretched and close and thin. Iona, I think, is one of those places but there are many others.

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posted August 25, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Perhaps a couple of analogies?
Many of the great churches I?ve visited around the world seem to me to be ?holy places.? Some, like Ely Cathedral still have active worship taking place. Others, like the Martyrium of St. Philip in Hierapolis or the Abbey at Lindisfarne are in ruins. I can actually worship and experience the ?holy? in Ely. I may or may not actually ?worship? at the ruined sites, but I still sense their holiness. It is the knowledge that for centuries Christians lived, prayed, worshipped, served and died in these places. They are ?holy,? set apart for the glory of God in some way. On the other hand, some megachurches I?ve been in only seem to have a sense of holiness when worship is actually taking place. Otherwise it might as well be a venue for the latest Tony Robins seminar.
Another analogy from Richard Hooker relates to the Eucharist: ?The real presence of Christ?s most blessed body and blood is not therefore to be sought in the sacrament but in the worthy receiver of the sacrament.?
One man?s church is another man?s building. One man?s pilgrimage site is just another ruin.

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Ted M. Gossard

posted August 25, 2010 at 7:31 pm

Scot, I know after you wrote your book on liturgy (great book) you said that you should have included a chapter on the Celtic liturgical practice. Why not write an entire book on this?
Yes and no. I would agree. But it does seem like God honors the setting apart of certain places for people to meet with him. Yet I think that is meant to open up more space and time for this. So that eventually we may come to see all of life more and more as a thin place.

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Dave Leigh

posted August 26, 2010 at 12:20 am

Thin Places
Lord, please take me to your thin places
In the world and in my life;
Places where existence becomes shear,
And where your glory shines through.
No! Better yet, make me and my life a thin place,
Where your presence bleeds into human perception
With the richness of your powerful splendor!
Though you are everywhere present,
Your sweet immanence is so rarely encountered
Because our dull sensitivities miss the obvious fact
That this world is crowded with your Spirit
And flooded with your grace.
Every now and then, you find a way?
In your plan?to break through our calloused perceptors
And you penetrate our spiritually-cataracted sight
So that we find ourselves in seemingly thin places,
Worn areas in the fabric of the cosmic veil,
And there we encounter you.
Take me to those places, Yahweh, please!
But more importantly, make me such a place,
So that I and others can let you in
To this shadowland humans call reality.
Lord, thank you for your gift of thin places.
(c) Copyright 2006 David R. Leigh

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