Websites, Seedbombs, Sacred Space

By Revd Caroline Beckett. First published on her WordPress Blog: WorkPlayRestPray

There is nowhere God is not. Let’s start there.

It’s one of the first things we say about God, that God is everywhere – omnipresent.

A picture of Caroline with autumnal dreadlocks
Revd Caroline Beckett

That said, I was having a conversation with friends about ‘thin’ places: that in certain places in the world the divide between heaven and earth seems thinner than usual, or God feels nearer. Lindisfarne, Iona, Walsingham, places where revival started, or just places of particular beauty, tranquillity, ferocity or drama. For me, it’s particular trees, or the ocean, or one of the beaches on Iona, or Greenbelt Festival, or a smallish urban garden near Bart’s Hospital, London, where I walked while my husband was dying and which can, even now, be evoked by the scent of rain on certain herbs.

T.S. Eliot, in his poem "Little Gidding" writes of such places, and the complexity of the act and experience of going to them in search of God:

There are other places Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws, Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city-- But this is the nearest, in place and time, Now and in England. If you came this way, Taking any route, starting from anywhere, At any time or at any season, It would always be the same: you would have to put off Sense and notion. You are not here to verify, Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity Or carry report. You are here to kneel Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more Than an order of words, the conscious occupation Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying. And what the dead had no speech for, when living, They can tell you, being dead: the communication Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living. Here, the intersection of the timeless moment Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

As a people, we like a predictable outcome, value for money, the scientific experiment performed 100 times the same that yields a pattern that becomes a principle upon which things (including expectations) can be built. Yet – oh dear! – God does not do God’s part by being predictable. God’s grace is prodigious and prodigal. Just when we think we have the pattern from which we can extrapolate a rule, God breaks in and does something other, extraordinary or new. “You are not here to verify, instruct yourself, or inform curiosity or carry report,” Eliot admonishes. “You are here to kneel where prayer has been valid.”

Here are some aspects of what that kneeling looks like in my own spiritual journey: the acceptance of certain things with which a reader may disagree:

  • That prayer, as a repeated reality in a place over time, can leave a residue – a slow buildup or sediment of faith, or a beaten path between us and God through the wilderness – that changes the place in some way.

  • That God can break in suddenly, as Jacob saw angels and Moses the burning bush, filling that place with the lasting echoes of that encounter.

  • That God is not bound to retracing earlier divine steps, but can break in anywhere.

  • That the confluence of our intent, the place we choose because something about it opens us up, and God’s desire to be met, often results in a meaningful encounter.

  • That encounter happens more easily in a place that leads me to expect it, or that acts upon me in ways other places do not.

  • That the mystery of ‘thin’ places is deeply relational in nature because God, in whose image we are, is relational.

  • That, therefore, the other people present can also make a profound difference to the encounter that takes place.

Wilderness in Northumberland with low dark clouds
Northumberland Fells, picture taken by Pete Phillips

Accepting these things means I have to do something about the fact that for me, and for many of us, a great deal of our seeking and praying takes place online. The places we visit and inhabit are not solely physical, geographical points on a map, but often generated in digital space. If I believe God is everywhere I am, then God is there and there can be such a thing as digital ‘thin’ places and digital pilgrimage.

It was as Moses went about tending the sheep that he came across the burning bush. If the business we are going about exists mostly in digital space, it is not incon