We are thin spaces.

I’ve been reading N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope for several months now (with my internship, my research project, plus school and work, it’s been a slow process). In one section he discusses an idea of the “theology of space.” His discussion mostly revolves around whether or not churches should continue to have buildings.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about church buildings, personally. I was sexually abused in a church nursery as a child, so for most of my life just walking into a church building has had me fighting off literal panic attacks. Zoloft helped that, but church buildings still aren’t my favorite place in the world.

On the other hand, when Abe and I decided we were going to get married, we knew immediately where we wanted that to happen. A little church building in Toledo with a chicken coop out front that has become the closest thing to a church “home” that I’ve had since high school.

N.T. Wright seems to affirm a diversity of beliefs here, while encouraging people not to completely discount church buildings. But he also call us to think about what space means to us, in light of the idea of resurrection.

He talks about the Celtic idea of thin spaces: “places where the curtain between heaven and earth seems almost transparent.” 

I like this idea of thin spaces.

I actually want to take this idea of thin spaces in a different direction than N.T. Wright. Even though Lent is over (if you’re a new reader, I committed to learning to love my body for Lent), I’ve still been thinking about my theology in terms of my biology. I’d be interested to learn what my readers’ own “theologies of space” are, but in light of my recent Lenten adventures, here’s mine…

We are thin places. 

We often think about the spaces that we are at. I think sometimes we need to stop and think about the spaces that we are.

Our bodies. The part of us that takes up space.

I’ve shared this quote from Sarah Sentilles’ wonderful book A Church of Her Own before on this blog, and I’d like to share it again (emphasis mine):

We don’t know what to do with bodies in most forms of Christianity. The body–and in particular the female body–has been denigrated, feared, understood as sinful, shameful, something to be covered up, tamed, and mastered. There is something ferocious about our fear of bodies in churches. And yet, at the heart of Christianity are stories about incarnation, about a God that dwells in a human body, a God that makes bodies and breathes life into them.

A God that dwells in a human body. A God that joined in solidarity with humanity, even to the point of death. 

God with us.

Not only that, but a church that is called over and over again in Christian theology the body of Christ. Bodies that make up a body.

Maybe churches are thin spaces because bodies meet in them, because churches bear the marks of bodies, the histories of bodies, the proof that bodies were here.

And maybe those who have profound spiritual experiences outside of the church are not “doing it wrong” either. Maybe the divine really doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands. Maybe we don’t have to go look for thin spaces.

What if our bodies, and by extension our brains that produce the very consciousness by which we can even imagine the existence of sacredness or divinity, are thin spaces by themselves?

If heaven really is joined with earth, and if we really can glimpse it in certain spaces, why not start with our own bodies? After all, according to Christian theology at least, God became a body.

Our bodies are temples. They are thin spaces. They are sacred and beautiful and they are holy ground.

Lent is over, but I’m going to keep celebrating bodies, because God is with us.

What do you think about this idea of a “theology of space” that starts with bodies? And what are some of your “thin spaces?”

 

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  • Andrea

    As a person with a disability, specifically chronic pain, I find that “love your body” messages and celebrations of the body don’t speak to me. It’s hard to love a prison that torments you with pain and misery; I find I’m doing well when I can treat it kindly.

    I find my thin spaces in nature, or with my goats and dogs and cats — quiet spaces in sunbeams, working in the dirt with my hands, the trees rustling overhead.

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

      Thanks for this different perspective. I find my depression sometimes makes it hard for me to find a “thin space” in myself too. For this, I have kitties.

    • http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com lanamhobbs

      ‘I find I’m doing well when I can treat it kindly.’ – thanks for putting into words what I’ve been feeling!
      I think for me, the thinnest places are dusk and dawn (not that I see much dawn ;) ), and the sea, and open fields.

    • http://narmacil.wordpress.com Kagi

      I deal with chronic pain also, so I know what you mean–in particular I have always grieved that I cannot dance in my physical body the way I do in my soul, but this particular message in the way Sarah presented it here really spoke to me. I think even with serious infirmities and illnesses, we can still see and feel the divine through our physical selves – though nature, as you mentioned, is often where I do that and find it most easily. Buildings for me, not so much, because I have some issues with them due to past experiences also – not as traumatic as Sarah’s, my abuse was all verbal/emotional and spiritual, but I nevertheless have a strong physical aversion to church buildings, and they often make me sick to my stomach just being inside for very long.

  • http://www.3elizabeths.etsy.com elizabeth

    I, like Andrea, find my thin spaces in nature: the perfume of spring wisteria, the toothless smile of a baby, the flight of a hawk on an updraft. I look for these epiphanies every day. There are finches nesting outside our east window who sing on the windowsill; earth & heaven meet here.

  • http://vjstracener.wordpress.com vjstracener

    This is excellent. I think that the idea of our bodies as temples, of our bodies as being aspects of the body of Christ is often thrown by the wayside. Especially female bodies. In my Children’s ministries this is something I strive to stress. This idea that our bodies, however they may look, whatever we may think about them are those “thin spaces” those holy places. We can use them to worship and communicate with God.

  • http://www.lifebeforethebucket.com Adrian W.

    I see God in my uniqueness. Though my body isn’t perfect – I’m riddled with sickness, after all – I see God in it. After all, how else am I alive? Why else have I survived my last 7 surgeries? My brokenness is my thinnest space – the one where I see God the most.

    Great thought-provoking post, Sarah. I loved it!

  • http://www.lifebeforethebucket.com independent739

    I see God in my uniqueness. Though my body isn’t perfect – I’m riddled with sickness, after all – I see God in it. After all, how else am I alive? Why else have I survived my last 7 surgeries? My brokenness is my thinnest space – the one where I see God the most.

    Great thought-provoking post, Sarah. I loved it!

  • http://www.fatgirlboxing.blogspot.com Karen

    “I’ve still been thinking about my theology in terms of my biology.” I love that! I feel like I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to balance the spiritual with the corporal, so I can totally relate. Great post. Thanks.

  • http://abelovedone.wordpress.com abelovedone

    I also loved this quote! “I’ve still been thinking about my theology in terms of my biology.”

    I think it is such a wonderful thing to take the idea of thin places and apply it to our bodies. Cannot wait to continue to think on this idea.

    Farrell

  • http://thedeadauthorsclub.wordpress.com Christine

    Sarah, there is something about this post that reminds me so strongly of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, where she talks about going up into the gaps “where the creeks and winds pour down.”

  • http://wwwdotfullofgracedotcom.wordpress.com fullofgracedj

    In my family we talk a lot about sacred space. We’re Catholics, so sacred space most often involves a building. God is represented in the Eucharist which is always present in a Catholic church.

    In the lowest moments of my life, I have run for a dark and quiet church. For me, it’s just different than sitting in a dark and quiet other place. I go to God’s house to heal my hurts. It’s physical.

    But stand on the valley floor in Yosemite. Or on the battlefield at Gettysburg. Or the American cemetery in Normandy. Or a California beach at sunset. Sacred spaces, all of them. God is close there. Maybe because the outside world and barriers are stripped away. You cannot be selfish in these places. You understand at once how small and simple is life and how large is God’s love.

    We don’t have to make think spaces, or sacred spaces. They are there. We have to be quiet enough to know them.

  • http://narmacil.wordpress.com Kagi

    Thank you for this, Sarah – it is so lovely, such a beautiful idea. I cried a little bit. I need to think more about this, and probably make a post about it. I feel a great conviction that you are onto something here. Reshared on tumblr with a few comments.

  • http://gravatar.com/elizabby elizabby

    I realized that *I* am a “thin place” or rather that God meets me where I am, when I was travelling in Europe. We were in a strange country where neither of us spoke the language when my companion was taken suddenly and seriously ill. She went to hospital, where I tried to convince them that I was there on behalf of her daughter but they didn’t care and threw me out. I wanted to pray for her (there was a serious danger that she might die) but I couldn’t find a chapel, nor a Bible, nor even a cross of any kind. I usually wear a cross necklace but had taken it off for our trip. I couldn’t pray with her or over her or lay on hands as they would not let me in her room.

    But there, in the bare hospital corridor, God met me there. God came to me, and I realized that I didn’t (don’t) need any of that paraphenalia to facilitate prayer or connection with God. I was suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling that God was there, that God knew what was going on and God cared and was with her in her pain and me in my anxiety. Interestingly (in retrospect) I did not receive any reassurance that the illness would go well, or be cured – just that God would be with us as we walked through it.

    This was several years ago, but I still remember very clearly that moment that God was with me and in *me*. That I don’t need anything else for God to hear me. I still enjoy corporate prayer and I like church and hymns and I find a cross or an icon a useful focus – but I know I don’t *need* them. I only need God.

  • cissybradyrogers

    Fascinating!

    Thin spaces are everywhere. My ability to perceive them is limited by where I focus my attention, which is radically impacted by factors too numerous to list. For me, more able to perceive in nature, spaces and places with natural elements, textures, smells, sounds. But I’ve also experienced them on a subway in Manhattan, on the streets of Los Angeles.

    But, all perception is embodied. All knowing of God occurs via sensations, feelings and thoughts which are, essentially, physical energies pulsating through my nervous system and brain.

    Yes. Body is the main place and space, the place where all thin spaces occur. It’s all embodied. I may feel like I’m transcending my body, but even that perception only occurs within my body.

  • http://mikayladreyer.wordpress.com Mikayla Dreyer

    I love this. In my experience, “thin spaces” are the only places I really feel a true peace. Thus far, the thin spaces that are most poignant in my mind are the ones that exist within certain relationships and friendships I have with other people.

    Becoming The Archetype has a song called “Magnetic Sky” and the lyrics illustrate the idea of heaven & earth crashing together in a really cool way. (If you like metal, that is. Otherwise its just scary :P)

    • Lu

      Now I have to go listen to Becoming The Archetype. I ditched much of the contemporary Christian music I grew up with, but the heavy stuff stuck to my ribs, probably because I found it when I was questioning a lot of faith-related things.

      Excellent post, Sarah. Your observation that churches gain their “thinness” from bodies meeting in them is particularly astute. I’d love to hear more from you on this idea. :)

  • Jim Fisher

    Our bodies are thin spaces. They are Temples of the Holy Spirit. They are holy ground … YES! And, we are the only works of creation that were deemed “very good”. And the center of this gem of creation … within all of us … is God’s most precious, for God created us with the full intent of moving in. God created us to dwell within us.

    I hope this adds a little … https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/dream-house

    There are so many more beautiful and profound places we could go with this reflection, Sarah. Thank you so much for mirroring a Divine image and vision of who we truly are.

  • http://roadkillsrus.wordpress.com roadkillsrus

    Love this blog, and love the comments. I was already going to say that we are thin spaces, for reasons already given. Bill Vanderbush (whom you would love) makes an excellent case that each of us is now the Ark of the Covenant.
    And if Jesus truly came to forgive all sin and redeem everything, then wherever we go should be a thin place. I think the Graden of Eden was a thin place, thinner whenever God’s presence manifested itself. If Christ came to restore that, we walk in it.
    Do I always recognize it? Not yet. But I do far more than I did even a few years ago.

  • Morgan Guyton

    Are you still in Toledo? I lived a year there in the Collingwood Arts Center on Collingwood Blvd. It’s a giant old convent just a little south of Central Avenue. That was definitely a thin space for me. A haunted space actually. Regarding the body as a place where heaven and earth meet, that’s a very beautiful concept. When I fast, there’s definitely a longing that makes me feel like I’ve geographically become a part of the kingdom.

  • http://sandyshopefulroom.wordpress.com Sandy’s Hopeful Room

    Sarah, I am please to tell you that I have nominated you for the Beautiful Blogger Award! I enjoy your blogposts even if I haven’t checked the like box, sometimes I just forget! But, you are inspiring to me. . .I love creative and inspiring people and you are one
    of those.

    You can pick up your award and follow the rules at:
    http://sandyshopefulroom.com/2013/04/25/the-abundance-of-it-all-the-beautiful-blogger-award/

    Congratulations and God Bless
    SandyO

  • http://sandyshopefulroom.wordpress.com Sandy’s Hopeful Room

    Thank you so much for this piece!!! I and my friends have been discussing women in the Church and how our “bodies” because they lack a certain shall we say appendage make us less than. It has been a painful discussion for one of my friends who is dealing with her own kind of pain as a woman in the church.

    Thank you for writing this. I am going to take the liberty of re-blogging it on my page so others can see it as well.

    May you be blessed!!!
    SandyO

  • http://sandyshopefulroom.wordpress.com Sandy’s Hopeful Room

    Reblogged this on Sandys Hopeful Room and commented:
    This post is very important, in my opinion, because she discusses bodies and church. That’s all I will say about this. I encourage you to read it and gather your own thoughts and opinions. I surely don’t want to steal her thunder, and quite substantial thunder it is!!!
    Enjoy,
    SandyO


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