I am in Montreat this week for my annual study leave/reading week. It is a Sabbath time I try and set aside each year to catch up on neglected reading in theology, biblical studies, church leadership, and fiction. I also use the time to do more intense planning for the upcoming year that begins at Advent. It is always a fruitful time, and rejuvenating. This year I placed this blog on my agenda so I can try and get back on track with posting.
The small house I am staying in is actually in Black Mountain, since smaller Montreat homes were hard to come by this time of year. This necessitates my driving over to Montreat each morning for my run. I woke up this morning and discovered that it was warmer than expected for early November in the mountains. The deck faces the rising sun, so I got the full force of the morning light and made a decision to wear shorts and a t-shirt for the run.
After a short drive down the mountain where I am staying and over to Montreat, I got out of the car and immediately noticed that it seemed ten degrees cooler. Even though I was a little cool at the start, after warming up a bit the run was perfect. I shouldn’t have been surprised. It always seems cooler and crisper in Montreat, and I’ve rarely had a bad run in that thin place.
By “thin” I don’t mean the air, though it always seems different here. No, I mean it in the ancient Celtic (and perhaps a bit overused) way. Though it is overused, it is the closest thing to truth I can think of to describe this setting. The Celtics meant it to describe a place where the veil between heaven and earth is especially thin, and one can almost sense the other side. I, and generations before me, have always experienced Montreat in just this way.
Leonard Beechy, a Mennonite writer who contributed to the latest issue of “The Christian Century” magazine, describes thin places in more chronological terms as “twilight time. Celtic folk called it ‘the time between the times,’ the enchanted moments at dusk and at dawn when the veil between this world and the world beyond us is thin, and we seem to breathe its air.”
Maybe it is the way the mountains shade everything in Montreat, or maybe it is the times I have shared here with family and friends listening to grace-filled sermons, ascending music, world-shattering lectures, long walks and runs, or jumping around in the creek that runs right through it. Whatever the reason, this is a thin place for me, a place where with each breath I sense the Kingdom coming and already present.
That is the mystery of the season of Advent, that the Kingdom is coming and already here. Advent is a thin time of year, a time between the times, a time “between what is dying and what is being born, between the ‘already’ of Christ’s reign and the ‘not yet,’ of Advent.”
All of us from time to time need to experience thin places and times. I hope you have such places, whether they are near or far away; and I hope you will see Advent this year as such a time. We all can be so distracted and dismayed by the hurry, stress, and uncertainty of the times in which we live. We can be lulled into a kind of drudgery, missing the signs of Christ’s coming Kingdom, believing that what we see is all there is and all there ever will be.
To just this kind of people, to people like us, Advent comes with a shout. Christ is coming! His Kingdom is already taking root all around for those with eyes to see. His grace is life-giving. His promises are true. His time is now.
Let us prepare together to enter a thin time, where the air feels different, full of God. Because, in truth, it is.