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It’s All Thin

By Al Keeney

IMG_0256A few years ago, I made a Shalem pilgrimage to the Isle of Iona, off the western coast of Scotland. I was drawn to experience, what in Celtic spirituality, is called a “thin place”  –  a place where heaven and earth seem to touch. It was an awakening for me of the divine presence in the raw beauty of nature on Iona, and in the sacred presence of the deep spiritual community there. There was no question in my mind that this place was one of those unique places that can open one’s heart to what is. The moments in my memory of those “thin place” encounters still resonate within my spirit.

I’ve been blessed to make other pilgrimages where I have had similar experiences, and it’s made me a pilgrimage junkie of sort… looking for the next opportunity to go “thin.”

Not too long ago, I attended the ordination of a friend and found my heart touched as I heard the preacher speak of the burning bush that Moses saw in that “thin place” the Holy One had called him to. The preacher went on to say that there are burning bushes (and thin places) all around us, all the time, if only we would look and see.

I live in a rural area of upstate New York. And while, it is a beautiful area, I never thought of it like I thought about those “official” thin places of my pilgrimages. It’s been a gift, a grace, to be made aware that I need not travel far to be close to Divine Presence… that there are burning bushes… thin places… moments of deep presence in this place, in this community, within myself. In other words, it’s all thin!

For me, one of the things that has been a block to seeing the deep reality of Presence in the thin places around me is the lack of wonder I have for the familiar. It’s as if I dismiss the ordinary, the immediately present, for some experience somewhere else, at another time. I am so easily distracted and attracted by the new and the unfamiliar. Still, the good news is that just because I may not be paying attention, Presence is always there. For that I am extremely grateful.

Are there any “thin places” that have a particular meaning for you? Any blocks you notice to seeing the burning bushes or thin places around you?

Former Warden, John Philip Newell, of the Iona Community on the Isle of Iona (an “official” thin place), is this year’s speaker at the Eighth Gerald May Seminar on May 17 and 18. For more information go to

8 responses to “It’s All Thin”

  1. Yes, these ‘thin places’ in our lives. In my work as a Spiritual Director and a hospice bereavement coordinator I often tell families and nurses what a privilege to be with someone in the moments of death when heaven and earth do touch. I also believe that if the dead could talk they would tell us themselves of their own ‘thin place’. I have had my own ‘thin places’, some in places where I would expect them-at the birth of one of my grandsons, at the Cathedral at Chartres, hopefully some day at Iona but the first one I recall with such clarity was standing at the ruins of Tantallon Castle in Scotland looking out at the North Sea…I carry that moment with me always.

  2. leahrampy says:

    Beautiful, Al. This reminds me of David Whyte’s poem “The Opening of Eyes” that ends:
    “It is Moses in the desert
    fallen to his knees before the lit bush.
    It is the man throwing away his shoes
    as if to enter heaven
    and finding himself astonished,
    opened at last,
    fallen in love with solid ground.”

  3. fromcheaptherapy says:

    Al, like you, one of my favorite thin places is my home. and yep, familiarity can get in the way. thanks for that wonderFULL reminder. another thin place for me is Pelican House, a simple ocean front house on the coast of NC. it’s the place i visit when Home seems far away. thanks, lisa

  4. In my experience, “thin” is a way to be, rather than a place to be, which is not to say that there haven’t been some places in which I experienced the gossamer veil. The earliest in memory was the top of the long stacks of haybales on my grandfather’s Missouri farm. For some reason, sitting atop those bales, gazing across fields and timberlines, that much closer to the sun, that much more aware of prairie breezes blowing across my face, I felt at one with everything beautiful, and it all was beautiful. Fifty years later, I live in one of my favorite places on Earth, the Southern Appalachian Highlands. Deep in a mountain forest, sunlight dappling through leaves, birds calling, mountain streams rushing, my senses are overwhelmed, my mind, unable to take in any more, stops chattering and grows quiet, and I know the presence of God. What seems most salient to me is that in these places–and so many more–the busyness of life is interrupted, and in the breach, a quiet spaciousness grows that allows me to feel the Spirit that is there, always and already. Interrupting the busyness of my life to become still and quiet any time, any where, allows the spaciousness to manifest and the Spirit to become apparent on any downtown sidewalk, in the middle of the grocery store, and, yes, at home, right there at the kitchen sink. It is all thin when I am in a thin way.

  5. MKM says:

    Anywhere out in nature, where I not only see the beauty of creation, but I am struck, again and again, by the sense of being held by something larger than myself.

  6. bob says:

    Hey Al–glad I read the whole piece. My wife and I greet extraordinary beauty every day outside our windows but it would be arrogant of us to accept as sacred only those places which fulfill our visual criteria; to equate pretty with holy. The 149th st subway station or a truck stop on I80 in the midwest can be a “thin place” if we line ourselves up correctly so as to be able to perceive.

  7. Sometimes being with young children opens a thin place for me – they seem to live so close to the border! And, as someone said above, being with the dying. I am drawn to the sacred in that space. Always thin at my farm in New Hampshire, where the family roots go deep and the evergreens grow tall and the air smells like rich pine humus. And, of course, Yosemite. Thanks for the post. I hope to go to Iona some day.

  8. Yes, “all thin”….

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