|Thin Places: A Memoir|
Mary E. DeMuth
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In this moving spiritual memoir-Thin Places-Mary DeMuth traces the winding path of thin places in her life, places where she experienced longing and healing more intensely than before. From surviving abuse as a latchkey kid to discovering a heavenly Father who never leaves, Mary's story invites you to a deeper understanding of your own story. She calls you to discover new ways to look for God in the past so that you might experience him more profoundly in the present. What if you could retrace your life and discover its thin places-places where the division between this world and the eternal fades?
Growing up, I find myself housed in a scrawny sort of body — legs thin as broomsticks, interrupted by knees so knobby they bang into each other when I walk. My doctor makes me drink whole milk so I’ll fatten up. Kids use words like rail, string bean, or stick to describe me.
I, myself, am a thin place.
The Celts define a thin place as a place where heaven and the physical world collide, one of those serendipitous territories where eternity and the mundane meet. Thin describes the membrane between the two worlds, like a piece of vellum, where we see a holy glimpse of the eternal — not in digital clarity, but clear enough to discern what lies beyond.
Thin places are snatches of holy ground, tucked into the corners of our world, where, if we pay very close attention, we might just catch a glimpse of eternity. Legend has it that thin places are places for pilgrims, where ghostlike echoes of those gone before can be felt and heard, where the Ancients whisper their wisdom near the ruins of a church or the craggy outcropping of a rock. In this way, a thin place is an ancient doorway to the fairy-tale netherworld — a fanciful notion that children embrace and adults find preposterous.
Maybe it’s my own imagination that hopes for real thin places on this earth. I’m a storyteller, after all, prone to wander in make-believe worlds. I’d like to believe in portals to eternity — Narnia doors beckoning me onward and upward. Even so, I’m broadening the metaphor a bit. Thin places are snatches of time, moments really, when we sense God intersecting our world in tangible, unmistakable ways. They are aha moments, beautiful realizations, when the Son of God bursts through the hazy fog of our monotony and shines on us afresh.
He has come near to my life. I will tell you how.
When I learn of my grandmother’s cancer, how it ravages her body though it spares her mind, I fly out to visit, knowing it may be our last time to clasp hands on earth. The feisty woman stares back at me, her body visibly shorter, her eyes holding a flicker of sass but mostly sadness. I want the evangelical gumption others furiously possess to share with my grandmother the beauty of Jesus with a flurry of perfectly scripted words. But the words don’t spill out. Instead, I play cards with her. We reminisce about our summers together, laughing. I enter her world, hold her hand, tell her I love her.
I accompany her to Bingo, enduring the choking smoke and grilling despair that seeps into the Bingo Hall. While the caller shouts out letters and numbers, and folks near death stamp card upon card, I know that if Jesus walked the earth today, He’d hang out in a Bingo Hall, loving on folks whose only hope is a five-hundred-dollar jackpot.
I panic before I am about to fly home. Billy Graham shouts in my conscience, You have to share the gospel. You have to share the gospel. I pray, keep quiet. I listen to the Holy Spirit’s sweet voice. Pray for her, He says.
“Do you mind if I pray for you before I leave?” I ask.
“Not at all.” Her voice sounds small, needy. “I’d like that.”
I pray that she will understand Jesus’ winsome love for her, that she will be relieved of pain, that she’ll know beyond a doubt that God sees her there, hurting. I ask Him to please shoulder her burdens, whatever they may be. When amen leaves my lips, my grandmother’s shiny eyes stare back at me. The Scripture comes to mind about doing things unto the least of these and how, in serving those who were needy, I serve Jesus Himself.
When I leave, I am haunted. Why didn’t I spell out the entirety of the gospel? What if she wanted to know? I pray again when I arrive home, clearly sensing God wants me to write her a letter, share my heart about my life, Jesus, all the healing He’s done inside me, the forgiveness He offers even now. Though I feel like I’ve flunked Evangelism 101, I send the letter.
A little later I call her.
“Thank you for the letter,” she wheezes.
“You’re welcome,” I reply, still hesitant.
“You don’t understand,” she says. “I love that letter. I read it over and over again. Thank you for writing it.”
I choke out an “I love you” and hang up.
A few days later she lets out her last breath.
I stand above my grandmother’s grave, a gaping, muddy hole in the Ohio earth. The casket holding the shell of her body teeters on top as the wind blows through me, around me. Barren trees reach stark limbs to the sky as if to beckon it to send sunshine.
I remember Bingo, the prayer, the letter. I have no idea if my grandmother met Jesus, but in that sacred silence, I am stirred to sing Amazing Grace over the coffin, though the wind blows and the trees creak branches together.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
Sobs warble my voice just as others join in.
A thin place, this Ohio graveyard. I can nearly see Jesus’ smile as I catch a paper-thin glimpse of heaven on the November breeze. God’s fingerprints are everywhere — in the sacred intersection of melancholy and joy. I feel like Jacob, himself akin to thin places. Head pillowed on a rock, Jacob dreams crazy ladder dreams where angels dance up and down, to and from God’s presence. God shouts covenant words in the dream, words establishing Jacob as a patriarch and promising Jacob His presence. Jacob wakes up and utters these words: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16 NASB).
Surely God is in the nooks and crannies of my life, stooping to earth to woo me. Sometimes I recognize Him, but usually I continue on the mundane path, not realizing a breath of a veil exists between the Almighty and myself. Margaret Becker’s song “Cave It In” beautifully captures this:
I know the wall between us
Is just paper-thin
Why can’t I, why can’t I,
Why can’t I just cave it in?
So porous these walls may be
But I’m still clawing at the seams.
That’s me. I live in the midst of holy moments, yet only in retrospect do I really see them. I claw at the seams of life, questioning God’s ways, seldom realizing that if I’d stop clawing, I would capture new glimpses of Him through the thin places. God woos me from behind the veil through the tragedies, beauties, surprises, simplicities, and snatches of my life I might overlook.
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.