Many years ago, I walked on a beach with a very close friend of mine, Nicky Cahill, talking about “thin spaces” – the idea that in certain places and at certain times, the “veil” between here and the world of the Spirit is very thin, and easily crossed. That’s what is at the heart of All Saints, All Souls, and what we now celebrate as Hallowe’en – which is actually All Hallows Eve – the day before All Saints, or All Hallows.
So I am delighted to have Nicky as our guest writer this week. Nicky Cahill is a broadcaster and writer, living in Northern Ireland. A lover of light and a weaver of stories. When she’s not floating in the wild expansive sea, she can most usually be found in her kitchen or at the BBQ preparing food for those she has gathered round her table.
We walked across the strand, the Wild Atlantic licking at our heels, and you spoke to me about ‘thin places’.
Thin Places – where heaven kisses earth – and the veil between the two is transparent. You invited me into a gift that day. A knowing. A deep explanation for something I had always experienced. Yet had no words to explain.
With your words dancing upon the breath of the sea and your Titian hair blowing in the salty air, you gave me the opportunity to understand.
To know in a new way. The fluidity of time that flows across the realms. The holiness of spaces where the land shares its stories of the sacred. I smile because this is of course a Celtic notion, and my island soul breathes it all in. Finds peace at the centre. I am grounded, rooted to rise in alignment with heaven.
Our island is scattered with holy wells, smells and bells. Dry stone walls where the gaps between the stones let light linger and shine through. Rock weathered by rain. Big skies and craggy shores. Yellow gorse where the Wild Goose soars. Landscape luminous in abundance of the prayers abiding over centuries.
They say the monks came from the Middle East and Europe in the early years of Anno Domini, following the call to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. And to them, the west coast of Ireland, with its soaring, crashing cliffs and wild waves seemed to be this place. Here they stopped and built monasteries and hermitages. In places with names that speak to their topography – Clonmacnoise and Skellig Michael.
The latter on steep and inhospitable rock on the edge of County Kerry. Here among the gannets, puffins and colonies of razorbills, the grey seals and whales, they were still in this place of human isolation. Praying and writing out the scriptures. Waiting for Jesus to return.
There’s something in the landscape of thin places where we inhabit the presence of God always present to us. Glimpsing the eternal and settling in the moment – invited to experience what we had not seen before. To enter in and join the prayers of centuries.
Thin places aren’t always somewhere we go. Deep within us we hold the mystery of starlight. In the space between our inhale and exhale. Our breath the Hebrew name of God – YHWH. YH in. WH out. We speak the name of God without moving our lips, but simply by breathing. God on our very breath transcendent and intimate all at once.
We notice the thin spaces in words and music. In the company of our dogs and the purring of the cat. In the wind that blows across the land, the ripples of the lake and the birdsong that ascends towards the heavens.
I think of the thin places I have shared with you together in the quiet presence of the trees, on sandy shores and hilly lands, faces upturned towards the sun resting with the Spirit one.
Nicky Cahill, October 2020