For Christians, Jesus of Nazareth is the “place” where heaven and earth meet, where the holy is present uniquely and forever. The baptism of Jesus (Luke 3:21–22) and his transfiguration (Mark 9:2–13) exemplify how heaven and earth meet in him. In Jesus, God is so present that he is, in some mysterious way, both fully human and fully divine. To meet Jesus is to meet God. Jesus is “holy ground” par excellence. Where do we experience God? Where is our holy ground? The Irish speak of “thin places,” where the border between heaven and earth, sacred and secular, seems especially porous and God is believed to “leak through” more easily. Because I believe that God can leak through anywhere, I prefer to say that in such places people find the presence of God more easily.
On March 20th as I was about to write this Ursuline reflection, the quote above came to me in a free e-mail series I have been receiving from Loyola Press called Living Lent Daily based on the book A Friendship Like No Other by William A. Barry, SJ. Being only three days away from celebrating my Irish heritage on St. Patrick’s Day, I decided to reflect on my own experiences of “thin places” and “thin times” when I have encountered God as fully present and active in my life.
I experienced God profoundly in “thin times” of deep silence and reflection:
When God prepared me for my election to the Ursuline leadership team while reflecting on the scriptures about the talents at Loyola of the Lakes retreat house;
While walking in the footsteps of Jesus as I prayed the outdoor Stations of the Cross at Our Lady of the Pines retreat center;
When I encountered the feminine side of God as I reflected on the scripture passage: “As a weaned child on its mother’s knee, so am I to you, my God.”
When I was embraced by the Father of the Prodigal Son in Rembrandt’s painting as I sat in an empty church in Rocky River;
When I understood that Jesus reflected on each person’s “story” as he washed the feet of his disciples and then invited me to do the same for those who hurt or disappointed me;
When Jesus forgave “the wheat and weeds of me” while I envisioned my own death as he prepared me to meet his Father.
I also experienced God in the “thin place” between me and another person to whom I was ministering:
While accompanying a dying person and a grieving family during the last days of life on earth;
While interviewing an eighth grader before Confirmation who said: “Now I have faith. Now I go to Mass and take my sister. Now I want to be Catholic – because you said it’s my choice!”
While listening to a woman sexually abused as a child tell her story of meeting God as the “Godfather” when she imagined “her” sins laid out before her at the last judgment;
While telling the story of the Good Shepherd to the second graders and having a little boy claim to be “the one who ran away;”
While sharing faith with men and women who openly discuss their insights, efforts and struggles during a scripture class or morning retreat;
While laying my hands on the head or shoulders of people who asked me to pray for a special grace during the prayer period of an Alpha retreat.
I encourage you to quiet yourselves during the “thin times” and “thin places” of Holy Week so that you, too, can experience the “holy ground” of God’s presence as you listen intently and wait expectantly for Jesus to reveal God to you in a personal and powerful way.