“You don’t plan a trip to a thin place; you stumble upon one.”
Castlerigg Stone Circle, Near Keswick, England

Castlerigg Stone Circle, near Keswick, England, postcard from 1996 trip

Twenty years ago I set out on a journey to England hoping to experience what I had read about in books. I eagerly anticipated the Wordsworth Winter School in the Lake District where I imagined striding through the atmospheric fells and around the lakes made famous by the Romantics.
After taking a deep dive into “nature’s book,” I would recollect all my adventures in tranquility.
After wandering around Lake Windermere, I would heave myself and my luggage across the Sea of the Hebrides to the tiny island of Iona, “the cradle of Christianity in Scotland,” and plunge into the wind, climbing the rocks of the rugged coast.
Both the Lake District and Iona were called “thin places” in the books I read — visible landscapes charged with invisible meaning, suspended between heaven and earth, electric with energy and mystery.
There was only one problem.
On February 5, just days before the much-anticipated trip to Iona, the Lake District experienced a rare, record-setting blizzard. “Bliss was it then” to walk in that snow, but there would be no transport to Iona within my time-frame.
A confused robin on a snow-laden branch. Feb. 6, 1996

A confused robin on a snow-laden branch. Feb. 6, 1996

Without Iona on my itinerary, would I discover thin places?

The answer was a glorious “yes.”

Instead of going to Iona, I visited my friend Gloria in Leeds. While there, we both witnessed another incredible weather event. The afternoon sky began to contract and expand, leaving trails of color in its wake, almost as though giving birth to thousands of pink, yellow, blue, green, and orange children. The rest of the sky was dark, and a strong wind whipped heaven and earth.

Talk about a thin place!

Gloria, my mother, and I gazed at the sky for over an hour, amazed at the light show and unable to name what we were seeing. The next day the newspaper explained that 15 miles above our heads sunlight was hitting ice crystals at just the right angle to create “iridescence.”


The banner photo debunked all the rumors and explained the science of the amazing skies.

Another name, nacreous clouds, comes even closer to describing what we witnessed: these cloudsblaze unbelievably bright with vivid and slowly shifting iridescent colours. They are filmy sheets slowly curling and uncurling, stretching and contracting in the semi-dark sky.”

Another gift from the trip was seeing this photo in a Quaker retreat center, Glenthorne, and talking to the photographer, David King. Something in the image called to me. He explained that the photo was taken in conditions known as “spindrift” — swirling winds and stinging shards of ice making sight difficult. Nevertheless, he took this evocative photograph of a very thin place:


Spindrift on Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, by David King

The 1996 trip, even without Iona, stands out among many wonderful travel memories, both because everywhere I went, from stone circle to Lake District blizzard to nacreous clouds in Leeds, I did indeed touch God’s garment in nature. Just as I had hoped, but not in the way I had dreamed. I had the distinct feeling that this trip was a threshold into the unknown.

Very soon after I returned home, I received two phone calls. The first invited me to consider becoming president of Goshen College.

Four days later, the phone rang again. This time with unbelievably horrible news.

Alicia Showalter Reynolds

Alicia Showalter Reynolds, 1970-1996

A precious niece, Alicia Showalter Raynolds, a recent graduate of the same college, was missing.  For weeks we feared another phone call. When it came, we wept. Our niece had been murdered.

I said yes to the call to become president. I said no to the evil violence around us, so deep. Throughout the year 1996 I felt guided, supported, and sustained by a pillar of cloud by day and a fire by night.

Alicia’s been gone 20 years. The sense that her spirit is connected to thin places in my life has never left me.

In a few weeks, I’m going back to England and Scotland. Iona is the first destination on the itinerary.

My traveling companion? My college friend Gloria who witnessed the iridescent clouds with me in 1996.

Shirley and Gloria just after witnessing those amazing clouds, 1996.

Shirley and Gloria just after witnessing those amazing clouds, 1996.

Gloria’s been to Iona two times already, so I’ll benefit from her previous experiences. We’ll also journey to Durham and Lindisfarne together, other possible “thin places.”

I’ve been reading a stack of books about Celtic Christianity.

Celtic Christianity books -- just a few of the many.

Celtic Christianity books — just a few of the many.

One of the many paradoxes of the spiritual life, however, is that you don’t plan to meet the thin places, they lie in wait for you. So we, as pilgrims, prepare our hearts while God prepares our steps.

Does the idea of thin places make sense to you? Does it name something you have felt also? I’d love to hear from you below.

Shirley Showalter


  1. Saloma Furlong on March 30, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    Shirley, this is a beautiful post… the words and the images. I know just what you mean by “thin places.” For me, the time of day can add to the feeling of a thin place. The Germans believe that these happen at dawn and dusk (Morgandämmerung and Abenddämmerung).

    My heart just aches whenever I hear or think about Alecia’s death. Even though I didn’t know her, I know she was a brilliant person and beautiful soul. I hope someday the truth about who the murderer comes to light to give everyone who knew her (and those who didn’t) closure.

    My spirit will be with you on your journey to Iona. If you get a chance, will you visit the Back Free Church on the Isle of Lewis in the Upper Hebrides to be with them when they sing their gaelic psalms? Here is a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3MzZgPBL3Q and also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w62TN2iCP1g&ebc=ANyPxKoLTK7njUW3QzD9j2r5tuN6loAbbs7iBLdqkH2XYytlAw2bUi5UT7oBrmn6Unl0SuwAG2yGcAof7_tHWZu_ohnW_nqK6w.

    I suspect that is a thin place because their singing transports me there every time.

    Thank you for this beautiful post, Shirley.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 30, 2016 at 1:36 pm

      Thank you, SALOMA. 🙂 I love the Gaelic music you linked to also. I think I sent it to you long ago because it so reminded me of Amish singing.

      Yes, we all want to know some day that Alicia’s murderer has been brought to justice. It’s hard to know that some other beautiful young woman may have been murdered by the same person.

      In the thin places, wailing endures for the Abenddämmerung but joy cometh in the Morgandämmerung. Thank you for offering these beautiful German words. And know that they are meant for you, also.

  2. Laurie Buchanan on March 30, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    Shirley — This post captivated me with your vivid description and experience of “thin places.” Clearly Iona was meant for another time—now!—a portal, perhaps, to the Jubilación stage you’ve begun to write about.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 30, 2016 at 1:37 pm

      Laurie, I sense that Iona may indeed be a portal. I will go with open eyes, heart, hands, and feet.

      Thanks for your good wishes. We are both walking through thresholds now.

  3. Audrey Metz on March 30, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    Iona – a hard place to reach, magical when you get there! Whatever your experience will be there, it will be a special memory. Have a wonder-FULL trip.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 30, 2016 at 2:00 pm

      Audrey, it sounds like you have been there. I love to know that I am traveling in the company of saints past and present. Thanks for your good wishes and for the comment. Good to have your voice here.

  4. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on March 30, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    Lucky you, to be going on this wonderful trip! Such beauty and such sorrow, hand in hand. That is life in a nutshell. Here in Manitoba we are mourning the death of a little boy who wandered from home and was found in a nearby creek. His beautiful life taken from him, his parents heartbroken. I am reading “A Mother’s Reckoning” by Sue Klebold, the mother of one of the teenagers at Columbine who shot and killed fellow students, then turned the gun on himself. A mother’s heart, broken both by her son’s killing as well as his suicide. Unbearable tragedy! We wait for the thin place, Easter resurrection!

    • Shirley Showalter on March 30, 2016 at 2:42 pm

      Yes, “sorrow and joy flow mingled down.”Thank you, Elfrieda, for your heart of compassion, felt through these examples.

      We wait indeed for Easter resurrection, the ultimate thin place.

  5. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on March 30, 2016 at 2:51 pm

    just an editing note: the word is “Morgendämmerung” not Morgandämmerung.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 30, 2016 at 2:58 pm

      Thank you!

    • Saloma Furlong on March 30, 2016 at 3:13 pm

      Thank you, Elfrieda, for that editing note. You are absolutely right. I don’t often misspell German words, but Morgen is one that I keep forgetting… e or a. Thank you!

  6. Dorothy Sander on March 30, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    A captivating post! I was transported to thin places of my own while sharing yours! Thank you.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 8:02 am

      Thank you, Dorothy. We have many themes and interests in common. Blessings on you and your work.

  7. Marian Beaman on March 30, 2016 at 6:09 pm

    This post transported me halfway to heaven. It is truly a work of art, weaving as you do travel experience, literature and reflection.

    My experience of thinness – the moment just after waking, the line on the horizon I discern when I walk on the beach.

    Of the books you display here, I’ve read two: Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization complete with a set of cassette tapes I now have the urge to purge, and De Waal’s The Celtic Way of Prayer, the reading of which felt like an act of worship.

    Thank you for being my window on (no, portal to) an iridescent world today. I look forward to posts from Iona.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 8:08 am

      Marian, this post was particularly meaningful to me as I scratched around in the “basement” and online to find the itinerary, photos (each of them vividly etched in my memory), and books necessary to tell the full story. I love the way that a blog can become both a retelling of deep past emotions and a new connection with readers.

      The original trip took me into new spiritual territory, and I have a sense that this one will also. You sensed this as another pilgrim and writer. Anam Cara, friend of the soul.

  8. melodie davis on March 31, 2016 at 5:27 am

    Such a pilgrimage destination for many Presbyterians–Iona. My youngest daughter hopes to go next year–I think I should sneak along. I think it was my now retired pastor Ann Held who first introduced me to the words and concept of a thin place, but I knew them long before she named it for me. Love the visuals here, stunning and evocative.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 8:14 am

      Yes, I can imagine how important the cradle of Christianity in Scotland must be to a Presbyterian. Hope both you and your daughter also get to take this journey. Such a tiny place. Such a worldwide influence. Thanks as always for your comment, Melodie.

      Some photos stay with you all your life. I’m glad to have collected them here. Glad they speak to you also.

  9. Audrey on March 31, 2016 at 8:16 am

    Shirley, your original trip to Iona took you “into new spiritual territory” – my experience as I first read Elizabeth O’Connor’s books and, in the same period, discovered Iona and “Holy Island” – Lindisfarne. Holy Island is THE major pivotal point of my spiritual life – I’m pretty sure I left a large part of my heart there!

    • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 8:21 am

      More places of communion, Audrey! On my upcoming trip Gloria and I will get to walk through the water to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in addition to going to Iona. I would love to hear your story. And I promise to pay a visit to your heart while I am there.

      • Audrey on March 31, 2016 at 8:33 am

        OH. MY. GOODNESS. Shirley, do you mean you and your friend are going to WALK across the causeway connecting Holy Island to the mainland?? If so, you WILL do that with a local guide who knows the fast-moving tides, etc., yes?? After seeing the pictures of submerged cars that attempted it, there’s NO WAY I’d have the nerve! Just reading that, I think said heart just jumped out of its home! That said, I will be waiting to hear your story of this trip – with more than a little envy!

        • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 2:01 pm

          Our itinerary says “pilgrim walk across causeway led by Andy Raine.” May 13 4-6 p.m. Here’s more on Andy: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jonathanwilsonhartgrove/2012/03/andy-raine-lord-teach-us-how-to-pray/

          • Audrey on March 31, 2016 at 3:56 pm

            like I said earlier: “more than a little envy”!! I’m sure you’ll be safe and will have a truly awe-FULL/filled experience – can’t wait to hear your story about it. AND you’re going with Sheryl and Ted – more envy! (envy is OK, jealousy is not. Not?)

  10. Merril Smith on March 31, 2016 at 8:26 am

    This is such a lovely post, Shirley.
    That remarkable sighting in the sky–it must have been truly wondrous. So sorry about the horrible loss of your niece.
    I don’t share your faith, but the idea of thin places definitely makes sense to me.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 11:51 am

      Thank you, Merril. You understand with different names.

      And I just saw this and enjoyed it so much on FB I wanted to share, just to broaden the religious perspective with some lightness of being.

      Sayings of a Jewish Buddha:

      If there is no self, whose arthritis is this?

      Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated?

      Drink tea and nourish life; with the first sip, joy; with the second sip, satisfaction; with the third sip, peace; with the fourth, a Danish.

      Wherever you go, there you are. Your luggage is another story.

      Accept misfortune as a blessing. Do not wish for perfect health, or a life without problems. What would you talk about?

      The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single Oy.

      There is no escaping karma. In a previous life, you never called, you never wrote, you never visited. And whose fault was that?

      Zen is not easy. It takes effort to attain nothingness. And then what do you have? Bupkis.

      The Tao does not speak. The Tao does not blame. The Tao does not take sides. The Tao has no expectations. The Tao demands nothing of others. The Tao is not Jewish.

      Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Forget this and attaining Enlightenment will be the least of your problems.

      Let your mind be as a floating cloud. Let your stillness be as a wooded glen. And sit up straight. You’ll never meet the Buddha with such rounded shoulders.

      Deep inside you are ten thousand flowers.
      Each flower blossoms ten thousand times.
      Each blossom has ten thousand petals.
      You might want to see a specialist.

      Be aware of your body. Be aware of your perceptions. Keep in mind that not every physical sensation is a symptom of a terminal illness.

      (From the book ZEN JUDAISM by David M Bader)

      • Merril Smith on March 31, 2016 at 11:57 am


      • Barbra Graber on March 31, 2016 at 11:02 pm

        beautiful piece, shirley. and i’m sending this wonderful chuckle on to more friends! we sure have been missing each other. enjoy your trip with Gloria. she was my sister Esther’s maid of honor if I recall. I know they were friends at Hesston. I didn’t know you were friends!

        • Shirley Showalter on April 1, 2016 at 8:09 am

          Thanks, Barb. We are like ships in the night. So many destinations. We must have a nice long chat when this trip is over. Yes, Esther and Gloria are friends. But no, they didn’t meet at Hesston but at EMU. See you soon, I hope! Off to NYC next.

  11. Joan Z. Rough on March 31, 2016 at 10:15 am


    Oh yes, I know about thin places. It’s a time when inexplicable things happen. It feels as though one foot is in this world, and the other foot is off wandering in a different one.

    I hope you have an absolutely wonderful time and I look forward to hearing what you’ll learn there.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 11:53 am

      Joan, I love your definition of a thin place!

      Thank you for your good wishes. I will, in fact, share what I discover. My word for the year is Serendipity!

  12. Phyllis on March 31, 2016 at 10:17 am

    This a wonderful, rich post, Shirley. “Thin places” – very memorable, as is your writing.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 11:55 am

      Thank you, Phyllis. This post required some research and lots of reflection, even a few tears. You know whereof I speak. Your own back yard takes you to thin places!

  13. Linda on March 31, 2016 at 10:44 am

    Like Elfrieda, I too have followed the tragic story of little Chase Martens, who lived just 30 miles from our colony. Too sad for words. We have glorious sunsets and sunrises (Ja, Morgendaemmerung und Abenddaemmerung) here in Manitoba. For sure, “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

    • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 1:45 pm

      Linda, that verse you quote and that I alluded to earlier was a great comfort to my mother when she lost her third child after 39 days on earth. Her heart ever after was totally broken for other mothers who lost children. Thanks for reading not only the essay but the comments too. I often feel that the best things are said in this space. Hope Springtime and Easter have been blessed times for your colony.

  14. Elaine Nissley on March 31, 2016 at 10:45 am

    Enjoyed this post! I just recently heard about Iona. My sister-in-law is also going on a spiritual pilgrimage to Iona in May. Wondering if you may perhaps be in the same group? Hope your journey is even more than you hope for! I’ll be awaiting reports from this trip!

    • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 1:48 pm

      Elaine, wouldn’t that be interesting? My trip will be led by Sheryl Shenk and Ted Swartz and leaves from DC on May 6.

      Even if we aren’t going on the same trip, we may be on the small island at the same time.

      Small world! Thin places make it even smaller. And also bigger.

  15. Marlene Kropf on March 31, 2016 at 10:49 am

    What a stunning post today, Shirley. I remember hearing you tell some of these stories in person 20 years ago; it’s wonderful to read them today, along with seeing the amazing photos. I remember too the terror and grief of Alicia’s story and pray that healing continues for all who knew and loved her.

    Glad you’re headed for Iona again! I look forward to reading about your pilgrimage. For me, one of the thin places on the island is the nunnery ruins, open to the sky and filled with flowers. Do read John Philip Newell’s reflection about praying in the nunnery in the first chapter of his newest book, The Rebirthing of God.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 2:13 pm

      Marlene, thanks for joining the conversation. I’m honored. Every time you and Stan led pilgrimages to Celtic destinations it did not fit my schedule to go. The time has come now.

      Thank you for the recommendation of the newest Newell book. The stack gets higher. 🙂

  16. Rosemary King on March 31, 2016 at 11:30 am

    Yes, I affirm that you don’t go out to meet the thin places. They come upon you when you least expect it, sometimes in a welcome place and sometimes a not so welcome place.
    Singing “Amazing Grace” at the bedside of a beloved father and husband, taken way too early in life tragically and unexpectedly. We all knew he would soon be forever gone from our life here.
    I tried to reach a thin place in China where, according to Buddhist belief, standing on a certain rock put you closest to heaven. All the tourists clamoring to stand on the rock did not elicit that thin place as promised: neither did being near to sacred vortexes in Sedona, Arizona.

  17. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on March 31, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    Oh Shirley, what a wonderful way to go towards your journey, united with the past and with all of us in your present. I feel you are aligned with the Mystery of Easter, as you show us and let us experience with you how joy and sorrows are linked inseparably.

    I love your stack of books; I wish you had a little more ‘pagan’ reading in there. Here is one I have loved: The Red-Haired Girl From the Bog, by Patricia Monaghan.

    I am drawing one of my St. Brigit cards, in honor of your pilgrimage:

    “Maiden of Spring, For Birth, Brigit appears as a young maiden in the spring, leaving snowdrops in her wake as she moves across the land. Now is the time for you to consider what metaphysical seeds you have been germinating. The newness and rebirth of spring has arrived in your life, bringing the opportunity to nourish and tend to these seeds. Allow yourself to give life to an idea, a dream or a new venture. YOU ARE GIVING BIRTH TO A DREAM.”

    Here is the source of these Brigit cards: http://moondancebotanicals.com/shop/?etsyshoppro_product_id=243729168

    How I found the cards? I took an online Herbalist course with the creator of the cards (who lives part time in Ireland and part time in Denver). The day I finished the course I took a walk in my Oakland neighborhood. As I was almost back home I saw a large coin on the ground. When I picked it up I found an Irish harp and the words “Eire, 1995.” I keep the coin with my St. Brigit cards.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 2:26 pm

      Thank you, Dolores, for these precious guides you share with me and others here. I do indeed feel that I (we) may be giving birth to a dream. St. Brigit has become a real presence to me because of you!

      The red-haired girl from the bog sounds like she would be the perfect companion to another trip I hope to make some day — to Ireland.

  18. Kathleen Friesen on March 31, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    Your photos and essay have reminded me of many thin places. I best experience those spaces when I am willing to release things that prevent me from being present in the moment. Only then can I fully encounter those unique places where I seem to be in full relationship with God and with others – seen and not seen.

    Your essay reminds me that goodbyes are never easy, particularly when they seem premature. It reminds me that the journey is not linear; it is equally about arrival and departure, crossing threshold after threshold. It reminds me that water is a symbol of transformation. It reminds me that what is possible is not always visible until it bursts forth as a burning bush along the way.

    I hope that Iona will be a thin space, a space of revelation for you.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 2:40 pm

      Kathleen, your own journey into darkness and thin places shines through with every word of the comment above. Perhaps one of the gift travel gives us is the opportunity to live more in the present tense. We don’t have a past in this place, and we aren’t likely to have a future here either. So, we must bask and savor. The older we get, the more vivid this sense is.

      Thanks, too, for the reminder of the nonlinear nature of spiritual travel. I will ponder your words in my heart as I step into the water of the causeway on Holy Island.

      Thank you for these good wishes. I feel so blessed to carry them with me.

  19. Marylin Warner on March 31, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    Oh, Shirley, I am so sorry about Alicia. Her death was another thinning of a very different place. Violence and sorrow can bring with them a redemption, but the loss remains profound.
    I have felt thin places in hospitals, hospice rooms, and also at christenings and the blessing of pets, especially rescued dogs. I learned from my mother that thin places aren’t fixed in locale, but as mobile as fog and soft breezes. Each time I experience a thin place I pause and wait, breathing with yoga breaths and holding my arms at my side, palms open. What I feel and learn is never what I expect.
    Beautiful and important post.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 2:42 pm

      Marylin, you have learned so much from your mother. And the locales you add to our list of then places truly helps move the boundaries of our imaginations. Thank you.

      “What I feel and learn is never what I expect.” Yes. Hallelujah.

  20. Ruth Lapp Guengerich on March 31, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    Shirley, a lovely post. It reminds me of our trip to Iowa just weeks after 9/11 happened. We hesitated about going,but it was probably the safest time for us to travel. At our workshop at Iona we were prayed for as representatives of the U.S. It was a most memorable week of music and worship. Ron and I hope to return to Iona sometime. I particularly enjoyed the bus ride across the Isle of Mull to get to the 2nd ferry to get to Iona, and our hike around Iona following the stations of the cross. Enjoy every moment of your pilgrimage with Gloria.

    • Ruth Lapp Guengerich on March 31, 2016 at 2:35 pm

      Thought I had proofed the whole thing–should be Iona,not Iowa.

      • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 2:46 pm

        Ruth, thanks so much for sharing some of your own Iona (easy to confuse with Iowa on the keyboard!) experiences.

        I look forward to the bus ride and will think of you as I gaze out the window.

        Gloria will make sure I explore as much as possible!

  21. Jim Clemens on March 31, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    A thin place appeared for me during a worship event led by John Bell (another Iona connection) about ten years ago. The sounds around me receded, and the focus in my little “bubble” sharpened. While I don’t know that I’ve ever heard the voice of God, this was a moment of intense clarity; I realized, and felt, and maybe heard, that I needed help with my mental struggles. This experience comes back to me often, and when it does, it brings a calm feeling of stability, roots, home.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 3:52 pm

      Jim, I am hoping John Bell is in residence when we are there, although I understand he is often not there.

      Your description of the thin place of sound adds so much to this conversation. Thank God for these gifts of “intense clarity.” I have felt them too sometimes while singing in worship.

      May that “calm feeling” flood your soul again as you read these words and remember. Thank you.

  22. Audrey Denecke on March 31, 2016 at 4:49 pm

    “Missa Gaia” or Earth Mass (Catholic CD), Susan Osborn starts to sing in a hushed tenor voice, “Oh Mystery you are alive.” Your post so eloquently speaks of those times, places, or vehicles (ceremony, music) where we meet “Mystery.” And yes, time and timing are often outside our control.

    The posting of the Gaelic singing and Amish singing reference reminds me of the Gregorian Chant I learned as a child. These old world languages and traditions take us to another “thin space” the connection through these languages, music, the lilt or the chant which carries us down to encounters with an experience of mystery again.

    Then there are the actual physical places which have a mystical energy. I envy you your trip. In my life, I have found “thin places” most frequently in nature. When I was in my early 30’s I embarked on my first solo backpacking trip in the Canadian Rockies near the town of Banff (my uncle Ed saved me from the folly of being ill-prepared, but that is another story). After a day of hiking in the rain, I reached a clearing with a vista of mountains surrounding me. There was a small stream with a handmade walking bridge over it. A sunset of oranges and yellow and red was filling the lower sky. Despite my brave bluster when I started off, I was now frightened of the coming reality of sleeping alone in this vast space (and of bears truth be told). Just then I saw a rider on a horse coming over one of the nearby hills with his Canadian Mountie hat and uniform. God’s truth. He sat with me and had some coffee and told me about which trails to avoid the next day, then moved on. I felt I had been sent a very particular type of Guardian Angel. High in the mountain foothil

    • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 6:25 pm

      Thank you so much, Audrey, for adding both music (I’m off to Youtube to see if I can find a link) and this story of a thin place.

      Banff, I’m told, is amazingly beautiful, and you have brought that moment in the clearing to our shared awareness. What you say here connects to so many other comments in this conversation. The sunset light, the hiking in nature, the music. One element you add is fear. There is danger in nature, and in all our lives. One moment we can be on top of the world, the next, quaking in our boots. The sudden appearance of a guardian is clearly evidence of being in a “thin place.” Thanks so much for sharing your moment. May there be more of them.

      • Audrey Denecke on March 31, 2016 at 6:31 pm

        Your comment on the guardian as evidence of being in a thin place sent shivers up my arms. Thank you!

      • Audrey Denecke on March 31, 2016 at 6:36 pm

        Here’s the version of Susan Osborne on Mystery

        • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 7:30 pm

          Beautiful! Thank you.

  23. Carrie Lahain on March 31, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    Beauty and ugliness. Joy and sorrow. Our lives here guarantee at least a little of both. It’s comforting to know there are places in this world that remind us of the “reality behind reality.” I’ve stumbled upon some thin places and I hope to fall upon more. Funny thing is how our thin places can be so personal…tailored just for us. The very spot that leaves one person scratching her head, leaves another wordless with awe.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 6:29 pm

      Carrie, you speak the truth. I’m responding to you while listening to Missa Gaia, brought to my attention by Audrey above. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksWvElS_-nE A beautiful setting to help your words sink in.

      You would enjoy reading the full text of Eric Weiner’s article in the NYTimes (hot linked to his name at beginning and end of this post). He makes your point about how individual thin places are.

  24. Linda Gartz on March 31, 2016 at 7:26 pm

    Hi Shirley,

    Nature. We can’t help but be in awe of the wondrous ways nature impinges on our souls, consciousness, and physical well-being. The phenomena you describe were clearly a joy to behold; these are experiences beyond our ken – even if we understand the science behind them. They take our breath away — as does the horrid news of a loved one murdered! A life we loved — just snuffed — and no real explanation as to why. An unbalanced brain, as difficult to comprehend as the weather and stars? A vicious person; a robbery that got out of hand? What can we say? Just must cope. Thin places indeed; thin in our ability to comprehend. I’m sorry for your loss; and feel joy at your experience of the beauty experienced in a life well lived. Peace. Linda

    • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 8:00 pm

      Linda, Alicia’s life was well-lived indeed and held so much promise for me. She was a grad student doing research on the African disease http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/schistosomiasis/ at Johns Hopkins University. The mystery of her death has never been solved, but the link used above in the phrase that includes her name gives the information police pieced together from other women who were stopped while driving in the same area.

      Yes, the ineffable beauty of nature and the inconceivable horror of a beautiful life snuffed out both take our breath away. Powerful experiences like these are never forgotten.

      They both make me want to be a better person. Thank you for sharing this thought. We cannot fully comprehend thin places while still bound to earth.

  25. Kathleen Pooler on March 31, 2016 at 7:33 pm

    What a lovely post, Shirley. I am mesmerized by your photos and eloquent prose, transported to sacred ground. I am so sorry about your niece. She was beautiful. Her spirit indeed lives on through you. Thank you for sharing. Enjoy your trip.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 7:57 pm

      Thank you, Kathy. Those pictures are some of my treasures. Isn’t it great to have blogs as a way to preserve memories and artifacts? Alicia was such a sweet young woman. You would have loved her too. And I’m honored, along with her wonderful family and many friends, to carry her memory.

  26. Annette Gendler on March 31, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    What a searing tribute to your nice – I love your concept of thin places. We’ve shared your post with a friend whose niece, also in her twenties, was murdered a little over a year ago, victim of a terror attack in Israel.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 31, 2016 at 8:40 pm

      Annette, please extend my sympathy to the grieving family. “The darkness around us is deep” says William Stafford, and it is true. The thin places are the cracks where the light breaks in. Leonard Cohen.

  27. June Alspaugh on March 31, 2016 at 10:00 pm

    Dear Shirley,
    Isn’t it amazing what God can reveal to us in the skies. Last year at Bonaparte Lake in British Columbia, I got to experience something so unique. At first when I saw it,I had no idea what it was. I classified it as a ‘halo on the sun’. It too was created by ice crystals. It made a beautiful concentric cicle around the sun. Even though I didn’t have cell phone service, believe it or not I had Internet service. When I typed in ‘halo on the sun’ the term sun Dogs came up.
    Beautiful pictures with vibrant color of other Sun Dogs appeared. Although the image I captured may not have been so vibrant, the phenomenon was.
    This was indeed a very thin space where the light of the sun caused this weather pattern. I still carry the awe of it.

  28. Shirley Showalter on April 1, 2016 at 8:12 am

    I’ve heard of Sun Dogs, June. In fact, one of my FB friends and former students has written about how amazing they are. That’s a thin place I have yet to experience, but I am grateful that you share it here.

    “I still carry the awe of it.” Yes. This could be called the test of having experienced a truly thin place.

    Thank you!

  29. Elaine Mansfield on April 2, 2016 at 7:05 pm

    Shirley, you’re getting around to both inner and outer worlds. I look forward to hearing about Iona, but the Nacreous clouds and spindrift are amazing enough. And your old deep friendship with Gloria. Those old relationships connect me to other worlds all by themselves.

    The story of your niece is unbearable. I’m so sorry. Thank you for standing so strongly on the side of Love and the Good.

    I’ve been writing about trips in India and find myself telling stories to friends about times there when I felt those deep connections to layers beyond and around me. I can’t think of a better description than “thin places.” Thank you for taking me with you.

  30. Shirley Showalter on April 2, 2016 at 8:47 pm

    Elaine, thank you so much for your tender knowing. Your own definition of thin places is beautiful. I would love to read your India stories. Off to see if you have them on your blog.

  31. Linda Gartz on May 19, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    Hi Shirley,
    An inspiring post with an inspiring photo.Reminds me of Annie Dillard’s book, PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK, in which she describes nature’s phenomena in gorgeous detail. I am in tears thinking about the loss of your beautiful niece to some craven, mentally disturbed individual – to commit such a crime – or a sociopath with no regard for the precious human being he stole from her loved ones. I guess that’s why the Lord’s Prayer has the phrase, “deliver us from evil.” It lurks around the world in all times, and we can only hope for deliverance — and now for healing for you and your family.

    The photos truly make visible the “thin places” as you described them — so evocative and other-worldly. You’ve given me wanderlust to visit Scotland again. Last time was about 1984! Time to head back. Thank you!

    • Shirley Showalter on May 25, 2016 at 7:46 am

      Linda, this comment appeared while I was enroute back home after a wonderful trip. I’ll write about it sometime soon, but I’m giving all the impressions some time to simmer in me. Thank you for your empathic response to our family’s loss of Alicia. Yes, there is evil, terrible evil, in the world. The gift of the Celtic imagination is to recognize that evil without giving up an even deeper belief in the “dearest freshness deep down things” Hopkins speaks of. Here’s a favorite poem to remind us both of that foundation of the world: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_5u8-QSh6A

  32. […] I will likely want to write about my Celtic Pilgrimage. […]

  33. […] disappearance and now throbs more for his parents John and Michele and his sisters. I remembered kidnapping and murder in my own family. It’s a pain that never goes […]

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