Thin Places

Thin Places

As I was reading this morning, I came across this statement in James K. A. Smith’s, You Are What You Love

“We might say the sacramental power of Christian worship “enchants” our everyday lives, reminding us that the world we inhabit is not flattened “nature” but rather a creation charged with the presence and power of the living Spirit… Creation is always more than we see.  What might appear “natural” is suffused with God’s grandeur.  It is in worship that we learn to inhabit the world in this way, as an environment charged by the presence and activity of God.”

Worship “enchants” our everyday lives… I like that.

Reading that reminded me of an ancient Celtic belief that heaven and earth are only about three feet apart.  Thus, heaven is always within reach – always, everywhere.  But, there are also times and places where the separation is much thinner.  Celts called those “thin places.”

Could we also call them “enchanted places?”

Though I know, theologically, that God is always with me, those thin, enchanted spaces and moments, reveal God’s presence more intimately, more obviously, more clearly.  I find rest and peace there.  Some of my thin spaces include…

My back porch, especially on those rare cool mornings, surrounded by my bonsai trees, some in bloom.


In deep conversation, over cups of coffee, with intimate friends (you know who you are).

An ancient church in Chichicastenango, Guatemala, early in the morning, when the Mayan incense is rolling in from the front doors.


On top of Volcan Pacaya, in Guatemala, with beloved friends, as the lava flowed a few feet away, and we shared in Holy Communion.


On top of Mount Nebo, in Jordan.

Riding my motorcycle on canopy roads or along the coast.

Laying side-by-side with my wife, holding hands, completely relaxed in each others’ presence.

Duke Chapel, where I went to seminary.


Holding someone in my arms as they weep.

The Monastery of the Holy Spirit, where I have gone for many, many silent retreats.


The birth of my children.

Standing in the surf, at sunset, baptizing students when I was a campus minister.


The sanctuary at First United Methodist Church of Orlando, where I discovered a spiritual home for the first time – where I was married, heard my call to ministry, preached my first sermons, and performed my first wedding.


Fall Creek Falls, where I went to camp as a teen, and played and worshipped at the base of the falls.


Corpse pose, after a good hour of yoga.

Time on the beach, early in the morning, listening to Bob Marley.

Occasionally, while I’m preaching.


Sometimes, when I cry.

Sometimes, when I write.

And, oddly, a few unspeakable moments of unbearable tragedy, when I was called upon to be a pastoral presence.

As Smith writes, these, and others, have been thin, enchanted places, “charged by the presence and activity of God.”

It was good to be reminded of those places this morning.  It was good to be reminded that those places exist.  It was good to be reminded that I need those places.

So, this morning, I took my cup of coffee, and walked out to my porch.  I walked from bonsai tree to bonsai tree, to look at each blossom and to look for new growth.  I enjoyed the moment.  And, I felt God’s enchanting presence.  And, it was good.

Where are your thin places?

30 years ago, tonight…

30 years ago, tonight…

At 9:00 pm, 30 years ago, tonight, we were lowering the gate to the entrance of Champs Sporting Goods, at the Fashion Square Mall, in Orlando, where I worked (primarily selling athletic shoes – selling shoes has always been my back-up profession, in case ministry doesn’t work out).  As I was checking off the list of my “closing” duties – before I could leave – a cute, young college student, named Kelly McFarlane, walked up to the store window, meeting me to go on our first date.

She was really cute.

We left the Fashion Square parking lot and started our date about 9:30 pm.  Nowadays, I’m thinking of heading to bed by about 9:30 pm!  We stopped at Wendy’s to get her something to eat.  I had a cup of coffee, because I’d been out until about 5:00 am the night before.  Now I wake up, some days, around 5:00 am!

We went dancing, at an Orlando nightclub called Rosie O’Grady’s, where she somehow managed to sneak both of us in (YES! – SHE sneaked us in) – we were only 19 years old!  We talked, and laughed, and danced.  She claims I even sang to her while we danced.

On the way back to her dorm room, at the University of Central Florida, we stopped at a 24-hour restaurant, called Wags, for pie and coffee (we would spend a lot more late nights at Wags “studying” over the next three years).  I finally dropped her off sometime around 3:00 am, give or take.  I could mention kissing her goodnight, but I’ll save that for another time.

The next morning, I told my dad that I was going to marry Kelly McFarlane.  He laughed.  But, three and a half years later, on August 18, 1990, Kelly McFarlane became Kelly McFarlane Rains.

Thirty years later, I’m still very thankful for that first date.  Little did we know, thirty years ago, what the future held for us….

  • College graduations, and then graduate school for me – twice!
  • A wedding
  • Numerous jobs
  • Ministry
  • Homes in eight different cities
  • Two children
  • So many holidays, so many new traditions, and so many memories
  • Friends and family – including some that are no longer with us
  • Good times and hard times, poor times and less poor times, times of health and times of sickness
  • Lots of arguments and lots of making up
  • empty nesting
  • and, so much love

So, tonight, as I write this at nearly 10:00 pm (yawn), thirty years ago seems like such a long time.  I’m not the night owl that I used to be.  I’m not a lot of things I used to be – good and bad.  In fact, it is hard to imagine now how that guy thirty years ago turned into this guy, and how she has loved both, and a few versions in between.

I guessed she’s changed too.  But, she is still the one who captured my heart thirty years ago, the one who holds it now, and the one I plan to spend the next thirty years with – making many more memories, and sharing a lot more love.

Happy First Date Anniversary, Kelly McFarlane Rains!  I love you!