Thin Places, Where Heaven Reveals Its Violence

Christ_Pantocrator_Sinai

Christ Pantocrator 6th St. Catherine’s Monastery Mount Sinai Egypt 

Two weeks of no posting … Please forgive me for this ‘break’ but things have been so hectic here, with my father seriously ill, in hospital. Taking the wrong medication can cause serious side effects and even result in death, especially if the patient is 86 years old! Thanks be to God, the doctors saved my father’s life the very last minute! It was such a heart-rending experience watching him collapse …

This whole experience, as was to be expected, shook us deeply and intensified our prayer life. We were literally (and figuratively) all the time on our knees before Him.This is why I have decided to resume my posts with Father Seraphim Aldea‘s,  Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, and Lev Gillet‘s reflections on Meeting the Living God, Entering Into a  Relationship With Him in Prayer.

These meditations strangely match a recent experience of mine with an Icon of the Saviour I was offered as a blessing. What an icon! I cannot even begin to stare at His Eyes! As if the icon ‘itself’ ought to be “tamed” … Just staring at this ‘Icon’ feels like a Meeting face to face with Him, a moment of Judgment for me … to be either saved or condemned …

praying

“People are right, Iona truly is ‘a thin place’, a great Celtic expression, describing special places where Heaven and earth are drawn together. What I didn’t know before I came for this week (and perhaps, what many of us do not feel) is how dreadfully frightening Heaven is. Perhaps frightening is not the right word: awe-some, full of awe, entirely alien to us and frightening because of its alien nature – these are all weak descriptions, but they are as good as I’m able to make.

Iona is a thin place, but through the thin veil one can see a frightening revelation. It is precisely because these are thin places that they are frightening, too. What we see through them, what we see through their transparence is the real Face of God: not a tame God, a domesticated God; not a God taken to pieces and rebuilt to fit our sinfulness and weakness; not a God shaped against our emotions and cheap piety; not a God of human traditions and cult; not a God of political correctness or incorrectness – but the LIVING God. The Being beyond being, the Uncreated Creator of everything that is, the untouchable One, indescribable by any of our created words, philosophies and concepts. The frightening God, the crushing God, the God Who utters His voice and the earth melts; the God Who commands: Be still, and know that I am God.

To be in a thin place like Iona is frightening because of the Frightening Being Who suddenly becomes visible and Whom you must now face. I’ve learnt that to face God is frightening, because every meeting with God is a moment of total exposure and Judgement: exposure and judgement of ourselves, of our carefully assembled idols and our horrid manipulations of the Divine realities. God is an alien Being to us, because we have turned ourselves in alien beings to Him. Thin places are dangerous places; approach them with fear, as you approach the Face of God. You are in a moment of Judgement.”

Monk-at-Lake.jpg

 

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh adds to a similar vein: “a Meeting face to face with God is always a moment of Judgment for us. We cannot meet God in prayer or in meditation or in contemplation and not be either saved or condemned. I do not mean this in major terms of eternal damnation or eternal salvation already given and received, but it is always a critical moment, a crisis. ‘Crisis’ comes from the Greek and means ‘judgment.’ To meet God face to face in prayer is a critical moment in our lives, and thanks be to Him that He does not always present Himself to us when we wish to meet Him, because we might not be able to endure such a meeting. Remember the many passages in Scripture in which we are told how bad it is to find oneself face to face with God, because God is power, God is truth, God is purity.”

vladimir

Turn to me,
In your good favor, all praise-worthy Theotokos;

Yet, Lev Gillet adds a different dimension, encouraging if I may add, to this discussion: “What does this manifestation [the solemn manifestation of Christ in His baptism in the Jordan] consist of? It is made up of two aspects. On the one hand, there is the aspect of humility represented by the baptism to which our Lord submits: on the other hand, there is the aspect of glory represented by the human witness that the Precursor bears to Jesus, and, on an infinitely higher plane, the divine witness which the Father and the Spirit bear to the Son. We shall look at these aspects more closely. But first of all, let us bear this in mind: every manifestation of Jesus Christ, both in history and in the inner life of each man, is simultaneously a manifestation of humility and of glory.Whoever tries to separate these two aspects of Christ commits an error which falsifies the whole of spiritual life. I cannot approach the glorified Christ without, at the same time, approaching the humiliated Christ, nor the humiliated Christ without approaching the glorified Christ. If I desire Christ to be manifested in me, in my life, this cannot come about except through embracing Him whom Augustine delighted to call Christus humilis, and, in the same upsurge, worshipping Him who is also God, King, and Conqueror.

*

13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.

Jeremiah 29:13 (KJV)

 

  • Thin Places: “Thin Places,” comes from a Celtic Christian concept. The Celts believed that physical locations existed in which God’s presence was more accessible than elsewhere, places where heaven and earth seemed to touch, where the line between holy and human met for a moment, “the places in the world where the walls are weak”, “those rare locales where the distance between heaven and Earth collapses”, as Eric Weiner puts it in his spirituality travelogue, Man Seeks God. For such a ‘thin place’ for me visit my blog post on the Holy and Life-Giving Cross Orthodox parish at Lancaster.

 

 

 

 

 

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