One of my favorite hashtags is placestopray. Google it and you'll find majestic cathedrals, crafted in ancient stone by the faithful and lit with pieces of colored glass rendering them, in a sense, jewel boxes to honor God. Or breathtaking spots in nature, filled with the wonder of creation that is God in His glory. Tiny chapels and rustic retreat houses, ruins and tombs. All these places bring believers to a place in the world but not of the world to be in the presence of the Holy Trinity: their creator, their redeemer, and their inspiration.
The Irish call these the "thin places," where heaven and earth meet.
These thin places are palpable for us, we experience God in them. They open up our prayer in a way other places cannot. We find truth and love, healing and redemption, in them. We bare our souls and lay ourselves at foot of the Cross there, even if there is no cross in sight.
Obviously, for we Catholics, any place in which the Eucharist reposes is the thinnest place of all because the Real Presence is there. Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity exist for us to share and adore.
But in the beauty of the truth that God is in all things, a thin place can be anywhere. One of my favorite thin places is a beach in Kailua, Oahu, Hawai'i. It's on the east side of the island, so the sun rises there. Last January, during a family vacation, my daughters, one of my sons-in-law, and I woke up early and walked out to the beach to watch the sun come up. It was otherworldly quiet, other than the sound of the surf. We waited together. I stood back from them all to watch each of them and thank God for each of them, and sear that moment into my brain because sometimes you are gifted with a sense that what you are experiencing is extraordinary. You may not pass that way again. We stood together silently on that beach for a long time. And then, in the distance, there appeared something like a flame of a candle. Tiny, orange, flickering over the azure blue of the Pacific. It grew into pinks and yellows, opening up into the bright round of the morning sun, heralding another day in paradise. I sensed as I saw that brilliant sunrise that it wasn't another day at all, it was a particular gift full of the light of God's grace and the love of these wonderful young people. In many ways, the three of them were even more beautiful than the sunrise. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunity to share that moment with them. I prayed for each of them in turn and hoped for abundant blessings in their lives. God was so present in that moment that I could not help but cry just a bit.
Tonight I was reminded that it doesn't take an extraordinary location to be a thin place. As I sat in the back of the grotto at the Oblate School of Theology, actually not in the grotto but behind the hedge at the back of it, I was completing an Ignatian Imaginative Contemplation on the Agony in the Garden. The guided meditation focused on three things: anguish, angels, and your own Gethsemane. As I journaled about these things, drawing myself deeper into the Gospel, I looked up into the hedge. There appeared something like the flame of a candle, but lightning quick. Tiny, golden, flickering over the deep green of the hedge. On and off, here then there. Fireflies. There are fireflies at the Oblate. What a sweet gift, to see them again after so many years. When I was little, you could see them everywhere. Then they just seemed to go away. Again, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for that moment -- losing myself in a Gospel about fervent, anguished prayer in a garden... in a tranquil, peaceful garden filled with fireflies. I prayed for my family and still hope their lives are filled with blessing; they certainly each fill my life with blessing. Again, God was so present that I could not help but cry just a bit. He is so very good.
Look for those thin places in your life. Remain in them, aware of the treasure they hold. Return to them, recharging your soul. Pray earnestly there, sharing the desires of your heart. This week, the thin places just may be a bit thinner. Visit your #placestopray. There be fireflies.