“Don’t neglect to open up your homes to guest, because by doing this some have been hosts to angels without knowing it.”
Hebrews 13:2 (Common English Bible)
This past week I listened to a dear friend from Texas preach from the pulpit of First Presbyterian Church of Galveston, via the church’s webpage. In his message he mentioned that his “thin place” was Mo-Ranch, a camp and conference center located in the hill country of Texas. The pre-Christian and Celtic people of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England identified thin places as places of uncommon energy, a place where the veil between this world and the eternal world is thin. Experiencing a thin place is like standing on Holy Ground, experiencing the sacred in the midst of the ordinary. This term does not belong exclusively to the Christian faith but is commonly understood as a place where the connection to another world seems effortless, a place where uncommon insights and truths become palpable.
Those who know me well have heard me speak often of my thin place, Bryant Park in New York City. Some people have expressed surprise. A beautiful cathedral or a lovely church or a widely recognized sacred place such as the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem seem more likely candidates for the selection of a thin place. Or, as my friend mentioned, Mo-Ranch in the beautiful hill country of Texas. Except, those who understand deeply the notion of a thin place know that they are not chosen. They chose you. Bryant Park chose me nearly twenty years ago. Located in mid-town Manhattan, Bryant Park provides a respite – an escape – from the high-octane movement of the city that surrounds it. That is what drew me into its lovely, landscaped oasis. Then, over time, I began to experience holy moments in Bryant Park.
On one occasion many years ago, seated in Bryant Park on a Wednesday afternoon, I was quietly working on a sermon when a man “flowed” into the park as if lifted by some invisible force. He was draped in a purple robe; arms outstretched and as he entered, people quickly moving from him. Perhaps “scattering nervously” is more accurate. I remained in my seat, wide-eyed in curiosity. Then his eye caught my eye and he moved ever so gracefully toward me. Always interested in unexpected moments in the colorful and rich City of New York, I remained seated. Now standing before me, he asked what it was I was doing. After introducing myself as a Christian pastor working on a message, he gently took my hand, kissed it and gracefully floated on through the park and back into the city. Yes, though he was clearly mentally ill, it was a moment rich in mystery.
Another memorable occasion in the park was July of 2019. I had walked my son to his office in the city and then made my way to Bryant Park to have a frank conversation with God. If we learn anything from reading troubling passages in the Old Testament it is that characters like Abraham are perfectly content with confronting God with difficult questions. On one occasion, God appears poised to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham has no difficulty confronting God with that decision, bartering on behalf of the cities. So, following the example of Abraham, I seat myself in Bryant Park, bow my head, and close my eyes. I have an issue with how God has been managing my sense of call to ministry. In prayer, I let God have it. With head still bowed, eyes closed, I think, “Right, God has nothing to say.” Then, there is a tap on my shoulder and I look-up to see two young women with Ohio State t-shirts. “Yes?” I inquired. “May we ask you a question?” I nodded my permission. “Do you believe God speaks to us? God does, if we truly listen.” That day, in Bryant Park, I found myself seated before two messengers of God; angels dressed in Ohio State t-shirts.