Welcome to the newest Catholic blog on Patheos. It’s called “Thin Places“. My name is Monsignor Eric R. Barr, STL, and I’m the author of what I hope you will find to be an exciting, challenging, enjoyable and spiritual blog experience. Sure, it’s a little bit Celtic, a little bit theological, and rather wide in the net it casts. Primarily, though, this blog is about the struggle of folks in this world who are trying to find hints of the divine. In short, we are going to try to find God in the ordinary.
One of the most haunting thoughts I’ve ever heard expressed was uttered by both Pope St. John Paul the Great and his successor Pope Benedict XVI. They lamented the loss of God in Europe–that devastating nihilism that’s worse even than atheism. What possesses many of the people of the West is a lethargic acceptance that there is nothing beyond this world. For them, it isn’t even worth considering the possibility of another option. Both popes saw this reality as the most pernicious evil afflicting modern humanity. Now, it has even infected the United States with its contagion.
The Difficulty of Experiencing God
This blog isn’t a fanciful exercise of finding little Irish bits of wisdom or Celtic mystic teachings that often serve as a corollary to a whimsical nostalgia for an ethnic group primarily remembered for its ability to party, fight and demonstrate cultural Catholicism. Instead, it’s a real search for the divine in the ordinary, or as the British and Celtic poet Kathleen Raine so archly called, “The Bright Mountain behind the mountain.” Somewhere amidst the nihilism–the feeling that ultimately there is nothing–, somewhere hidden in the technological wonders of our age, somewhere in the fleeting moments of intimacy that pass for friendship and love, there is the whisper and touch of God.
But guess what most people say who are asked if they have ever experienced God? Most people, including most Catholics, deny that they have had such an experience. We’ve lost the ability to recognize God’s presence. Some cancer has eaten away our sacramental awareness that the things of the world can be windows to God. People are having more and more difficulty appreciating beauty and wonder. Rediscovering thin places just may be the way to combat the nihilism that poisons our lives. Thin places can be real physical places, or experiences, or found in books, art, music and the relationships we share with one another. They are God’s way of giving us a chance to encounter him, find our purpose, and discover meaning and love.
A Possible SolutionLest you think that what I’ve just written means nothing, look at the results of the wasteland I’ve painted. Despair, loneliness, drug and alcohol addiction, violence and suicide, purposelessness, a willingness to shunt aside long held values, a disrespect for human dignity, terror in all its forms–all these things have seen a huge uptick in the past fifty years. Perhaps you don’t agree with me. Fine. That’s why this blog exists, as a conversation between you and me about how God functions in the world and whether we can see his footprints. I’m betting I can dialogue with you long enough to make my case.
Here’s what to expect. Snowflakes, those easily offended by anything hinting of political incorrectness, people unable to see a side different from their own opinions, and folks who think truth is relative and facts are simply whatever an individual wants to hold in his or her mind, are going to hate this blog. I would still love to have you read and interact, but, remember, you have been warned. Readers have to be open to possibilities.
I operate on the principle that Gerard Manly Hopkins held, namely, the “the world is charged with the grandeur of God”. I believe with C. S. Lewis that Joy remains the profound emotional and philosophical principle underlying reality. And of course, I take the estimable J. R. R. Tolkien’s view that “there is some good in this world and it’s worth fighting for.”
Why We Should Dialogue
So why should you even pay attention to me? Well, first of all, I’m going to keep you interested and challenge the hell out of both you and me. I am a retired pastor but an active Roman Catholic priest in the diocese of Rockford, Illinois. For 35 years, I’ve celebrated the sacraments, preached the gospel, taught the young, been a pastor of both large and small parishes, been a principal and a professor in high school and college, helped administrate a diocese as Vicar for Clergy and Vicar General, and am a speaker of all things Catholic and Celtic, and I am a novelist. It’s been an exciting and wonderful life and I hope I have many more years of experience ahead.
This is a new venture for me. I am honored to be a part of Patheos and able to communicate and dialogue with you. Maybe, just maybe, in our conversations to come, you and I will hear the whisper of God in the thin places of our lives and walk a little more surely and joyfully to the new heavens and new earth, where every tear will be wiped away, and Christ will bring us home.