A different kind of thin place

In the Celtic tradition there is the notion of ‘thin places’. Traditionally this is meant to mean that in these places heaven and earth seem a little closer. I think I would express this as places where I find it easy to encounter God. There are certainly places that I can go to where this does seem real.

But there is another kind of thin place. A place where I find easy to connect with myself. They are places where I find deep tranquility, and a visit is always profoundly restorative on a level which is hard to describe.

I’m deeply grateful that over the last year or so I have had frequent access to one of these places. I can escape for a weekend and bask in the calm of my soul. When this first became a possibility, I thought I would bring friends here, but the more often I come, the more I realise that I crave the sanctuary of solitude when I am here.

As I recognise this quality of thinness I begin to understand why I desire to be here alone.

A week…

Last week was probably one of the most frustrating weeks I’ve experienced in a long time. It was frustrating because for reasons I simply do not understand my brain was just not functioning as it normally does. I made mistakes that I don’t normally make. I forgot things I don’t normally forget. I missed appointments. My ineptitude required my colleagues to step in in a way that I don’t normally require.

It was a hard week. And I am glad that I am where I am. The colleague most affected has the best interests of the students at heart, so went the extra mile. And other colleagues I encountered and confessed my unexpected incapacity to were kind and compassionate.

I don’t have an adequate explanation for what happened. I simply don’t know. In terms of my job it was a bad week. And yet, at the same time a paper that I wrote was finally published in Presence. I have never received such positive feedback for a paper yet. Obviously, I wrote the paper many months ago, but it was very helpful to get those responses in this week. This week when I was struggling so much, a paper I wrote some time ago was finally ‘out there’ and deeply appreciated. It was balm for my distressed system.

I hope a quiet, gentle weekend has restored the good functioning of my brain!

The gift of education

I finally got around to reading my way through Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. At 800+ pages of fairly dense academic writing it is no mean feat. It is a truly remarkable book. In it Taylor tracks the history of faith in what he calls ‘North Atlantic societies’ (meaning the USA and Western Europe).

I found the development of his argument both compelling and fascinating. Perhaps though, the one thing which remains with me is a profound sense of gratitude for my own education. And I mean this in the broadest sense. His argument is strewn with illustrations from across the spectrum from Isaac Newton to William Blake; from Bach to Derrida.

I was acutely aware of how much more difficult it would have been to engage in reading this book if I was not culturally embedded in the world he was illustrating. So many of the references were all the more powerful because I already had the frameworks he was drawing on in my head.

I think back to one of my MTh students last year, who really struggled with the reading. At the time, I don’t think I really appreciated what her struggle was beyond the discipline of actually sitting down and focusing on words on the page. Having engaged with Charles Taylor, I am so much more aware of the deep associations I can draw on almost unconsciously. It must be a deeply disorienting experience if one cannot make those connections.

I think I can get a small glimpse of the alienation that some must suffer when they come to university.