Thin Places are Everywhere

Today I would like to share a guest post from a member of our community. Phil Kemp is a poet and novelist who lives in Iowa City, Iowa. He is also a good friend. I hope that you enjoy this reflection on a mystical experience which has crafted into a beautiful poem.

I want to talk about thin places. The places I most want to visit and spend time in are those where it seems that heaven and earth are joined together, where for a moment I can spend time breathing the very air of heaven. Years ago, I went on a pilgrimage to Iona. For those unfamiliar with Scotland’s geography, Iona is a tiny island, next to the larger island of Mull. It takes two ferry rides to get there from the mainland.

When I stepped onto the ferry that went from Mull to Iona, the moment we cast off for the five minute journey, it was as if I entered a different realm. The day was sunny but not exceptionally warm and yet a mist seemed as if it was rising between the ferry and the island. I can’t explain the feeling but when I stepped off the boat on Iona and looked back, it was as if the world beyond was on a totally different timescale.

These feelings remained during my days on the island. When my time was done and I was looking back at Iona from Mull, it felt as though something precious had gone and that I would never know such joy or transcendence again.

Then, last week, I discovered that a thin place exists on a path that runs behind my home. I live in a typical suburb. Behind my house, though, is a marsh and woodland that is unsuitable for building on. To prevent the backyards of the homes on my street from flooding, an earthen bank was built and a path placed on top.

The path runs straight and on that path one morning, I felt the pull of eternity so powerfully that I wanted to kneel and worship. The experience was so powerful that it inspired this poem:

Ad Limbus

A concrete path separates our street’s mowed backyards
from marshes and woodland. The orderly from
the unordered. The domesticated from the wild.
The world that is seen. The unseen forces,
that today are still and waiting.

I am walking the path and on its middle section I hear
silence. Cloudless sky, unhidden sun. If I were not in
a hurry to begin my day, I would drop to my knees in
terrified awe; this brooding intensity speaks
of the unseen that waits and

points me to the street below, where a deer,
the traveller between worlds,
crunches a plant. Undisturbed
by a passing car, eternity is speaking.
If I am quiet, I hear her breathing.

So you don’t need to go to Iona to find a “thin place.” Go everywhere with eyes open and a thin place might reveal itself to you. You might then say, like Jacob “This is none other than the house of God, this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 29:17)

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