There’s this idea in Celtic spirituality called “thin places”. And, according to the Celts, “thin places” are times and places when the veil between heaven and earth is so thin, we can nearly see through it. When we are given a glimpse of the “story behind the story.”
The Celts would say that “thin places” have a certain energy about them. A sense of awe or transcendence or closeness that, at another time or place, just isn’t there. “Thin places” aren’t places that you see or touch, they are places that you “feel”. And you can’t find them, or make them, they can only be stumbled into. Never captured, only discovered.
And in a very real and literal sense, the story of the Transfiguration is a “thin place”. A place where heaven and earth collide. Where the “story behind the story” breaks through. And I am certain that Peter, James, and John had no idea what they were stumbling into. But all the sudden, there they were. In the presence of Moses and Elijah, being confronted by the voice of God, trying to wrap their minds around this “other Jesus” who was glowing.
And maybe it goes without saying, but this is not normal. This isn’t every day. This isn’t the story as we know it. This is something beyond us. And I know, I know, the Transfiguration story is kind of weird. And I’ll be honest with you, I don’t really get it. I don’t really get what God is up to here. What we’re supposed to make of this. But I know enough to know that it’s important. I know enough to know that on that mountain, something happened.
And in a way, that’s enough. Because “thin places” aren’t places of understanding. They are places of presence. Of knowing you are not alone. That you are in the presence of another. And on that mountain, at the Transfiguration, God was present. God was there. And we caught a glimpse of God’s story that holds our own story.
Turn out, Jesus was not just about small town Jews of the 1st century! He’s bigger than that! Jesus is God’s story! God’s story that stretches beyond creation, to the other side of time itself. That draws together Moses and Elijah. Galilee and Green Bay. All of it and everything, little stories within and held by God’s story.
“Thin places” are places of awe and transcendence. Places of presence and connection. Where the veil between heaven and earth is so gloriously thin. And the Transfiguration is a pretty obvious “thin place”, but it’s not the only one. Baptism and Communion. These are thin places. When the presence of God is so near we can touch it and feel it, literally!
And you know, I’ve heard from so many people who talk about times they have felt the presence of someone they love who has passed on. Moments when it feels so much like they are there. Like they just know they are there. You can experience a “thin place” while watching a beautiful sunset. Or surrounded by people at a park. Or even sitting alone in your car.
The Kingdom of Heaven is continually breaking into our lives, tugging on our hearts, reminding us that we are not alone. That our story is held within God’s story. But “thin places” are not just for Transfigurations, for moments of divine beauty and awe. When we are overcome by all that is good and right in the world. “Thin places” can be found in the darkness, too.
Just before this story of Transfiguration, Jesus, for the first time, reveals to his disciples where this story is going. How this is going to end. And it’s not pretty. It’s going to involve suffering and rejection and betrayal and death. And, of course, the disciples don’t get it. That’s not what Messiah’s do. Messiah’s don’t die, they win. But not this Messiah. This Messiah takes on the cross. This Messiah knows the only way to defeat death is to go through death.
Too often, I think, we look at faith as the thing that supposed to help us avoid hard stuff, avoid suffering. But Jesus doesn’t take on the cross so that we don’t have to. Jesus takes on the cross to lead the way. To be present in every human experience, even suffering. Even death.
And that, too, is a “thin place”.
Sometimes, the places where we feel God’s presence most clearly are not the moments of awe, but moment of agony.
I can tell you, in my life, I have had a handful of those mountaintop experiences with God. Moments of joy and beauty that took me completely by surprise. But I can also tell you that the moments that have stayed with me the most, that have changed me the most, have been the times of meeting God in the darkness. The times when God has shown up in suffering and despair, not to fix it, but to be there. To remind us, “You are not alone.”
“Thin places” are places of presence. Times when the veil between heaven and earth is so, so gratefully thin. When we see, again, that our story is held within God’s story. The good, the bad, the ugly, the miserable. Times of joy and times of sorrow. There is no moment, no place, so far removed that God is not there.
All the way from the mountaintop to the cross.
And wherever you are in your journey, wherever you are right now, that is just where God meets you. That is where the Good News finds you.
And we hear again God’s word of promise –
You are not alone.