There are some places in our world that seem to radiate something of God. Even though we know that God is present in the whole of Creation, we can’t help but feel that there are some places which appear to be a little bit closer, a little bit richer, and a little bit fuller.
The Celtic mystics had a name for places like these, places where God’s presence is felt in powerful ways. But in English, “thin places” are those places here on Earth where Earth and Heaven seem to be a little bit closer.
I am sure that each of us has a thin place, a place where we go when we desperately need to encounter the presence of God.
For example, I work on a college campus. With regularly scheduled chapels, residence hall Bible studies, and a handful of churches within walking distance, there are plenty of opportunities to encounter God, His people, and His Word. But, there is still a special place—the campus’ own thin place in the midst of classes, extracurriculars, and meals with friends—where students and faculty agree it seems a bit easier to encounter God.
The prayer chapel is conveniently located next to the college library and surrounded by academic buildings. It is always open. Light from the stained glass windows rests on a statue of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. With wooden pews and altars, gentle instrumental music, and simple stone architecture, it is a true sanctuary in the midst of the hustle and bustle of our campus.
As an undergraduate, I would find myself here when I needed rest, stillness, and solitude. As a staff member at the university, I watch as the freshmen begin to find solace in this space.
The prayer chapel is our thin place, a location where it is just a bit easier to encounter the presence of God. Even though this is a place dedicated to finding God and to providing a safe space, I wonder if our encounter with the Almighty isn’t so much about the place as it is about our attitude when we find ourselves there. We wander there when we are in need of a place that is protected, a place that is set aside so that we can encounter God.
In the story from Exodus, the Israelites are at the foot of their own thin place. Mount Sinai is enveloped in the presence of God. God descends in fire and envelops the mountain in smoke, like that rising up from a kiln (Exodus 19:18). God’s presence surrounds them. They feel the tremors of the thunder and the trumpets. They hear Moses shout and God respond. It is a powerful moment that communicates something about the power and the holiness of God.
Moments like these, where God meets His people in power and might, are recorded and remembered. Mount Sinai is remembered as the place where God’s presence was known and the experience was so powerful, so holy, that the people had to prepare for days for His appearance.
Toward the end of the passage, Moses is encouraged to “set limits around the mountain and keep it holy” (Exodus 19:23). The mountain became a symbol, a reminder of the powerful ways God appeared to His people in the days immediately following the Exodus. It was a place set aside for the appearance of God.
Did you catch the fact that the people spent days preparing for the appearance of God? It wasn’t just the mountain that was set aside as a holy place. Moses and the people spent two whole days consecrating themselves in preparation for the appearance of the Lord.
Our passage isn’t just about a holy place. It was also about a holy people. The people prepared for the Lord. They arrived at the foot of the mountain with a sense of anticipation and expectancy.
We all have a thin place. We may never have called it that, but we have a place we go to meet with the Lord. A place that is set aside, special. A place where it is a bit easier to encounter God. But, our experience isn’t just about the place. It is about our attitude and our expectancy. It is about the decision to find that place, to go there so that we can meet with the Lord. And we expect Him to show-up, to appear in this place where His presence has been felt so often in the past.
Find your thin place. Remember the Lord’s command to Moses to “set limits” and “keep it holy.” Then, go there. Spend time with anticipation and expectancy to encounter the Lord of Power and Might just as the people of Israel appeared before Mount Sinai.