Wednesday, November 19, 2008


A dear friend, and from the ancient Russian Orthodox monastic tradition I borrow and apply to him the term “co-struggler”, is a carpenter, a true artist when it comes to working with wood.
He came to me a few weeks ago, somewhat stressed, because in order to make a template for a new design, rather than use precious wood to see what it would look it like, what effort it would entail, he decided to make a model with clay.
Never having worked with clay before, it became an ordeal.
He asked for prayer and, at the same time, asked how my writing has been going!
Suddenly I had to face a few things, like flight from the effort, wasting time over excessive researching, worrying about readership.
My clay had become quicksand!
He promised prayer for me and I for him and suddenly I was resuming writing, first for the site { the latest can be found at }, and little by little the whole site will be refreshed and blogging will be more regular.
So here I am, thanks to grace from his and others’ prayer, finally at least on the threshold of, if not yet surrendered to the Holy Spirit enough, to cross into the full mystery of dwelling in the thin place, which is no-place geographically but is, I believe, the place Christ led His disciples’ to, when they asked Him where He lived.
His simple reply was/is invitation to follow Him and see for ourselves! [cf. Jn.1:38]
The great Doctor of the Church and writer on matters mystical, which frankly means to write about the fullness of the normal pilgrimage of the baptized, reminds us that it is Jesus Christ Himself who is both the way to the door and the door itself which we are seeking.
In this life, of course, we seek the doorway to the thin place, that non-geographical place where there is at least a modicum of sense to life, a degree of meaning, joy, peace, faith – but we recoil at the actual threshold, for St. Bonaventure also refers to Christ as the staircase and this ‘staircase’ leads to the Cross as well as heaven, Bonaventure continues in that vein until stressing that we will pass “through the branches of the Cross “. [another threshold!] eventually entering the desert , which he describes as a place of resting with Christ in the tomb, and a type of experiencing living with Christ already in paradise, as much as that can be possible for one still living this side of death!
The whole of St. Bonaventure’s classic work: “The Journey of the Mind to God”, is not about flight away from the questions, sufferings, of our brothers and sisters, but, as Pope Benedict recently noted it is communion with God which is the ultimate goal of all our activities – and we know that when Jesus speaks of this union He says: “I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was in prison, etc., and you fed Me, gave Me to drink, visited Me” – and His challenge to the unconverted St. Paul: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
Union-communion with God who is Love means solidarity with the entire human family.
So crossing the threshold into the thin place must not, cannot, be egocentric, flight from others, avoidance of suffering, an attempt to escape the cross!
Crossing the threshold into the thin place and dwelling there is to become immersed in Divine Fire and Union so that in the deepest moments of contemplation we are the voice of those crying out to God in their pain, keeping in mind that Jesus the doorway, or as He describes Himself ‘the gate’, is Himself the threshold to be crossed in both directions.
We enter the thin place not to physically be there for the rest of our earthly lives, but rather to be ever more completely surrendering to a seeming paradox of being in two places at once: the thin place which is no-place of union-communion with Love Himself and the other place of immersion in communion of love which is the humble-loving-service thin place found wherever the will of God invites in the duty of the moment to live out in practice the Gospel of Love, of Life, of Mercy! {cf. Jn. 10 & Mt.25 and the excerpt from St. Bonaventure’s writing in the Office of Readings for his feast day.}
Having thus crossed the threshold of the thin place, which in many ways is the school of Mary as well as the school of the Holy Spirit, if we truly are still within the thin place then our hearts will be transformed by Divine Fire.
Yes the fire of suffering , of the Cross, the centre point of the thin place, the deepest point within the fire.
Therein, we will begin to share the passion of St. Francis of Assisi, know the fire which filled the heart of St. Philip Neri, live the solidarity with the poorest of the poor of Bl. Mother Theresa, because we will find ever growing within us a wonderful freeing self-forgetting urgency, a graced imperative to embrace the “we must” cry of the Servant of God Catherine Doherty: “ We MUST open the doors of our hearts. We MUST open the doors of our homes. We MUST accept people as they are. We MUST serve them, and we MUST show them the wounds of our love. Love is always wounded because love and pain are inseparable.....there is no love without pain.” [ see Catherine’s book The Gospel Without Compromise]
The thin place is no Shangri-La, it is Golgotha.
The thin place is no idyllic South Seas Island, it is Gethsemane.
The thin place is no navel gazing- how-do-I-feel-better-about-myself clinic, it is the place with Jesus in the desert, it is the place kneeling beside Him and with Him washing feet.
Yes the thin place is the place which is no-place yet every place except any place where He is not.
It is the place of absolute communion with Him and the place of absolute service to others.
It is rendezvous and experience of absence; it is brilliant light and total darkness; it is the intimacy of His presence and fire, the pain of His absence, which is why as one crosses the threshold into the thin place it is advisable to bring along, seared in our hearts, the hide and seek love affair from the Song of Songs!
I will confess here that normally I am careful when doing research to note from whence I take a particular quote, which is easily done sitting quietly in the poustinia. However I always have a book with me in case there is quiet time when serving the homeless in the soup kitchen, or waiting in a doctor’s office, and that’s when I make notes on scraps of paper and sometimes forget to record the source.
Such happened with the following, which is an important quote for these reflections on being at the threshold of the thin place, even if I cannot give the citation, from the notes on the scrap of paper I was reading somewhere, about the sufferings endured by Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan during his years of imprisonment, which I understand meant almost a decade of solitary confinement.
How he managed to procure the necessary for celebrating Holy Mass is a mystery, but his passionate devotion to this central act and prayer, this absolute primary place for the priest, as well as his living out what St. Bonaventure and Pope Benedict teach, is clear from Cardinal Francis’ own words: “ Each time I celebrated Mass, I had the opportunity to extend my hands and nail myself to the cross with Jesus, to drink with Him the bitter chalice.”
The threshold to the thin place for the priest is the entrance to the sanctuary to celebrate Holy Mass, for the baptised it is to enter the church for Holy Mass.
For both the threshold is the moment of Holy Communion.
For both the threshold is to re-cross the threshold in the seeming opposite direction to bring Christ within our own beings to those who need to be loved.
Actually, and this is the paradox, the second crossing of the threshold is a deeper entering through it into the thin place!
Now I am fully aware through these essays I have already, and will be yet, taking from Philip Sheldrake’s classic work: LIVING BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, place and journey in celtic spirituality: Cowley Publications ISBN: 1-56101-103-7, interpretations of the traditions and wisdoms he gathered which may go far beyond the point of his work.
His is a stand alone, well written and researched work which, first referenced for me by a brother priest in a homily, has been for me a reference work, stimulating ever deeper meditation on the whole mystery of life, baptismal life, beauty and suffering, light and darkness, sin and virtue, the intimacy of the Divine Lover and His frequent disappearances which we all feel as deep darkness, emptiness, unbearable aloneness.
We begin life as human beings within a thin membrane of a place safely surrounded by the solid thickness of our mother’s heart and body which, normally, dwells within that so thin a mysterious reality as love between a man and a woman, a husband and wife.
When born the breathe of life breathed into us by God at the moment of our conception is augmented outside the womb by the thin oxygen in the very air we must now breathe and yet this air is kept in place by the very spinning mass of the solid earth on which the very thin membrane of the soles of our feet will one day make imprint when we walk!
So likewise did God Himself, Jesus Christ, enter the threshold of life into this place so heavy with darkness, so thick with sin, to transform the earth itself into a threshold, or more accurately life lived on this earth is the ultimate threshold to the thin place which is the infinite place, the eternal embrace we all seek, love’s embrace.
Not just any love or lover’s embrace; Love’s embrace, the Holy Trinity’s embrace.
All our Christian ancestors, particularly the martyrs above all, the desert dwellers, the builders of great cathedrals, , until the notions of certain scientists and philosophers began not only to weigh down and confuse society but to poison the minds and hearts of Christians and even priests with their materialist-limited appreciation for life, yes until then our ancestors knew and treasured that in reality it is a very thin membrane indeed which separates the world we tend to believe is really real and the reality of what seems intangible but is in fact the real permanent!
We need to become humble, free, and joyful again, and at least begin by begging the grace to recognize the threshold and yearn for the thin place!
Next time: Stepping Across!

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