As the bus made its way to this “where-in-the-world-are-we-going” corner spot of Washington State called Sumas, the organizers of the Multi-Ethnic Leadership Institute 2015 sponsored by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities assured us that Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center was worth the effort. “The food is great!” “The grounds are beautiful”. Under my breath I muttered, “Well, I will just wait and see about that!” For one thing this was Father’s Day weekend, and I was going to be away from my family. For another thing, I was already thinking of the almost twelve hour wait at the airport that I would have to endure on my flight back to Philly the following week. However, the next words from the lead organizer mouth made me turn away from the window and pay attention: “Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center is one of those thin places on earth”.
Hmmmh? I had not heard this expression before. Thin places? So to Google I went. I learned that the Celtics say that heaven and earth are only three feet apart. However, in some places the distance is even smaller. A thin place is a place where that distance is breached and we are able to get an unfiltered glimpse of God’s glory. Metaphoric or literal, what an intriguing concept!
So here I am the morning after the dreaded flight back to Philly without more than a few hours sleep, and I must admit that I have been in one of those “thin places”– Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center. And perhaps, my greatest takeaway is that while I would highly recommend a trip like mine, the trip though helpful is not a prerequisite. If you are interested in finding and inhabiting thin places yourself for respite and spiritual nurturing, read on. I suggest three such destinations in our lives.
Thin Places in Nature: Seek out and connect with the natural world as often and as frequently as you can. There is a voice that speaks to us so loudly in nature–in the songs of birds, the wind in the trees, raindrops falling on the rooftop, crickets chirping in the bushes, and even bullfrogs croaking beside a pond well into the night (inside joke). Ah, I must admit, that though I am a crafter of words, I am at a loss to adequately describe it. But I can tell you this from experience. If we train ourselves to listen well to the language of the natural world, we would hear love letters to God from his creation and love letters from Him read to us in the rising of the sun, the rebirth of spring flowers, and the ebb and flow of waves along the seashore.
Thin Places in Relationships: Find the thin places in your relationships. When this diverse group of christian educators and administrators gathered together to talk about leadership development, many things happened. We prayed together, sang together, listened to stories and words of advice from senior leaders, climbed a mountain (Yes, a mountain!), and sat together family style and ate many delicious meals. And let me say here and now, the organizers were SO right. The food was Yum-OH!! But more than the food was the spirit of community these encounters engendered among us as we passed the biscuits, commented on the bounty of fresh produce, and scraped the last bit of french toast from the bowl. Between mouthfuls and expressions of: “This is SO good!” we shared stories about our own lives, our aspirations and desires for advancing towards our God given purpose. Many bonds were formed, and on the final day as we gathered for our last worship encounter together we sang: “I need you, you need me. We’re all a part of God’s body….You are important to me. I need you to survive.” There was hardly a dry eye in the room as we caught a fresh glimpse of God’s glory and infinite purpose expressed in each others face.
Thin Places in Spiritual Development: Make time for spiritual development. Our spiritual selves are often the introverted sides of our personality–so quiet and unobtrusive that it is easy to ignore how critical it is to our survival. However you conceive God to be, make time to connect with Him. I firmly believe that our spiritual selves are nourished when we “get connected”, and I am NOT talking about Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram etc. etc! Get connected/reconnected by nurturing three important relationships in your life: your relationship with yourself, others, and your God.
At Cedar Springs, sans TV and heeding the wise counsel from the retreat organizers, we disconnected from the Internet during our sessions, instead we made time for early morning walks around the grounds or to the prayer garden, and mid afternoon hikes though the woods and to the top of Haystack mountain. I started each day in pray asking God: “What would you have me do today?” When we nurture our spiritual selves, we are opening up a soul-window to heaven that provides us with an unfiltered view of God and a thin space for Him to connect to us.
You don’t have to travel to Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center in Sumas, Washington to inhabit a thin place. (Though, I’ve got to tell you, it is so worth the trip!). The good news is that we can find and inhabit thin places if we act intentionally in the following ways:
Seek out nature, early in the morning, in the middle of the day, when the sun sets, or whenever, and listen well.
Cultivate authentic relationships with those around us and God’s glory will be revealed in those relational spaces.
Make time to nurture our spiritual lives by choosing to get unplugged for a day or more and spend time with self, loved ones, and our God.
If you can do this, you’ll find thin places are well within your reach. Moreover, you will be thanking me for this timely travel tip to this worthwhile destination where the views are spectacular! I guarantee it!