Thin Places: Wonder Breaking into the Mundane
“You were on my mind last night when I woke up, and I felt an urge to pray for you,” my friend Gigi told me in a morning phone call. “Don’t be afraid, but I really think you need to go see your doctor for a sonogram today. There was a strong sense that came through when I was praying that there’s something about your baby that your doctor needs to see — but it can turn out well if you go there today.”
Gigi’s words hit me like splash of cold water in my face. Yet I knew her to be a trustworthy friend and a reasonable person. “I, I, um…” I stammered, trying not to become too alarmed at what may be wrong with my unborn daughter, who was nearly two weeks late arriving already.
“Don’t worry, Whitney. Just call and let the doctor’s office know you’re coming in today to check on the baby,” Gigi told me in a kind but firm voice.
Soon after hanging up, I drove straight to my obstetrician’s office and waited for her in person until she was done with an appointment. Calmly, I asked her for an emergency sonogram, explaining the conversation I’d had with Gigi. The doctor rolled her eyes like she thought I was crazy. But she gave me the sonogram — and the look in her eyes when she watched the screen told me there was actually cause for concern. “The baby is so overdue that the placenta is breaking down,” she gasped. “I must have miscalculated your due date. If we don’t act soon, your baby could be stillborn. Go to the hospital right away so we can induce labor!”
I did as she instructed, and my daughter Honor was born healthy soon afterward.
That moment of wonder — when heaven reached out to me through a friend in the middle of the mundane — saved a life. There have been other times when God seemed to punch a hole in the boundary that separates the heavenly and earthly dimensions to get my attention. Those times of encountering “thin places” usually came about through prayer or meditation.
“Thin places” are transcendent moments in our lives when the veil that separates the earthly and heavenly dimensions becomes thin enough for us to see through. The term comes from the ancient Celtic spiritual tradition of looking for the eternal breaking through into the mundane. When we catch glimpses of the spiritual world and are connected to something greater than ourselves, we can be changed for the better — inspired, encouraged, or challenged to grow. Prayer and meditation help us experience those thin places. When we pray or meditate, we can step through the boundary between us and the eternal world, discovering moments of wonder.
Communicating through prayer is like exchanging gifts back and forth. Sometimes we receive a gift when someone prays for us. At other times, we find an opportunity to give a gift by praying for someone else.
That day, I was on the receiving end, thanks to a good friend. Another day years later, I was on the giving end. By that time I knew not to ignore the strong yet inexplicable prompting I had to pray when the urge came.
I was just sitting in a dentist’s office, waiting for my two children to finish getting their teeth cleaned. Then an image of my husband Russ came to mind: He was underwater, struggling like he was fighting to reach the surface and breathe. A strong voice shouted in my mind: “Pray for Russ. He’s in danger right now.”
So I did — fervently but silently praying right there in the middle of the waiting room, with the noise of dental equipment droning on around me. It was another alarming situation — just like the one Gigi had brought to my attention years before — yet I felt peace again.
Later that day, I spoke with Russ by phone from Mexico, where he was on a business trip. He told me that at the exact time I felt an urge to pray for him, he had indeed been in danger of drowning. Russ and a coworker had fallen into the ocean during a team-building event, and the panicked coworker had grabbed onto Russ so hard that she pulled both of them down into the deep. Just as Russ realized there was nothing more he could do, he said, he got a surge of energy that empowered him to reach the water’s surface and pull his coworker to safety — a wonderful gift that he was sure came as an answer to my prayers.
When was the last time that God knocked on the window of your mind, sparking your curiosity to look for glimpses of heaven you can see right here and now? If it’s been a while since you encountered a thin place, search for one by spending time in prayer or meditation. Wonder is all around you, waiting for you to find it.
Whitney Hopler works as Communications Coordinator at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being and has written for many media organizations, from About.com to the Washington Post. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.