The peace of Iona whispers to many. Iona has been described as ‘a thin place’, only a tissue paper separating the material from the spiritual. Many people have tried to express the experience – and have come back again and again.
The experience of ‘thin places’ or ‘liminal places’ is one that continually intrigues me. The author of the above passage, Ron Ferguson, is relating to his experiences on the island of Iona off the Scottish coast. It is the place where the original Irish missionaries to Britain based their monastery and activities.
These types of experiences remind us of places and times when closeness to God and the spiritual are especially present. The ‘tissue paper’ separation is truly no separator at all. The word ‘liminal’ provides a metaphor of the threshold, or doorway, between the spiritual and physical; psychological and physiological. It is a gateway for some of self-understanding. For others it is God understanding. For many who strive to live in the sense that ‘all is God’ – it is an always present reminder of the Divine with us. We open our eyes and there is God – as best as we can understand. Jesus’ prayer on the Mount of Olives – “take this cup from me” – is noted by many as an example of a liminal time.
My most vivid understandings of ‘thin places’ has come from relationships. The ‘tissue paper’ understanding of division is especially pertinent to that experience – we can’t cross over the threshold or truly enter into relationship if there is a wall of separation. It happens when we are gathered in conversation, in worship, and in prayer. It happens when we are at church, when we are at the grocery store, and when we are at lunch. It happens best when we see God reflected in the people around us. It makes us aware of the shared human need for relationship with others and with God.
Yes, there are unique places and events that remind us of the spectacular presence of the spiritual. The challenge of the spiritual life is to keep that threshold always near and to recognize God all we do, see and experience.