Celtic spirituality has long cultivated the belief in so-called “thin places” where the veil separating heaven and earth, time and eternity, is thin and where the experience of the sacred and the divine is heightened. Places of Christian pilgrimage and shrines are among the more commonly recognized “thin places.” Monasteries and their immediate environs are also frequently experienced as thin places where the daily and unbroken prayers of monks and nuns have worn thin the veil separating and obscuring the presence of the divine and the sacred in our midst. However, that veil is not truly part of the fabric of the world around us, and more like the veil that Saint Paul spoke of blinding his fellow Israelites who failed to recognize Christ.
For, as we heard in our first reading, God’s imperishable spirit is in all things sustaining their very being. Those with faith and a deep appreciation of nature and the beauty of the world that surrounds us, see in this beauty the magnificent handiwork of the Creator. However, unlike the human artist whose work typically stands separate from the artist, God’s handiwork is totally suffused with his sustaining presence and thus offers a vibrant living connection with the Creator. Nevertheless, when all of nature and created reality remain “thick places” opaque to God, then instead of uniting us with God they can actually distance us and risk becoming something of an idol—worshiping the creature rather than the Creator.
Now, what is true of all created reality is even truer of ourselves. The same imperishable spirit of God that permeates all things permeates our entire being and desires to enter into loving relationship with us. Unfortunately, most of us begin our spiritual journeys with our hearts being “thick places” impervious to God and his amazing closeness. So many of our spiritual disciplines and practices are thus aimed at wearing thin this crude veneer that covers our true identity and beauty and thus obscures the God who is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
And so, like Zacchaeus, we go forth from ourselves and seek outside, the God who dwells within—even climbing a tree to better view the Christ of God! However, God, for his part seeks us out and leads us back to ourselves saying, as he did to Zacchaeus, I must stay at your house. It is there, deep in our hearts, become that “thin place,” that we finally encounter God in a manner that has us no longer wandering outside our hearts in longing search for the One who already dwells within and makes of us his home. Therefore, with Zacchaeus, let us embrace with gratitude this divinely-guided homecoming in which we find, not only God, but ourselves; and, in that finding, fulfill Saint Paul’s prayer that our Lord Jesus may be glorified in [us] and [we] may be glorified in him. Then Jesus can also say to us what he said to Zacchaeus: Today salvation has come to this house, because this one too is a descendant of Abraham.