Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts


The First Thin Place

posted by Mark D. Roberts

Part 2 of series: Thin Places
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series
First, I want to thank those of you who have given feedback on this series, either through your comments or through emails to me. Your theological and experiential input has been very helpful. As always, I am terribly grateful for the content and spirit of your contributions.
Today I want to begin some theological reflection on the idea of thin places. As usual, I will get into the theological issues by examining relevant biblical passages. My question, at this point, is “How does Scripture lead us to think about the idea of thin places?”
In case you missed my first post in this series, let me explain once again that thin place is a metaphor with Celtic Christian origins. A thin place, in this tradition, is a place where human beings experience God more directly. The metaphor assumes a worldview in which heaven and earth are, in general, separated by a considerable distance. But some places on earth seem to be thin in the sense that the separation between heaven and earth is narrowed. Thus people sense God’s presence more readily in so-called thin places.
The metaphor of thin places does not appear in Scripture. That does not mean it’s unhelpful or theologically suspect. But those of us who base our theology on the Bible will want to consider this metaphor in light of biblical revelation.
As we begin to consider what Scripture has to say about thin places, we might well start at the beginning, in Genesis 1-3. There, we learn that God created heaven and earth, and that all of creation is good. We do not get the idea from these chapters that the world is divided up into godly places and ungodly places. There is no sanctifying of special spaces in the creation story. (There is, however, the setting aside of a special time, namely the seventh day. More on this later, I expect.)
From the opening chapters of Genesis we don’t learn much about the interaction of the first humans with God. In chapter 3, we do see how God comes to look for Adam and Eve after they disobeyed him, and how they communicate directly with him. But, because of their disobedience, they are cast out of the Garden of Eden. This suggests that their access to God is not what it once was. To use the metaphor of this series, we might say that Eden was the first thin place, and that human beings were expelled from this place because of their sin. (Photo: A detail from a painting by Masaccio, “The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden,” 1426-1427.)
It would be mistaken, I believe, to think of Eden as the only thin place in the larger world. In fact, the Garden represents all of the created world. God’s purpose, it seems, was for all the world to be a thin place, a place where human beings experienced intimate and immediate fellowship with him. Eden represents the world before it was corrupted by sin, not a special place within the world where God is present.
Notice, however, what was to have happened in the Garden of Eden according to God’s plan. Here, human beings were to be fruitful and multiply, to take care of the earth and manage it well. Here, human beings were to till the Garden that God had planted. In a phrase, the first thin place was a place of work as well as rest. The man and the woman would experience God as they did what God created them to do.
I think this point is worth our attention because, for the most part, we tend to associate thin places with rest and retreat. Most thin places are far away from the noisy, busy, relentless demands of daily life. People call Laity Lodge a thin place, for example, because they experience God in a powerful way while on retreat there. Ditto for other sanctuaries throughout the world. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone refer to his or her workplace as a thin place (not counting those of us who work at retreat centers!). Our thin places tend to be places of rest, quiet, prayer, worship, reflection, and peace . . . not places filled with colleagues, to-do lists, emails, fax machines, computers, cell phones, etc. etc. This doesn’t surprise me, but it does make me wonder about thin places and their relationship to our ordinary, workaday lives. If the first thin place, arguably the thinnest place of all, was a place where people worked, what difference might this make in the way we think about work, God, and even thin places, for that matter?



Advertisement
Comments read comments(3)
post a comment
Rodney Reeves

posted May 12, 2009 at 9:03 am


Great way to start the discussion–with the beginning. I’m looking forward to your insights.
Work as a thin place. It reminds me of Brother Lawrence, “The Practice of the Presence of God,” who noticed that when he prayed (or did other obviously pious things) he didn’t sense God’s presence as greatly as when he washed dishes.



report abuse
 

slarrow

posted May 12, 2009 at 9:56 am


I’ll be interested when you come to the tabernacle and the temple. It seems to me that the Holy of Holies will be a great example of this concept.



report abuse
 

Jennie

posted May 12, 2009 at 6:35 pm


As a young mother, I definitely would have called work a “thin place.” Removed from the lack of structure called “home with small child,” I so appreciated the desk to sit in where I would actually see things getting done, the calendar that would have organized meetings and project deadlines and water cooler moments that provided both conversations with grown-ups and rest from the work day. It was also at work where I could reflect on my family waiting for me at home, appreciate God’s gifts of them and my whole life. I would often return home refreshed and excited to continue on the journey. (disclaimer: I LIKED my work and it was generally part-time). I often encourage moms to find something that they enjoy to do out of the house, if only part-time, so they can find this “thin place.” Personally, I believe I’ve done my best parenting, have felt the closest to God and have been the most content when I have had other things to care about in my life.



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Mark D. Roberts. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 2:09:11pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? Conclusions
In this series on the death of Jesus, I have presented four different perspectives on why Jesus had to die: Roman, Jewish, Jesus’, and Early Christian. I believe that each of these points of view has merit, and that we cannot fully understand the necessity of Jesus’ death without taking them all

posted 2:47:39am Apr. 11, 2011 | read full post »

Sunday Inspiration from the High Calling
Can We Find God in the City? Psalm 48:1-14 Go, inspect the city of Jerusalem. Walk around and count the many towers. Take note of the fortified walls, and tour all the citadels, that you may describe them to future generations. For that is what God is like. He is our God forever and ever,

posted 2:05:51am Apr. 10, 2011 | read full post »

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? The Perspective of the First Christians, Part 3
An Act and Symbol of Love Perhaps one of the most startling of the early Christian interpretations of the cross was that it was all about love. It’s easy in our day, when crosses are religious symbols, attractive ornaments, and trendy jewelry to associate the cross with love. But, in the first

posted 2:41:47am Apr. 08, 2011 | read full post »

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? The Perspective of the First Christians, Part 2
The Means of Reconciliation In my last post, I examined one of the very earliest Christian statements of the purpose of Jesus’ death. According to the tradition encapsulated in 1 Corinthians 15, Jesus died “for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (15:3). Yet this text doesn’t expl

posted 2:30:03am Apr. 07, 2011 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.