I first learned what these two words–thin place–meant when I was taking an early morning walk on a hill above the ruins of the Tintern Abbey in Wales. I had walked to the top of the hill, then found an old tree under which I could sit and rest. While there I felt a moment or two when I was transported out of that place and time and into another dimension. It was as if I could see through a veil separating us from another dimension always here but seldom felt.
When I came down from my walk I found people in the area were setting up a yard sale and seeing one gentleman with a lot of guitars to sell, I wandered over there and got into a discussion. When I mentioned my experience, he simply said: “You were in a thin place.” Since I had never heard the term before, I asked him what it meant. He said it had an ancient history among the Celtic people and especially for poets. It’s when for a moment the veil which separates our time from another, call that eternity, is lifted for a moment and we can see directly beyond what is in front of us. He reminded me that the path I had been walking on was one that village people and monks from the abbey often traveled to get “closer to God” (as he put it) and rest and pray. He also related the story of how the English poet Wordsworth and his sister were walk the same pathway when they wished to get away from the noise and traffic of London. “A thin place is sacred space,” he said. “And that’s what you felt.”
I have thought about my experience there many times since my visit to Wales and realizing that if you are aware and awake from time to time you can find thin places in everyday life–whether it’s seeing the first flower of Spring or listening to a baby laugh. These moments are there when the veil is so thin you can almost touch the other side.
In a few months I shall be back in England and Wales and staying for nearly a week near the Tintern Abbey where I plan to walk the hill again and sit under the tree, hoping to catch a brief view through the veil. If one listens and sees clearly, such moments lift us beyond this time and into another. And like Wordsworth, one can store these memories within and remember.