November: A Thin Place

All souls day. Photo:

A ‘Thin Place’ according to the late Irish philosopher and poet John O’Donohue is a place or time where heaven and earth meet and we have access to ‘light’ or the beyond in a different way. It is a threshold experience where time and eternity embrace. 

John O’Donohue was steeped in the Celtic tradition and opened up for us the Celtic world, inviting us to enter and take note of times and places where the ‘veil’ between the seen and unseen world is thinner than at other times. During this ‘liminal’ time, we experience a greater sense of sacredness or presence of the Other in a deeper way as the distance between heaven and earth, darkness and light, past and future becomes porous momentarily.

November is such a liminal time within our liturgical calendar. The mood of this season is set as nature seemingly rests and sleeps having shed all its autumnal beauty and the sky sports a bleak dark grey tone in the Northern Hemisphere. It captures the Celtic idea of November as a ‘thin place’. The month of November/Samhain in the Celtic calendar is thought to have represented the Celtic New Year.

All Saints, All Souls and Halloween invite us beyond our present reality into reaching out in love as we remember those who have gone before us whether saint or sinner. In some countries on All Souls Day, transport is hired to take people to the places where the remains of their loved ones rest, food is shared as the family gathers, with some offered especially for the dead. Prayers are said for the repose of their souls, Masses are offered and it becomes a family outing and a celebration of life.

The liturgy of these days tells us that life is changed not ended, the ‘thin place’ becomes a place of bonding in love. Our loved ones have “only gone to God and God is very near”.

The Bible too speaks of thin places. We see where Moses (Exodus 3) met God in the Burning Bush and God spoke, and also Elijah (1Kings 19) met God on top of a mountain and heard Him in the still small voice. One needs to be truly present to listen and hear. Jesus had similar experiences, for example in His Transfiguration we see where the veil was lifted temporarily and the voice of the Father spoke saying: “This is my Beloved Son, listen to Him”.

The ultimate thin place for Jesus was Calvary when the veil was torn and he surrendered His all for our sake.

Thin places are not primarily geographical but a way of being present and listening deeply which enables the veil to fall even for a moment and we experience a touch of heaven. Those who have gone before us have made it beyond the veil and may the Lord accompany us so that we too may participate in “what no one has ever seen, no one has ever heard, no one has ever imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him”. (1 Cor: 2: 9).

Columban Sr Rebecca Conlan lives and works in Pakistan.

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