Braving the Thin Places Lenten Read-Along - text above image of Julianne Stanz, author, and her book

Thin places are spaces of mystery and encounter where we meet God in ourselves, in others, and in the wider world. In each person’s life are thin places where we experience God’s presence in a powerful way that stirs the soul. Entering thin spaces is an opportunity that we don’t normally have—to slow down, to pause, to look with fresh eyes, and to recover a sense of wonder about the world. In these thin spaces we are broken open, and we encounter ourselves, our relationship with others and with God, in a deeper and more authentic way. Truth makes its home in these broken-open places, and we often receive the gift of new insights and memories. As we become more understanding, compassionate, and authentic, we open up to new ways of seeing, fresh avenues of thinking, and ultimately, transformed ways of being.

While the concept of a thin place is an ancient one, it holds real meaning for us today as we try to make sense of the world around us and, indeed, within us. On the road to transformation we can look to saints as guides for how to navigate the thin places where God is waiting to meet us. On the surface, St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Patrick of Ireland may not appear to have much in common, especially considering that their lives are separated by about 1000 years of history. But a deeper look at both men’s lives reveals several interesting parallels, particularly with the spiritual traditions and practices associated with them.

Trust as a Thin Place

In a single day St. Patrick tells us that he “would say as many as a hundred prayers and at night only slightly less.” (Confessio) This is expressed most beautifully in the Lorica, also known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate, a prayer form well-known to the ancient Irish but written three centuries after Patrick’s death. Patrick knew the precariousness of life and death but trusted in God no matter the circumstances. “Whatever happens to me, good or evil,” he said, “I must accept it and give thanks to God. He has taught me to trust in him without any limits.” Trusting in God without limits is also a theme for St. Ignatius, who also modeled a life of surrender to God and expressed this theme in his famous prayer, the Suscipe.

Finding the Gifts of God in All Things

St. Ignatius and St. Patrick were both gifted with profound, mystical lives, yet they also emphasized that God is found in the ordinary moments of life. In his writings, particularly his Confessio, St. Patrick remarks that the presence of God is all around us. Everything, including his very own life, “was the gift of God.” St. Ignatius Loyola urged his followers to find God in all things, and if we seek to find God in our daily lives, God will speak to us, but first we must attune our presence to him. Jesus invites us to “seek and you will find” (Luke 11:9), but we are often so busy and distracted that we fail to see him. St. Patrick and St. Ignatius remind us to seek God in the ordinary, everyday moments of our lives where God is present in the here-and-now.

Leaning Into the Mercy of God

Sometimes the decisions we make in life or the experiences that happen to us through no fault of our own can bring us low and to the edge of despair. St. Patrick and St. Ignatius had such experiences. “I was like some great stone, lying deep in the mud,” Patrick tells us, but God “in his mercy lifted me up” and “placed me on the very top of the wall.” (Confessio) This is an echo of Ignatius, who cried out to God in his sorrow, “Pardon me, O mercy of my God, for having despised so long Thy mercy’s voice! In deep sorrow and contrition, I cast myself at Thy feet: Have mercy on me.” (Francis W. Johnston, The Voices of the Saints) When we go through trials in life, both saints remind us that instead of turning inward, we should turn to God and lean into his mercy.

Thin places are often wild, messy places of rawness and beauty where God is waiting to renew and restore us. By journeying with and finding parallels between St. Patrick and St. Ignatius, we find encouragement to confront whatever we might find in our thin places and move forward with God’s grace.

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