“That’s enough! Now know that I am God!”
A “thin place” is a term that is used to describe a place where the space between heaven and earth grows thin and the sacred and the secular seem to meet. That space can be as unique as one person is to another and does not necessarily need to be a physical space – there are moments in time where the space between heaven and earth seem to diminish. The term comes from Celtic spirituality and the Celtic Christians who were deeply connected to the natural world. They considered every moment of time to be infused with the rich possibility of encountering the sacred. Occasionally, some can identify a particular moment or experience that connects them to particular place in a spiritually rich and satisfying way. For others, there is simply a growing awareness that a particular place consistently envelops them with the unmistakable presence of God. That is my story. And my place is Bryant Park, New York City.
Earlier this month I took a week of my sabbatical to study and reflect in New York City. Sitting in Bryant Park with my Bible and a collection of sermons by Harry Emerson Fosdick two young women approached me. They were college students and their approach was marked by hesitation and, it seemed, some good measure of fear. They each introduced themselves and asked if I was a resident or visiting the city. It was the requisite small talk they needed to move toward their intended purpose: they then asked, “Do you know God?” That thin veil that separated heaven from Bryant Park tore open and I felt as though I was speaking to angels. After some pleasant conversation they asked if they could pray with me – right there in a place where I have prayed for the City of New York, my church, and my family for nearly twenty years.
Their question is a good one to ask ourselves from time to time: “Do you know God?” The question was not whether I went to church. It was wise that they didn’t ask that question. Persons who don’t know God may fill any particular church on Sunday morning. Presence in a service of worship only indicates that they know of God. The difference isn’t subtle. How can we enter more penetratingly into the unsearchable riches of a relationship with God? Is there a pathway toward a larger knowledge of God that results in the experience of a “thin place” where God’s presence is palpable? Psalm 46 shows us the way: “That’s enough! Now know that I am God!”We use a similar variation in our common speech when we advise people to “slow down and smell the roses!” This counsel from the Psalms does not suggest the abandonment of all activity, but the relaxing of our movement from one thing to another on regular occasions to be present with God.
Life fails to reach its highest potential if strain and stress are persistent. The same is true for increasing in the divine knowledge of God. Life demands that we settle down into a more steady rest for a fruitful relationship with another to flourish. That is true for a relationship with a spouse, our children, and meaningful friendships. It is true for God. Think of it this way. A rubber band, by design, stretches. That is what a rubber band was created to do; that is its function. But stretch a rubber band to far and it breaks. That is descriptive of too many lives among followers of Christ. We are in need of less stretch, less strain, and more rest. Psalm 46 says, “That’s enough!” The knowledge of God begins with releasing the strain of regular activity, moderating the speed of life, and easing down a little to pray, “Make me aware, this moment, of your presence, O God.”