Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Thin Places…

There’s an ancient Celtic idea that’s become a fashionable topic as of late, and for good reason. The theory goes that the godly and manifest realms (Heaven and Earth), though seemingly separated by endless distance, are but arms lengths apart. And what’s more, there are spaces in this world- moments in time and places of unique power- where that distance grows closer. These are thin places; places where the boundaries of spirit and flesh diminish so as to glow translucent. Ancient Celts described Sunrise and Sunset as thin places. I’ve known thin places on Colorado Ski Mountains; in a boat at night off the coast of Grand Cayman; on my knees in prayer at the Abbey of Gethsemane, KY; singing spirituals with you after dinner this past Maundy Thursday. Thin places. Locations and moments of profound spiritual transition. As one poet wrote, “God shaped spaces. Holy.” Amen.

June was a month of thin places, if ever I’ve had one, an extended period of openness to the nearness of God’s transforming power of love. Most obvious, I got married, a spiritual transition like no other. This comes with a change in residence, behavior patterns, frequency of doing the laundry, which I mention so we remember that spiritual transition is about the mundane moments of life as much as the passionate and profound. And just weeks earlier, my then-fiancé graduated graduate school and got ordained. Thus, I am now a clergy spouse. Life keeps getting better.

Also, June marked two shifts in our church life together.

1) We welcomed a new group of Church Leadership. Our outgoing leaders, as you must know, served amazingly, and made my transition as a first-time solo pastor empowering, comfortable and fun. Thank you! This next group of leaders is also well poised for dynamic service. They have vision, passion, skill and creativity, for which I hope the church is both grateful and prepared! It should be another fantastic year at Plymouth Creek; I ask you do your best to ease their transition into formal leadership.

2) This newsletter is the last of my first year in ministry here. Next time I write for the Creeksider, I’ll no longer be a rookie. I had a boss who, almost weekly asked, “So, what have you learned recently?” It could get annoying, but was also a great habit to pick up. I’ll regale you during the next newsletter with my thoughts on “what I’ve learned from Plymouth Creek this year.” In the meantime, I encourage you to send me letters/emails/phone calls with your answer to that question. If I get enough responses, we’ll archive them on our new church website (thanks Kimberly!).

I think that’s a fitting way to acknowledge the transition from one year to the next, because times of spiritual transition, personally and corporately, truly are thin places. God comes near to guide God’s people as a new thing begins. And it’s impossible, I believe, to experience these thin places without learning something about who you or we are in the great Adventure of Creation. That doesn’t mean your entire world upends, but something changes. Our awareness of the possible expands. Because the manifest realm, if only for a breathe, merges into the godly and eternal. We learn something, and get prepared for something. After all, God doesn’t saturate thin places solely so we feel good. Thin places, God shaped spaces, are training grounds for mission; guideposts for those moments, as we serve a hurting and fragmented world, when life seems painful, and God feels distant, and we need a reminder of why we’re doing all this, or who did it well before us. That helps us go forward.

So take this month to reflect on the thin places you’ve encountered. Remember all the insights into God’s love that may have surprised you. Share them with me and others so that, come Fall, we’ll be prepared. Remember our goals for that season? To offer greater 1) Hospitality to families and 2) Outreach to the community. I think we’ll do these well, especially as we pay heed to the thin places we’ve met, and the transitions life brings. For the nearer God seems, the better oriented toward God’s best hopes for our future we’ll find ourselves. And that’s a great way to be. In all things,

Grace and Peace,

Rev. Shane Isner