Transcendent glimpses can come from any place

The lowest place on earth is the Dead Sea, which borders Israel and the West Bank and Jordan. My wife, Jen, and I traveled there recently. At 1,407 feet below sea level, it’s the deepest hypersaline (very, very salty) lake in the world. The water is much more dense than the human body, so as we waded in, we experienced the strange sensation of being pushed to the water’s surface. We couldn’t help but float. We also couldn’t stop laughing.

That picture typifies how I felt throughout our journey to Israel. We dined in 500-year-old cisterns-turned-restaurants, walked on pilgrim roads and touched the traditional rock of Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified.

The Irish call these “thin places.”

They’re thin not because the land is limited or the atmosphere is rarified, but because the space between heaven and earth narrows. Time and eternity kiss as the gauzy curtain between this world and the next is lifted for an instant. Life seems different. Perhaps one glimpses what life itself is about.

I experienced another such place in Iona, Scotland, some years ago. From quiet worship in the 1,000-year-old monastery to walking the rocky, 7-mile perimeter, a deep tranquility breathes through Iona.

But one doesn’t have to travel to Israel or Iona to find a thin place. In the mystery, misery and joy of human experience, one can encounter a thin place here in Oak Cliff.

You might find this example strange, but some years ago there was a precious woman named Louise Trubey in our congregation. She was one of the first senior adults I met when we moved to Dallas. Louise, then 87, held a steady gaze and walked with a stately poise. She especially loved children, teaching Bible stories to 4-year-olds for 50 years.

The first Sunday that I preached, as I nervously began my message, I happened to glance at Louise and I fell into a thin place.

She winked at me.

No one had ever winked at me before when I preached. But that day, and every Sunday until she died, just as I would begin to preach, I’d look over and Louise would wink just once in my direction. She made sure I saw her, and I caught her meaning: I am listening. I am in your corner. Don’t be afraid.

Life’s sacredness isn’t restricted to church buildings or desolate wildernesses. For those with expectation and eyes to see, there’s always the possibility of being jolted from everyday life, where feet give way and one begins to float. Hope, healing and strength — these are the gifts of thin places.

I believe that one day we will understand all of the pain and sadness and struggle of this life. But in the meantime, God sometimes pulls back the veil and gives us eternal, transcendent glimpses. We need to pay attention. There is a deeper reality, and it’s not as far as we might think.