“Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!'” – Genesis 28: 16
In Jacob’s dream he sees a stairway to heaven with angels ascending and descending it. He named the place Bethel, “the place of God.” The ancient Celts called such spots “thin places,” where the distance between heaven and earth collapses.
Thin places can be famous holy spots such as the Isle of Iona or the Cathedral de Notre Dame, but more often than not they are ordinary places, such as Bethel, or a dusty road on the way to Damascus.
You can search for thin places, but, as with Jacob, it is more likely that they will find you.
Such unexpected encounters with the Holy seem to happen in times of crisis: Jacob running away from home, Saul on his way to persecute the church.
Is it the place itself that allows for these glimpses of the advent of God? Or is it some special state of mind and heart? Either way there are times and places when the ordinarily reliable distinction between heaven and earth gets erased.
Even if we see no burning bush or ladder to heaven, nor hear the voice of Jesus, we are no less certain that we have come upon a thin place, and can say, as Jacob did, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”
Keep us alive and alert, O God, in all places and times, that we may not miss the moments of your visitation.
Richard L. Floyd is Pastor Emeritus of First Church of Christ (UCC) in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. A writer and author, his most recent publications are Romans, Parts 1 and 2 (with Michael S. Bennett), new titles in the “Listen Up!” Bible Study Series. He blogs at richardlfloyd.com.