Monday, January 06, 2014

Meeting God in the Thin Places

During this most recent Advent season, I was once again able to contribute an entry to Glen Elm's Advent blog.  I still consider Glen Elm to be one of my 'home' churches, even though it's been over 8 years since I've been a regular member there.  It's always a pleasure to be able to contribute and feel connected there in this way.

One of my favourite authors, Shauna Niequist, in her book ‘Bittersweet’, describes Advent as a ‘thin place’.  This concept of a ‘thin place’, from the Celtic mystical tradition, was a new idea to me, but she describes them this way:

Thin places: places where the boundary between the divine world and the human world becomes almost nonexistent, and the two, divine and human, can for a moment, dance together uninterrupted.  Some are physical places, and some aren’t places at all, but states of being or circumstances or seasons.

I love this idea.  While I believe that God is accessible to us at any point in our days, I also understand that at certain times in our lives, God seems slightly more able to be touched or felt or experienced.  It’s almost as if a curtain is pulled back slightly, giving us a tiny glimpse or taste of what He’s like.  This taste leaves us wanting for more.  And I believe that Advent can be one of those times, one of the thin places in our lives. 

At its core, Advent is about waiting and longing.  This is something we all understand well.  Whether or not we’d like to admit it, each and every one of us has longed for something in our lives.  We long for days past, or days still to come.  We long to be done school, or working at a better job, or to be making more money.  We long to be married, or to have a better marriage.  We long to have children.  We long for better health.  And I could go on.  But Advent reminds me that I don’t have to feel guilty about my heart’s longings – I can lean hard into these longings.  This isn’t usually fun or comfortable, but it is often in these places, even amongst my brokenness, that God can do some of His best work in me, if I’m open to it.

Yet, Advent is also about hope.  It’s about knowing that this isn’t the end, that while circumstances might be less than ideal presently, that they don’t have to stay that way.  We know that Emmanuel was born, and with His birth – and His life, the whole world was changed.  He brought us hope, and we don’t have to feel the ache of our longings forever.

As we approach Christmas, let us be aware that we can meet God in these days.  Let us not get so caught up in the rush of the season that we forget to rest in His presence.  Shauna continues on about ‘thin places’, saying:

When we find a thin place, anytime, anywhere, we should live differently in the face of it, because if we don’t, we miss some of the best moments that life with God has to offer us.  These thin places are gifts, treasures, and they’re worth changing our lives for.  Reach through from human to sacred every time the goodness of the season moves you.  A thin place is an opportunity to be more aware of the divine fingerprints all over this world, and Christmas is one invitation after another to do that.

Give up for a while your false and failing attempts at merriment, and thank God for thin places, and for Advent, for a season that understands longing and loneliness and long nights.  Let yourself fall open to Advent, to anticipation, to the belief that what is empty will be filled, what is broken will be repaired, and what is lost can always be found, no matter how many times it’s been lost.

So, in this season of Advent and longing, and in our own seasons of longing, may we not be scared to lean in to our own longings and brokenness, and allow God to birth something new and beautiful from within us.  May we always remember the hope that we have because of Emmanuel – God Is With Us.  And may we seek to make these days leading up to Christmas a ‘thin place’, where God’s presence seems even just a bit closer.

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