You don’t have to travel thousands of miles to find a thin place.
In fact, it’s important to find them in your everyday life. But, you have to be looking for them. Here are three thin places that I try to visit on a regular basis.
#1. The Gym
I don’t love exercise. In fact, for most of my life, I’ve actively avoided it. My thickening waist, however, and the ensuing tut-tutting from my doctor motivated me to drag myself to the gym. Three or four times a week I hurl myself onto the elliptical machine for the mandated 45 minutes of cardio exercise.
As it happens, the elliptical machines are perfectly placed to peer over the fence and into the garden that surrounds New York’s largest mosque.
The rhythm of my Muslim neighbors coming and going is mesmerizing. Their fidelity is remarkable. There are some taxi drivers that stop five times a day at the mosque, double parking their cars in the street below the gym, and racing in. At Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, families dressed in their finest, with joyful children squirming and dancing, stream into the mosque.
As my fellow New Yorkers reach and yearn to get close to God, I can feel God around me. Sometimes observing other people’s faithfulness takes one to a thin place.
#2. The Kitchen
Benjamin Franklin is erroneously credited with having written, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” In point of fact, he actually wrote, in a letter to a friend,
We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana, as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy!
Franklin is probably onto something here. However, for me it is neither beer nor wine that makes me happy and brings me closer to God. It is baking.
While I enjoy the results of my baking as much as the next person (hence the doctor-mandated trips to the gym mentioned above), it is in the baking itself that I feel God at work. The alchemy of mixing the ingredients and the mystery of how they interact to create a cookie or cake or pie fills me with wonder.
During Advent, I prepare for Christmas and the birth of Jesus by planning an elaborate cookie strategy. I find new recipes. I modify old favorites. And then, I take over the kitchen in a whirlwind that culminates in dozens of cookies. That being said, baking any time of the year, not just at Advent, opens me up to God’s presence in my life. To me, there is no greater expression of God’s love than a perfect chocolate chip cookie.
#3. The Beach
This last one is a bit of a cliché, I’m afraid. But, I don’t think that makes it any less true.
As often as I can, I make a point of finding a beach on which to stand. From there, I look out over the body of water to where its surface meets the sky, searching for the furthest point my eyes can see. The concentration of setting my gaze on the distance focuses my mind and clears it of clutter and noise. Invariably, God is present with me in those times and places.
Where are your everyday thin places?