Thin places, where Heaven reveals its violence

People are right, Iona truly is ‘a thin place’, a great Celtic expression, describing special places where Heaven and earth are drawn together. What I didn’t know before I came for this week (and perhaps, what many of us do not feel) is how dreadfully frightening Heaven is. Perhaps frightening is not the right word: awe-some, full of awe, entirely alien to us and frightening because of its alien nature – these are all weak descriptions, but they are as good as I’m able to make.

Iona is a thin place, but through the thin veil one can see a frightening revelation. It is precisely because these are thin places that they are frightening, too. What we see through them, what we see through their transparence is the real Face of God: not a tame God, a domesticated God; not a God taken to pieces and rebuilt to fit our sinfulness and weakness; not a God shaped against our emotions and cheap piety; not a God of human traditions and cult; not a God of political correctness or incorrectness – but the LIVING God. The Being beyond being, the Uncreated Creator of everything that is, the untouchable One, indescribable by any of our created words, philosophies and concepts. The frightening God, the crushing God, the God Who utters His voice and the earth melts; the God Who commands: Be still, and know that I am God.

To be in a thin place like Iona is frightening because of the Frightening Being Who suddenly becomes visible and Whom you must now face. I’ve learnt that to face God is frightening, because every meeting with God is a moment of total exposure and Judgement: exposure and judgement of ourselves, of our carefully assembled idols and our horrid manipulations of the Divine realities. God is an alien Being to us, because we have turned ourselves in alien beings to Him. Thin places are dangerous places; approach them with fear, as you approach the Face of God. You are in a moment of Judgement.

3 responses

  • This is in reply to Philip’s (Seddon) comment on a previous post. Thank you for making me think, dear Philip.

  • A Beautiful piece of writing and photographs.Thank you.
    A lady called Iona who was born on Ionia ,and named Iona, she died a month ago, for many years she was a doctor on Iona.Please pray for the good woman and her family.
    Saint Catherine’s in the Sinai where the chapel of the burning bush is, that is a thin place ,also Saint Paul’s tomb in Rome,there also is the fine line,as I call it.
    Both places I have felt this thin area and both places I have felt only the presence of God,full of glory and overwhelming power of love ,a complete oneness,at Saint Catherine’s I call it the fountain of love where the world began and ends,an endless fountain ,the source of love and God, and the will and the need to be good forever.
    Great fear no.Perhaps, the turmoil in Iona creates this fear, there is a mix match of living standards and different communities clashing, then the consumerism and commercialism,that I find frightening.

  • Thank you, once again, Father Seraphim. My heart always yearns, but you manage to awaken it to an even deeper longing and bring it sharply into awareness. It has been a long time since I have experienced such a “thin” place, and sensed something of the true awesomeness of it. It is always there – the desire to go back. Though it is frightening and humbling to be in such a place. I got a slight taste of that atmosphere again when I first came to the Divine Liturgy as an inquirer, and it captured my heart so that I never wanted to be anywhere else and cannot stay away from the Liturgy – I only wish it could go on and on. Though in reality, I’m sure I overestimate my ability and I would not be able to bear it past a certain time. But to be IN such a place, surrounded by it – forgive me, I must confess that I envy you a bit. But thank you so very much for sharing a taste with us. You are in my morning and evening prayers. And I will send support for the monastery as soon as I am able (I do not have income in the summer – substitute teacher). God be with you always, and thank you.

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