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The Rector The Revd Rob Farmer writes:
I have just returned from a particularly nice holiday in South Wales where the sun shone, the sky was blue and all was right with the world.
We were staying on the border of Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire at Pendine. It is a part of the world that is not unknown to us, especially as it was just a few miles along the road were I proposed to my good lady some 28 years ago now.
One of our main reasons for visiting this area though was that our eldest daughter, who is a student of English Literature, wanted to visit Dylan Thomas’ Boathouse at Laugharne. Many of his famous writings were brought to birth here including the poems Do Not Go Gentle, Poem on His Birthday, Over St John’s Hill, as well as part of his most famous play Under Milk Wood. The Boathouse overlooks the Taf Estuary and is a haven for birds, seals and otters, and it’s not difficult to see how the stunning land and seascape contributed to Thomas’ creativity as a writer.
The day we visited was hot and sunny, and my first impression of the view over the estuary was that it was breathtaking. It became for me one of those places where time stopped, and I was content to stand and gaze with awe at the beautiful scenery: the shimmering sea water in the distance, the elegant lapwings moving gracefully among the sands and the small sailing boats resting lazily on their sides in the small tributaries at low tide.
I wonder, have you heard the phrase ‘a thin place’? Early Celtic Christians recognized ‘thin places’ to be a place where the veil between heaven and earth is very sheer, or tissue paper thin. Places where prayers were easily uttered, and perceptibly heard. Life, death, beauty, tragedy, eternity and God - Dylan would have been able to see them all from the window of his boathouse. It is a thin place.
Thin places are places without fear. There is no fear of humankind, no fear of the stranger or fear of evil, instead they are places of faith, of hope and of blessing.
Many years ago now I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. As it was an organized tour we visited many of the holy sites: The Church of the Nativity, the Western Wall, the Garden of Gethsemane, The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and I could name more. Many of these places are deemed ‘traditional sites’ in that it is believed Jesus was there at some time in his life. But no-one can say with absolute certainty, that for example the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the spot where Jesus was crucified. However, there is a place where we can say with certainty that Jesus was present - in the synagogue at Capernaum, whose ruins remain to this day.
To go to this place, to touch the remains of the walls and pillars that Jesus would have touched, connected me with my faith in a way that I never thought possible before. For me, this was another thin place.
I know I have been in many places throughout my years. I have had similar encounters without having to go on an airplane or drive to South Wales. The Christian Celts knew this too. They were a people of prayer and blessing. They had prayers and blessings for every mundane and routine task of the day, from milking the cow, to making the bed, because they recognized the presence of God always with them, visible in all created things.
One particular place of blessing was the hearth of the home. They blessed the fire each morning as they lit it, and then again in the evening as they damped it for the night. The hearth was a place of warmth and life, where the family gathered to eat, to play and to pray. The hearth often became a thin place, a place to meet God.
Where have your thin places been, I wonder? What are the places for you that have caused you to stop, and have spoken something of the presence of God to you? The more I think about it, the more I realize that I need to recognize and be in those places more and more, and I feel challenged to consider not where I need to go to find a thin place, but how I can begin to create thin places both now and for future generations.
Is my home, my hearth, my church soaked in prayer enough to break down the veil between heaven and earth? Do I live more in faith or fear? Am I controlling my life, my family, my image, my ministry or others, or do I truly trust that God is in control? As we seek to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those we meet, let us become co-creators with God in making those places where people are stopped in their tracks and say to themselves, ‘breathtaking’.
Your parish priest and friend,
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