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All Saints’ Day Reflection: “A Thin Time”

Ecclesiasticus 44:1–10, 13–14

Matthew 5:1–12


Today, November 1, All Saints’ Day, we are halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. Entering a time of darkness in which the ancient Celts believed new life began. This time marked an important transition, their new year, a celebration called Samhain, when all fires were extinguished, then relit; when spirits of the dead could return to earth; when souls of the thankful departed could bestow blessings. In Celtic spirituality, this was a “thin time,” an extraordinary moment when the veil between the Otherworld and Earth was open.

The Celts also believed in “thin places,” where the distance between heaven and earth collapses, where we are “jolted out of old ways of seeing the world.” In his recent New York Times article, Eric Weiner explores this concept for the modern traveler: “Heaven and earth, the Celtic saying goes, are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter. . . . So what exactly makes a place thin? It’s easier to say what a thin place is not. A thin place is not necessarily a tranquil place, or a fun one, or even a beautiful one, though it may be all of those things too. Disney World is not a thin place. Nor is Cancún. Thin places relax us, yes, but they also transform us—or, more accurately, unmask us. In thin places, we become our more essential selves.”[1]

It is no accident that our holy day of remembrance for the faithful departed falls in this “thin time.” The date for All Saints’ Day was shifted to November 1st back in the 9th century, part of the ongoing meld of Christianity with other spiritual traditions. As followers of Jesus, we also claim this day as a “thin place,” where in remembering the dead, we come closer to our essential selves.

For if we step out of our “thick” place of everyday life; if we allow ourselves to touch the pain of having lost loved ones to death; if we pause to reconnect with their lives and their meaning; if we empty out and enter a place of sacred silence, we are no longer “of the world,” as Jesus said.[2]

In the space of silence, we move farther away from earthly things. In the space of remembrance, we move closer to those who died in glory and to those who “perished as though they had never existed.” We move our consciousness closer to the meek, and those who mourn, and those who are poor in spirit. For Jesus tells us, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

In our “thin place” in this Chapel today, surrounded by beautiful images of Celtic art; in our “thin time,” open to the souls of all departed; I invite you to lift the veil of your ordinary preoccupations. To enter into extended sacred silence in our Prayers of the People. To experience there, in disorienting quiet, the peace of those who have gone before us and the blessing of the kingdom of heaven within us. Where new life begins. Amen.

Rev. Clare C. Novak, St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Incline Village, NV

[1] Eric Weiner, “Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer,” New York Times (March 9, 2012) [http://travel.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/travel/thin-places-where-we-are-jolted-out-of-old-ways-of-seeing-the-world.html?emc=eta1].

[2] John 17:16.