A Reflection on “Thin Places”


In October of 2012, Patty Spears reflected on her recent experience at the Redemptorist Center for Renewal in the Sonoran Desert. Here, she served as the co-facilitator of Ascension Health’s program on management formation. She explains that she has spent a great deal of time here and in the companion facility, The Desert House of Prayer, over the last four years leading retreats, on personal retreats, or teaching.

In her reflection of her time spent in the Sonoran desert, she is reminded of the striking emotions she felt on a particular personal retreat when reflecting on the desert scenery. Blue sky, unique vegetation; specifically, the striking Saguaro cacti which are native to the Sonoran desert. All in all, her depiction paints a captivating image of a vast and surreal desert landscape. Such beauty left her, and can leave many questioning, “how can this be real?” But to reach out and touch the thorns of the Saguaro is to quickly be reminded that beauty is no guise for reality.

Such pricks might only affect us on a surface level; however, these cacti and the wonders of the desert represent the mystery of life and its far-reaching pains and pricks can cause a much deeper hurt. Patty goes on to detail another retreat she spent the year prior at the Desert House, where she grieved the loss of a close friend. It was there that her teacher, Father Pat Hawk who himself was living with terminal cancer, listened to her ponderings of life. He told her: “I am alive now, and when I am dead I’ll be dead.” Patty reflects on his ability to maintain clarity amidst terminal illness.

Patty goes on the note that she feels the mystery of the desert and of these striking scenes begs our silence; that the greatest revelations come to us when we let go of our worldly worries, pains, and sorrows. The passage of Hosea demonstrates this; she suggests, “if I can become quiet enough, if I can let go of the myriad of distractions in my day-to-day life, I might actually get in touch with what is. And what might that be?”

Referencing Celtic spirituality, she discusses the concept of a “thin place.” A “thin place” is a place where the boundary between the secular and sacred is very thin, making it difficult to distinguish between one and the other. A Sacred Journey defines a thin place as “a term used for millennia to describe a place in time where the space between heaven and earth grows thin and the Sacred and the secular seem to meet. “ The ancient Celts sited places like the Isle of Iona (now Scotland) and the rocky peaks of Croagh Patrick as such places. I can imagine Patty felt the same sentiment when taking in the beauty of the Sedona desert-scape.

It is in these “thin places” that many feel pressed to surrender. The beauty of the landscape is overwhelming and provides a sense of primal grounding. It beckons us to seek peace, and to radiate joy, and to provide love to others. More than this, the indistinguishable blending of reality and the divine push us to pursue more centered lives through our words, practices, and actions.