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An excerpt from Pressing Into Thin Places

Recognizing the “Thin Places” in Our Lives 1

In the Celtic tradition, a “thin place” is the place where the veil that separates heaven and earth is nearly transparent. It is a place where we experience a deep sense of God’s presence in our everyday world. A thin place is where, for a moment, the spiritual world and natural world intersect.

There are moments when we do feel the divine breaking through into our world. We feel unified and connected with God. It is not an intellectual knowing, it is felt in the spirit. It can be a sudden momentary awareness or profound unexplainable experience. I would like to share a few “thin place moments” with you and encourage you to have eyes to see the gifts of thin places.

The phenomenon of a place where the physical and natural everyday world merges into a thin line is well rooted in biblical history, but it was the Celts who first gave the descriptive phrase “thin place” to it. I first understood the idea of thin places when I heard a minister from Tulsa speak to a group of ear, nose, and throat surgeons in Washington, D.C. His point was that he as a minister and they as physicians were in a unique and privileged position to witness “thin places” because both the physician and the clergy dealt in the realm of life and death. He gave an indelible example of one of his experiences.

He said he had been called to the hospital to pray for a dying woman who was in a deep coma. He went in and although she would not be able to know or respond to his presence, he went over and stood at the foot of her bed and prayed for her aloud. He began, “Our Father, who art in heaven . . .” About midway through the prayer, the woman, without waking up, began to join in with him: “Give us this day our daily bread . . .” She finished the prayer and died shortly thereafter. He knew he stood on the line of a thin place.

Another example was told to my husband and me by his senior partner when his wife died. She was in the hospital and the family had been called in because her death was imminent. As Charles and his two children sat by her side, she left her body in the early morning hours. Sherard, the daughter, said to her brother, “Chuck, did you see it?” He said, “What? I did not see anything.” She then asked, “Daddy, didn’t you see it?” He said, “No, baby, I didn’t see anything.” She said, “Just as mother died, I saw a mist rise from mother’s body, float to the ceiling, and disappear.” Sherard witnessed a thin place.

Thin places come in different ways and some can be subtle. I call them “Garden of Eden moments” because they remind me of the way things must have been in the Garden of Eden when the earth was perfect and at peace. I think we have all experienced them, kind of a time of unified joy. The bounty and beauty of nature can bring such joy: a sunrise or sunset, the coming of spring, or a deep winter snow.

Moments of a unified spirit can also come within relationships. One such Garden of Eden moment came when Paul and I went to Disneyworld with our children and grandchildren. After a long day of activity at the park, we headed back to our hotel room on the bus.

Paul was sitting next to me with his arm around the back of the seat touching my shoulder. Across from us were our two sons and their wives, talking quietly and content with each other. Their children were curled up, lying in their laps and cradled in the crook of their arms. For one brief moment, I experienced the way it must have been in the Garden of Eden when peace and joy ruled, when all was perfect and everything was the way it should be.

We are graced with thin moments from time to time, some profound, some subtle. They sneak up on us. So let us keep our eyes open for the gifts of the thinning of the veil as we walk on the mountains. And then let us remember the truths in the flatlands and in the valleys.

What is a thin place?

“In over 30 years as a clinical psychologist I’ve discovered that there is one thing no one gets enough of and that everyone needs more of. It doesn’t cost anything to give it but it is truly priceless. It is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s the gift of encouragement and it’s a gift Margaret generously gives to all of us in the form of this book.”

– Dr. Gary J. Oliver – Executive Director of the Center for Relationship Enrichment, John Brown University

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In Pressing into Thin Places, Dr. Margaret Wills invites questioning, thinking, and hurting readers to recognize glimpses of wonder and to draw strength and find rest in the presence of a loving God. Dr. Wills knows from her own experiences that life is not simple and that we all need encouraging words and reasons to hang on to hope. With transparency and refreshing gentleness, Wills tackles subjects such as:

  • universal fears
  • disappointments
  • depression
  • wounded relationships
  • death of loved ones
  • faith in adversity

She beckons readers to pull aside the veil and to see into that “thin space,” as the Celtics called it, where all that separates heaven and earth becomes almost transparent.

Pressing into Thin Places: Encouraging the Heart toward God
by Dr. Margaret Harrell Wills, Ed.D
Brown Christian Press – May 2011
ISBN 978-1-934812-99-0/208 pages/hardcover