On the lookout for thin places

IMG_1571Have you ever had the sensation that the barrier between the temporal and the eternal has become porous or indeed disappeared entirely? Then you’ve found a “thin place.”  One of my goals in this blog is to share my experiences of those places with you so that you can be on the lookout as well.

The concept of a thin place emerges from Celtic spirituality and describes a place where one can experience the divine more readily than elsewhere. The Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts has an excellent exploration of thin places from a biblical perspective. In addition, Eric Weiner, in the New York Times, has written powerfully about these places.  His book, Man Seeks God, is also an excellent resource.  Weiner makes the important point that there are places that an individual (and perhaps no one else) may experience as a thin place.  

When I’m on the road I’m always on the lookout for both kinds of thin places—places of public pilgrimage and places where the proximity to God takes one by surprise.

My most recent encounter with a thin place occurred a few months ago when my daughter and I traveled to Australia.  During the first part of our trip, we flew to Uluru, otherwise known as Ayers Rock, at the southern edge of the Northern Territories.  

After settling into our hotel, we headed to the national park to join a walking tour at the base of Uluru.  The park ranger was a descendant of the Pitjantjatjara people, the traditional owners of the area surrounding Uluru.  He talked movingly about the importance of Uluru as a place of pilgrimage for the Aboriginal people.  

As one walks around the base of Uluru there are sections on the face of the rock that the Pitjantjatjara people revere as sacred and where one is forbidden to take photographs.  The tension between being one of Australia’s premier tourist destinations and a holy place is palpable.  Local belief forbids climbing on Uluru and yet the park, jointly overseen by Aboriginal leaders and the Australian government, permits it—for now.

My encounter with Uluru as a thin place happened at sunrise the next morning.  As my daughter slept, I made my way to the entry of the park in the dark.  After parking, I began a solitary walk to circumnavigate Uluru as the sun began to rise.  

What impressed me initially was the sound of the wind rustling the scrub as it swept across the vast desert of central Australia in the darkness.  It sounded like the rustling of ancient parchment, dry and crinkling, heralding the arrival of the divine.

Dawn began to break across the face of Uluru about 30 minutes into my 3-hour hike around the rock. I had the sensation that I was the only person present to witness the sunrise in this ancient and holy place.  

I froze.  Suddenly I felt God’s warm breath wash over me, banishing the chill of the desert night.  I was in a thin place.

Where have you experienced a thin place?

Published by Rob Radtke

President & CEO, Episcopal Relief & Development, husband, father, friend, traveler, reader, New Yorker.

2 thoughts on “On the lookout for thin places

  1. Beautiful Rob. What a powerful moment, and your description takes us there with you. Your description of the sun rising in the desert reminded me of our sunrise at Wadi Qelt in Israel – also a thin place, watching the sun rise over the desert, in silent meditation with our fellow pilgrims and then celebrating Eucharist together. Thanks for reminding me of that amazing morning and beautiful, thin place. Josephine


  2. I look forward to more of this beautiful and inspirational writing. It is so needed now!
    Thank you, Rob, for offering your insights.


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