On a chilly day in early April, we ate lunch together on the Duke University campus. Carol, Cathy, and I were all cancer survivors and now, Relay for Life team members for the Congregation at Duke Chapel. I told them my plans to take a pilgrimage to Iona, Scotland.
“The veil is thin there,” Cathy told me. She went on to describe this veil as the place between life on earth and the life that awaits. She’d been present in that space when she sat with critically ill hospital patients who were near death.
Later, I read about that ‘thin place’ in my book, Iona: A Pilgrim’s Guide by Peter W. Millar. He says that Rev. George MacLeod, the founder of the ecumenical Christian community of Iona, saw the patterns of weaving vines in Celtic crosses pointing to the intertwining of heaven and earth. Rev. MacLeod said that Iona itself was a ‘thin place’ where the material and spiritual came close to each other.
I remember experiencing that kind of space when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Having a potentially fatal illness, makes you look more closely at life on earth and life beyond death. Later, when the crisis had passed, I wished I could stay in that ‘thin space’ in order to keep a proper perspective on life. I wonder how I’ll experience this at Iona.
Part of me keeps away from any space that’s in between. Uncertainty raises my anxiety and causes me to feel a bit off-kilter. When people say of faith, to “live into the mystery” I’m not sure how to do that. Don’t we all spend our days trying to be more certain?
My solo journeys start with a feeling of stepping into the unknown. I remember when I traveled to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State. I chose that destination after I was mesmerized by the movie setting for Snow Falling on Cedars. Was it foolish to take a trip across the country based on what could be whimsy?
I stayed in Friday Harbor and took the ferry to Orcas Island to hike up Mt. Constitution. The path coursed through a forest that looked like the one in the movie. Climbing that mountain gave me time to feel God’s presence and think about the path of my life.
The next day, I took a ferry to Victoria Island, Canada and visited Craigdarroch Castle. I watched the full moon shine down on the roof with its angles and turrets. A security guard standing nearby asked me where I was from and how I’d chosen to travel there. I told him about my solo journeys then asked where he was from, curious because his accent sounded Scottish.
“Well, it’s a long story,” he said. “Twenty years ago my life turned around when I became a Christian. I came here from Nova Scotia to make amends with my Dad.” He went on to say his father died not long after that.
“I’m a Christian, too,” I said.
“I know you are,” he said. “It’s no accident that you’re here.”
That ‘divine appointment’ made me feel that I was on a path meant for me, that it wasn’t just whimsy. Now, as I prepare for my trip to Scotland, I’ve been reading the history of the Highland Clearances, how folks were forced off their land and out of the country. Nova Scotia and North Carolina received some of those immigrants. I may share a heritage with that security guard whom I met nine years ago.
That ‘thin veil’ of Iona awaits. I wonder what discoveries I’ll make in that place, what divine appointments there’ll be with the people in my path.
What about you?
Has there been a time in your life when you’ve experienced that ‘thin place’ between earth and heaven?
How did that experience impact your life?
Have you stepped out into the unknown and later discovered you were on your unique path?
6 thoughts on “The Thin Veil”
Connie, I feel terrible that I haven’t given your posts and you the time & attention your writing deserves. I’m under a Sept. deadline with the printer & am working night & day to meet it. My printer gave out before I could get everything printed & it looks like I’m going to have to get a new one. I’ve read all your posts and your descriptions, whether a person or place, are outstanding. The pictures definitely add to your story. Your trip this year sounds as if it may be the best yet. So glad that David will be with you part of the time! Love you, sister Betty
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Thanks so much for reading–and responding, Betty. My, you have been so busy and what pressure you’re under right now. Do what you need to do with meeting your deadlines. Afterwards, when you’re relaxing, my posts will still be there. No worries! Yes, I think this will be quite a journey– first as a couple and then for me to an established place of pilgrimage– my 14th journey. Best to you as you meet your deadlines. I look forward to having your finished product. Love, Connie
Enjoyed this read, and frankly, all your posts. There is something, as i read, that cites, these are far from solo journeys. Where we are is where we should be. With that I commend you on your Life’s Path. I believe that you will find that “Thin Veil”. The Joy experienced will be somewhat overwhelming. To be there, will open a wider place to explore.
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Thanks so much for reading and your thoughtful response. Yes, being present in the place where we are, knowing it is ‘holy’ ground is important for each of us. Best to you in experiencing Joy in your Wider Space, too. Connie
Hello Connie, I live in Edinburgh in Scotland so Im very drawn to this post. I spant some time in Iona after my first diagnosis of breast cancer. I absolutely recognise the thin veil you describe. It was certainly a time of healing for me and my heart tugged towards it as I read your words. Travel well and let its spirit nuture you. Audrey x
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Thanks so much for reading and responding to my post. I’m glad that what I wrote resonated with you– especially the reminder of the healing you experienced there. I’m excited about my upcoming journey to Iona. Before I arrive there, I’ll spend time in your city for the first time! I look forward to being in Scotland, where I’ve felt drawn for many years because of my Scots-Irish ancestry.
Blessings to you as a fellow Breast Cancer Survivor, Connie