It’s the week of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day, and for many people I know, this means a particular connection to loved ones who have died, to “Heaven”, to some divine reality beyond the world we physically experience every day. God seems a little closer.
Even though I understand that this tradition is an opportunity to heal painful memories and experiences of loss, a maybe healthy ritual of remembrance, I can’t agree with the perception that creation is divided into places where God is and places where God isn’t – or where God appears only occasionally. Does God hide from us? Does God want a bit of private space where the noise of our lives can’t disrupt the tranquility of not having to deal with us for a little while?
I’ve been reading this week about the Celtic saying that “heaven and earth are only three feet apart, and in the thin places the distance is even smaller”.
‘Thin places’ are thought of as those places where people feel drawn beyond themselves into a deep sense of God’s presence. In these places, prayer seems natural and powerful and there is a profound sense of peace and belonging with the divine.
One of the images used is that of a ‘veil’ being drawn back for a moment to give human beings a glimpse of God.
I happily agree that there are places where the sacred is more obvious, where we are stopped in our tracks, take a deep breath and remember God being with us. But that there is a distance between God and God’s creation that has to be overcome? As poetic as the metaphor of the the veil might be, it doesn’t work for me.
I like Thomas Merton’s thoughts much more, the idea that
“at the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us… It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely…I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of Heaven is everywhere.” (from “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander”)
The gate of Heaven is everywhere. The place where God meets you is within you. There is no veil to be drawn back between a world where God dwells and a world where you would yearn to be ‘on the other side’ to be with God. God is here. God is Immanuel, God is a ‘God-with-us’.
So the gate is not just easy to find, and open, but we’re actually already ‘on the other side’ of it, without having noticed and without having consciously walked over a threshold. We’re there already because God was faster than us and came our way first.
God in all things. God in all of us.
It’s easy, it’s simple, and it’s good news.