Irish Blessings and Thin Places: It Matters
By Megan Smith, Office Manager
It is -10 degrees today and my thoughts naturally turn toward spring, which can only mean one thing: St. Patrick’s Day is approaching! I feel a sudden urge to find a flight to Ireland in order to fully celebrate my cultural heritage. My family is very proud of being Irish and I grew up going to the St. Patrick’s parades in downtown St. Paul dressed in green while eating soda bread. We even chose an Irish terrier as our family dog and named him Cork, after the county in southwestern Ireland that my ancestors are from. In the early 1990s, we took a family summer vacation to Ireland and I recall seeing a lot of scenery, a lot of cemeteries, and a lot of sheep. Mostly, I remember the fields: we would stop the car in the middle of nowhere to trudge through mud in order to see a pile of rocks and take pictures. My parents loved it; my younger brothers and I were cold, wet and miserable. We wanted to spend our summer at the pool with our friends, but we somehow ended up together in a small Volvo station wagon on a cultural journey around an ancient island looking at crumbling artifacts from the past. Good times!
I reflect upon these memories because it took me many years and many more visits to Ireland to realize that we were not wandering aimlessly in the wilderness staring at rocks for no discernible reason. My parents felt a connection to the land and to their past and they wanted us to experience this connection as a family. In Ireland, family heritage is very important; your last name matters. Your hometown matters. That bizarre pile of rocks sitting in the middle of a rain-soaked field matters. Someone placed those rocks centuries ago because they had faith in connections to the past, present and future. In Gaelic culture, this is called the “thin place” or the place where the veil between this world and heaven is thin and we can almost see the other side. In order to discern an ordinary place and a thin place, one must use a spiritual perspective.
I have to be honest: I did not have much spiritual perspective when I was a child, a teenager, or even as a college student. It must have developed throughout the last few years, although I know I have had brief encounters with thin places in the past. When you experience a thin place, you feel part of something greater than yourself and you recognize the mysterious power of God. Perhaps you might experience a thin place while visiting a sacred space, attending Mass, on a retreat, or while on a VISION trip or at a VIA site. It is not a moment, nor is it fleeting. Rather, it is a PLACE that calls you and transports your spirit to perceive the nearness of God. Thin places can change you because the feeling remains within you.
I have heard that some people walk through these places daily while others search endlessly for the thin places in their lives. When you are in a thin place, time stands still and you feel something special happen. There is a connection with the Spirit and with all those who have walked there with God before and will walk there with God in the future. Rather than focus on the fun and frivolity of St. Patrick’s Day and Irish cultural heritage, I will attempt to keep my eyes open in search of thin places and I hope you will look for them in your lives, too. I just hope I don’t have to wander the fields covered in mud to stare at a rock to experience them!
Want to learn more about Thin Places? Watch this YouTube Video suggested by Megan.