The Gathering Place

Have you heard about thin places? These are not diet farms where overstuffed people go to trim down. They are not rows of narrow houses built to accommodate more people per acre. I first heard of thin places a few years ago when a visitor said he thought my home was such a place.

As I researched, I discovered the term is known in some circles of the spiritually discerning. The ancient Celts found that there are places on earth where God’s Spirit is more easily accessible… They called these places “Thin places” because the distance between God and man seemed somehow thinner there and it was easier to pray.

Who is there that does not want to have a shorter distance between themselves and God? To have an easier time praying? Spiritually inclined people travel miles to seek out such places. Where there has been a history of “something happening” people will be drawn by their hunger, need or curiosity. They want a touch from outside themselves, a connection with that “otherness” which is known intuitively. As word of the extraordinary is spread, pilgrimages are made and crowds gather. They bring an openness to things spiritual so that often something does happen.  The burdens of life are lifted; healings occur; prayers are heard.

When there has been a continual seeking after, and finding God in a place, it seems that the Spirit of God remains in a fuller measure than in other places. Those who visit sites of earlier revivals or action of the Spirit can still sense His presence there centuries later.This opens up all kinds of theological questions, of course. Isn’t it a given doctrine that God is omnipresent?  Always the same? How is it that He is more notably one place than another? Are some places “more equal than others?”

St. Patrick is renowned as a holy man of God, a life-changer in Ireland centuries ago. To this day, the little stone church where he preached carries a strong sense of the Spirit, which cannot be said for the large cathedral bearing his name, built years later nearby. Those who visit the site of the Cane Ridge Revival in Kentucky have reported sensing the Spirit strongly there. There are dozens of sites around the world which have become  and remained holy places as earnest seekers gather. Lourdes Shrine in France has a large collection of canes, crutches and wheel chairs from the sick and infirm who made the trek there seeking healing.  Scoffers and doubters raise the point that perhaps they were healed by their expectations, that it is a psychological rather than spiritual phenomenon after all. But the pilgrims to Lourdes declare otherwise. To them it is a “thin place” well worth the effort to reach.

2 Kings 13:21  Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb.  When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet.

This one verse is tucked in the ongoing account of Israel’s oppression by her enemies. Elisha had received the double anointing he had asked for, had served as a mighty prophet, and eventually sickened and died. In this account, he had been dead long enough to be reduced to bones, but his very bones still retained something of that touch of God, enough to raise a dead man to life. Can you picture the shock of that revived man, and those who were burying him?  I can imagine the whooping and hollering that went on. This could not be interpreted as a feel good, subjective sense of Spirit; this was a presence with power to restore to life. Nothing vague or abstract about it. There was a corpse; now there is a man on his feet, undoubtedly dazed and wondering what happened.

In other places in Scripture, God commands his people to gather at certain prescribed places. He is particular about it. “You shall worship me here, not there.” He called the Hebrews out of Egypt to worship him in the wilderness.  It was necessary to leave Egypt because the large amount of worship given to other gods had defiled the land spiritually, in effect making it a very thick place.  He desired to have them experience him, worshiping him and being aware of his presence on a daily basis. For that reason his commands were clear: This is the way; this is the place.

There are several accounts of the Ark of His Presence in the Old Testament which clearly show how an object (the Ark, in this case) carries a residual power and presence. When the Philistines captured it and placed it in their shrine next to Dagon, old Dagon was knocked off his pedestal where he was found the next morning lying face down before the Ark. The bewildered Philistines set him back up, but the next day Dagon was broken to pieces, with his head and hands lying on the doorstep. It is interesting to note that the first night the idol was prostrate before the Ark, giving clear demonstration of “Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10,11. The second night the idol lost both head and hands, declaring the complete powerlessness of any entity that sets itself up against the power and presence of the one true God. The local priests quickly concluded the Ark should be sent somewhere else; it was shipped to a succession of towns and villages where people immediately became ill with tumors. Some even died.That was enough for the Philistines. There was something about that box which was good for the Israelites, and very bad for them.

After they put it on a cart and sent it homeward, the Ark continued to carry a particular presence. While it remained with Obed-Edom for three months, everything in and around his household prospered.  As a God-fearing Israelite, he experienced blessing upon blessing, unlike the idol-worshiping Philistines. The presence of blessing was so attractive that when the Ark was moved to Jerusalem, Obed-Edom went along to become a doorkeeper. He had tasted the Presence; he had to go where it went.

So it is with thin places. Wherever God’s presence is experienced or “felt,” is where people will gather.

No one can prescribe the conditions for creating such a place, but there are a few hindrances or blockages to God’s manifest presence. One, already mentioned, is idolatry.  Any focus on or worship of another deity will bring contamination and defilement of the building and the land on which it stands. Another serious cause of defilement is violence and bloodshed. Where blood has been shed the land cries out. Beginning with Cain’s murder of his brother in Genesis 4:10, God has talked about blood crying from the land.  “Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it.” Numbers 35:33

Other sins such as prostitution, greed and dishonesty can and do pollute the land which prevents it from becoming a “thin place.”  God is holy, which means He is set apart from all sin. There is no sin in heaven; there is no sin in His presence. Therefore, if we desire that thin place where earth and heaven meet, it is necessary to deal with all the unconfessed sin in our lives, striving to follow His command: “Be holy, for the LORD your God is Holy.”

“But,” people say, “isn’t it impossible to be holy?  Isn’t such a life like living in a convent, a boring life totally devoid of interest?”  For those who have never experienced any God encounter, this may be an understandable response. But once you become spiritually awakened to His reality, there is nothing more desirable than to be in His presence. Like Obed-Edom, you will go anywhere, giving up your familiar ways just to be where He is. That includes leaving the sin which we all secretly enjoy. Choosing to keep our old ways, habits and sins in preference to living in a “thin place” is like trading a valuable birthright for a bowl of lentils. Far better to listen and follow “Be holy, for the LORD your God is holy.”

An important caveat here.  Yes, it is true that God’s holiness and sin are far apart. However, He is found in the worst imaginable places when someone cries out to Him. Then He is close as the sinner’s breath. “There is more rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repents than over the ninety nine who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7 His very reason for the Incarnation and the Cross was to defeat sin and its damage to the people He loves. He came to rescue mankind from the morass we were in, setting our feet on solid ground.

Once rescued, set free from the unholy, man is then able to approach God unencumbered by sin. He can begin to live life righteously, in a new dimension as it were. It is in that new condition of holiness, or set-apartness that we seek out those “thin places” to be wherever He is.

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