Monastic Herbalism: Part One

Some say the monastics of the Middle Ages merely kept good records of the classical era, preserved them, copied them, and made use of them. Others say they developed many skills and a great deal of information themselves through trial and error. What cannot be doubted, though, is that monks and nuns of medieval times had records, gardens and medicines for the practice of herbalism. Indeed, they were the masters of it, particularly the Benedictines, and they held and built this treasure of knowledge for over a millennium, with many continuing to do so to this day.

herbs

Sage, rue and rosemary.

Ancient Rome used herbs as part of its medical system. Indeed, the Roman Army took seeds with them along the way so they could plant and use them when they dug in at a particular location. The system itself came mainly from Greek discoveries, particularly Hippocrates and his followers, and it is well recorded that the Hippocratic humeral system was used by Ancient Rome. This system held that an excess or deficiency of any of four bodily fluids in a person, called humours, had a direct effect on their health and attitude. Herbs were among the things that they thought could restore balance to the humours. While the system was flawed in its foundational assumptions, the trial and error involved in it led to discovering many herbs and plants that helped the body to heal itself.

Rome fell of course, and the influence it had across Europe receded in the years that followed, with knowledge regarding traditions, medicines, infrastructure, and commerce slowly disappearing with it. Behind the scenes, though, monastics were forming their own communities away from the large cities to worship God. To live such a life, they had to do for themselves with the things that were around them. As the existing structures of civilization disintegrated, the monks and nuns slowly learned trades and skills to survive and thrive in their normally remote communities. Slowly their communities themselves would become the centers of learning.

fiacre

St. Fiacre, a patron saint of herbalism

Among the many skills they practiced was herbalism—the use of plants material to support the healing function of the body. While knowledge and traditions could simply be wiped away in a generation or two, they retained some texts from the classical period. While some in the Middle Ages had the view that illness was punishment by God for some misdeed–and this supports the misinformed notion that the middles ages were a “dark” age of limited learning–the clear effectiveness of herbalism for many ailments strongly argued that God had supplied the help the people needed in the plant life around them, and this argument was difficult to argue with when the results were seen.

The progress of herbalism for monastics was a combination of retaining the knowledge from the classic period, which the monks and nuns excelled at; absorbing knowledge from other cultures they came into contact with; as well as trial and error with what they had around them, which often differed from region to region. Rather than darkness, the light supplied by the knowledge they developed about herbalism were the seeds of the later fields of medicine, genetics, botany, pharmacology and in many ways the results-oriented spirit of true science itself.

The best way to provide an initial overview of the topic is to survey the major historical events related to the topic including the major works copied, by hand by the monks, which slowly spread across Europe and Western Asia.

– “De Materia medica” (on Medicines) was a text about botany and plants and was written by the Greek physician Dioscorides Pedanios around 90 A.D.. He had traveled with the Roman armies as a doctor, learning about the herbs and other medicines of the cultures they encountered. It is one of the most influential compilations of medicinal plants ever, discussing over 700 plants believed to have healing properties. It lasted as a standard medical text for almost 1,500 years and was one of the first books published by the printing presses in the 1440s.

– At about the same time Pliny the Elder in Rome compiled his 37-volume Historia Naturalis with fourteen of its volumes dealing with botany and herbal medicine. Fifty years after Pliny passed, Galen of Pergamon (Claudius Galenus 131-200 A.D.), a Greek living in Rome became Rome’s leading physician. At heart he believed, as the ancient Greeks did, in balancing bodily humours but he also stressed combinations of herbs, minerals and animal parts as a part of that healing.

– “Physiologus” was an natural history book created in the second century in Egypt with unknown authorship. It spoke of plants but also described animals, stones and all aspects of nature. As a main source of knowledge in the area, the book became available in several translations, including Latin by 600 A.D.

– St. Gertrude was born in Landen, Belgium in 626 A.D. She was a Benedictine abbess at a monastery in Nivelles, Belgium and, along with St. Fiacre, is a patron saint of herbalists and gardeners, though she is most renowned as a saint of house cats. She died on March 17, 659, and March 17 is her feast day, the same as St. Patrick.

– St. Fiacre (fee-AH-krah) of County Kilkenny in Ireland is a patron saint of gardening, both vegetable and medicinal. He grew up in a monastery where he learned herbalism and his skill at it, together with his piety, were so noteworthy that it caused disciples to flock to him. Seeking greater solitude, he left and sought refuge near Meaux, France in a wooded area near the Marne River. Saint Faro, the bishop of that area at the time, gave him a dwelling in a forest in the province of Brie. The legend is that St. Faro offered him as much land as he could turn up in a day, and that St. Fiacre, instead of driving his furrow with a plow, turned the top of the soil with the point of his staff. He then cleared the ground of trees which fell to either side of him as he walked the area with his staff, and there he made his garden, built an oratory in honor of the Blessed Virgin, and built a hospice for travelers which developed into the village of Saint-Fiacre in Seine-et-Marne. In his hospice he entertained visitors and patients, treating them himself with herbs and other natural items, and that at times it’s said he miraculously restored some to health more immediately. He died on August 18, 670 after years of prayer, mortification and labor in his garden. Visitors from Ireland and France would continue to come to his shrine for centuries after his death seeking healing and solace. His feast day is September 1.

– As can be seen, after Rome fell, the Benedictines quickly became the monastic masters of herbalism, already being focused on the mission of preserving knowledge. Among other things, they perfected the making of tinctures—suspending the essence of an herb in an alcohol base for medicinal and other purposes. Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne (742-814 A.D.) so admired the Benedictine gardens and techniques that he ordered all monasteries throughout the empire to plant “physic gardens” to supply the monasteries and the empire with healing herbs.

The Plan of St Gall

The Plan of St. Gall with garden/infirmary section shaded.

– In 820 A.D. Swiss Benedictines designed an architectural drawing of the ultimate monastery with their Plan of St. Gall. It showed a physic garden that was to contain two dozen herbs including rosemary, rue, sage, fennel, fenugreek, dill, cumin, mint, savory, pennyroyal, rose and watercress. It is the only remaining major architectural drawing from the 700 years between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the thirteenth century, but it was never built. (Over a millenia later the infamous St. Gallen Mafia was centered in this same area.)

– Also in the 800s A.D. Bald’s Leechbook (also known as Medicinale Anglicum) was compiled in present-day England among the Anglo-Saxons, which apparently was largely uninfluenced by a few centuries of Mediterranean texts, making it unique. It listed herbs and the bark of many trees, and yes leeches, to be used in remedies.

– Walafrid Strabo (c. 808 – 849 A.D.), was a Benedictine monk, abbot and theological writer who lived on Reichenau Island in what is today Southern Germany. He wrote the “Hortulus” which was widely circulated. It was basically a detailed account of his experiences with his garden with descriptions of the various herbs he grew and their medicinal and other uses, which included the brewing of beer. He referred specifically to sage as holding the place of honor in his garden; then rue as an antidote for poisons and included melons, fennel, lilies, poppies, roses and many other plants.

– The knowledge of healing herbs from the classical era was also preserved and expanded on by the Arab nations with Ibn-Sina’s work the Canons of Medicine becoming available just after the turn of the millenium. Abulcasis (1197-1248 A.D.) wrote the Book of Simples, adding 200 healing herbs and poisons to the known lists.  With the Crusades ongoing, the two cultures came into contact and knowledge of healing techniques was spread.

– A compilation of herbal healing methods was circulating by the eleventh century called De Viribus Herbarum Carmen. It was attributed to Macer Floridus who lived in the Loire area of France. It described the medicinal properties of 77 herbs and was written in Latin hexameter, a poetic verse that was most likely used as a memory device for those in the practice of medicinal herbs.

hildegardflipped– Benedictine Saint and Abbess Hildegard von Bingen’s first work was “The Book of Secrets in Nature and Creatures” (Liber Subtilitatum Diversarum Naturarum Creaturarum), written between 1150 and 1158. The final manuscript was lost after her death. Around 150 years later, several partial manuscripts were recompiled and it was then split into two treatises, the “Physica” and the “Causae et Curae.” The “Physica” was a history of natural remedies, which she intended for the public, and which contained a detailed section on plants. In “Causae et Curae” Hildegard describes healing and treatment methods more broadly, including consideration of the bodily humours, traditional creation teachings, and mystical beliefs.

    • In recompiling the Physica and Causae et Curae, parts of Hildegard’s original work were omitted or abridged by later writers, while other elements were added making the authorship hard to sort out in places. This tradition of ascribing things to the saint continues today as new-age beliefs are ascribed to her with the more orthodox aspects of her genius being pushed to the side. There can be no doubt, though, that she was a Christian mystic with a wide knowledge and an intellect second to none who continues to inspire to this day. While on lists of saints since the 1600s, she was officially canonized on May 10, 2012 by Pope Saint John Paul the Great and was declared a Doctor of the Church on October 7, 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. Her feast day is September 17.

    • Herbs and spices mentioned in Hildegard’s works included: pepper, sage, aloe, mallow, anise, galangal, poppy, rose, rue, plaintain, yarrow, asarum, feverfew, betony, blackberry, wormwood, blessed-thistle, blueberry, boswellia, celery, cloves, dittany, fennel, flax, hazel, laurel, lungwort, milk thistle, mullein, vervain, myrrh, nettles, cranesbill, nutmeg, bindweed, pansy, spindle, white pepper, and winter wheat.

circa instans– The medical school of Salerno, in southwest Italy, flourished between the eleventh and early thirteenth centuries. It was influenced early on by translations of the Arabic works which were provided by Constantine the African, as well as works from the classical Greek and Latin medical sources. They produced works such as the “Antidotarium Nicolai,” a collection of medical recipes, and two collections describing nature and the healing properties of natural elements, the “Glossae Platearii” or “Liber iste,” and the “Liber de simplici medicina” (the book on simple medicine) or “Circa Instans.” The “Liber iste” and the “Circa instans” titles of each were derived from the first words of the works, similar to how papal encyclicals are titled to this day. Both works were attributed to Matthaeus Plateariuus, a medieval physician from the medical school at Salerno.

– In 1296 Marco Polo’s account of his travels in Asia renewed the European taste for spices, and the spice routes were reopened from the early 1300s to the mid-1400s.  At that time the Mongols lost Western Asia to the Ottomans, who closed the overland routes.  During those years pepper, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, galangal and other Asian herbs and spices came West for use as flavorings and medicinals in Europe.  The closing of the eastern spice routes and rising price of spices created a demand to look for sea routes to Asia to the west, which Christopher Columbus was attempting to find in 1492 when he landed in the Americas.  He returned to Spain with the news of these lands and also with the seeds of a different type of “pepper” from the Caribbean Islands–the chili pepper, specifically cayenne (which, of course, has noted health benefits enjoyed to this day).

– The enlightenment periods in the differing countries of Europe in many ways marked the end of the Middle Ages and with it the appropriation of the knowledge of the monastic herbalists by the distinct, emerging fields of science. Modern “Herbals” were compiled and widely distributed via the printing press. At the same time, herbal remedies fell out of favor when they did not seem able to combat the Black Death and other plagues of the late middle ages.

    • Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus (1493-1541) was a Swiss physician who publicly announced his distrust of herbalism and the monastic and other healers who practiced it. He introduced the use of active chemical drugs (like arsenic, copper sulfate, iron, mercury, and sulfur) into medicine, and became a large proponent of the Doctrine of Signatures. The Doctrine of Signatures, the idea that herbs resembling various parts of the body were the right herbs to treat those body parts, oddly took herbalism off in a less fact-based direction than the monastics had typically done in the ages before.

    • Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) brought another “science” of the time to the study of plants and herbs: astrology. Astrological herbalists decided that herbs were somehow connected to different signs of the zodiac. They treated sickness by determining what sign or planet ruled over the part of the body that needed care and then used an herb thought to be related to that astrological sign in treatment. In short, the enlightenment and reason-based science of its time had a hand in wrongly harming the reputation of herbalism.

These errors would rise again in the modern age where herbalism became associated with new age medicine, holistic interpretations of medicine, and other neo-pagan influences. These often willingly included (and include) the flawed astrological or signature processes in determining herbal treatments and are to be avoided.  On the other hand, pure herbalism not only kickstarted the legitimate fields of botany and medicine, but also genetics, literally formalized in many ways by a monk.

mendel

Gregor Mendel

Gregor Mendel (1822–1884) “The Father of Modern Genetics” was an Augustinian friar and abbot of St. Thomas’ Abbey in Brno. Mendel was born in a German-speaking family in what is now the Czech Republic and gained posthumous recognition as the founder of the modern science of genetics. Though farmers had known for millennia that crossbreeding of animals and plants could lead to certain favorable traits in the next generation, Mendel’s experiments with pea plants between 1856 and 1863 in the monastery garden of the abbey established many of the rules of heredity, including his noting of dominant and recessive traits regarding color, size, shape and the like.

Also noteworthy is Father Sebastian Kneipp (1821–1897), who was a Bavarian priest and one of the forerunners of the later, and rather problematic, naturopathic medicine movement.  He is known most for his hydrotherapy (water-based) therapies but he believed that phytotherapy (healing with herbs and plants) was an important part of achieving health, and both were counted among his five principles. A student of his was Father Johann Kuenzle (1857-1945) a Catholic priest in Switzerland and a famous herbalist whose work “Herbs and Weeds” was published in 1911 and eventually sold over a million copies in Europe.

An important thing to note from modern science is the fact that certain combinations of medicines can unintentionally strengthen or weaken their effects.  It is actually evidence of the efficacy of herbal treatments in a way, but it is a fact that if you are on pharmaceutical medicines of any kind you must do thorough research before taking an herbal supplement, tincture, salve or other remedy, including discussing it with your doctor. The combinations can render your medicine useless, or increase the effect to a lethal level. Similarly, allergies can have an effect, and everyone responds differently to different medicines, so always go very slowly and discuss each step with your doctor.

sage1

Salvia officinalis, or common sage.  The “salvia” has its root in the Latin verb salvare, referring to salvation.  The “officinalis” refers to its medicinal use—the officina was the room in a monastery where herbs and other medicines were kept.

For some, in working closely with their doctors, they may find that the herbal treatment can replace the medicine. Indeed, pharmaceutical medicines are often statistically far more dangerous than many herbal treatments.  For others, taking a variety of pills each day, it is probably best to avoid herbal medicine altogether since the effects of the combinations simply cannot be sorted out reliably.

Finally, consider that a sudden health trend is not the same as a time-tested herbal remedy. Trends are created with small studies, often funded by people invested in that particular cure, to generate the sudden purchase of some herbal product. If herbalism is the time-tested determination that a particular herb is good for a particular ailment, then herbal trends and fads are quite the opposite.  One solid “old wives tale” is worth 100 health fads on their best day.

There are many subtopics that remain, including particular herbs and what they can treat, the different ways herbal remedies can historically be applied (salves, tinctures, extracts, pills), and a deeper look into the history of certain people influential in monastic herbalism. However, this first installment is already longer than intended, so it will have to be continued.

I would definitely ask people to volunteer what they know, what they’ve tried, or parts of this history we haven’t touched on at this point. Send them through this site (www.traditium.org) by commenting on this piece, or to me on Twitter at @traditius.  It’s very much my intent to start a conversation about the monastic perspective on herbalism and history, and I’d encourage anyone interested to join right in.

Stay tuned in December for Monastic Herbalism, Part Two: Things To Do With Alcohol.

 

Advertisements

#Aeternum @Traditius

On Fridays at 9 p.m. since October 20, 2017, people are gathering for a conversation about papal encyclicals and how they apply today.  We began with Pius XII’s Mystici Corporis Christi, with a goal of not having a class but a wide open twitter conversation on people’s thoughts, insights and reactions to it.  The idea is to pick one encyclical of a pope, discuss it, then move to the pope before him.  Encyclicals, of course, are the teaching letters of the popes about the faith, and they are not necessarily meant to be interpreted by theologians for the public, but rather to be read and considered by the laity.  That’s our goal.

The conversations often start on Traditius’ account, found here and are normally flagged with the hashtag #Aeternum so they can be searched for that way as well.  The draft schedule for the next few weeks is below.

Aeternum List

 

When You Suffer, Offer it Up

Sufferings.jpg

Doubt

That little part of you that doubts

the traditions of the faith

That tiny whisper

Is all that stands between you

And the peace of the Lord.

You Are Right To Be Concerned

precious bloodTurn Your eyes to the most prominent place and there You will find the face of suffering. It is not hidden, not swept away, not tucked into a corner. There is pain, all of the pain, beaten and bloody. It is a tangible suffering You are quixotically invited to join with Your own. It is blood You are bizarrely asked not to turn away from but to wash Yourself in. It is anointed flesh and that same precious blood You are preposterously told to believe is eternally offered as sustenance. Imagine such a scene. Do not look away from it. And know one thing: Truth such as this will never submit to the times.

It is an age where the people’s seers wear labcoats, and all that can be seen can be measured and categorized, but You know that there are echoes at the very depths of Your being, parts of You that understand that all of the explanations They offer are not enough, parts of You that instinctively know that not everything can be measured, not everything can be seen, not everything can be explained. There is always a piece of You, a piece which They would deny even exists, an indispensable piece that looks at their explanations, smiles knowingly and says “there is more than just this.”

The efforts by many to explain the Faith in terms the current age will understand, these are valiant and necessary efforts, but to the degree the World considers them subversive efforts, They are precisely right. The Faith is not of this world, it is beyond the natural, it includes all that You admit and all that You deny. The dogma it declares, dimly here, loudly there, should be among the gravest of concerns to those who breathe deeply of the times. Because We are out to change this world, to make straight the path to the new one. As many times as needed, as difficult as it may be. Forever and ever.

Read the rest of this entry

The Tridentine Fallacy

trent.png
What most people call the “Latin Mass” seems to have a bewildering number of names and many of them are imprecise for one reason or another. Perhaps surprisingly ”Latin Mass” is the least precise of all. But another label, Tridentine, can be used by some naysayers in a way that is downright troublesome.

Among the many names for it, calling the liturgy conducted in Latin and pursuant to the 1962 Missal the “Extraordinary Form” is certainly accurate since Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum formalized the term, along with the term Ordinary Form for the form of the Mass commonly seen today. Pope Francis seems to prefer calling the Extraordinary Form the Vetus Ordo, or Old Form, which lines up nicely given that the Ordinary Form is also called the Novus Ordo, or New Form. So, regardless of any possible connotations, the benefit of the labels Extraordinary Form or Vetus Ordo for the so-called Latin Mass is that they are precise, accurate and used by popes. Many, though, prefer to call the Traditional Latin Mass/Old Form/Extraordinary Form the “Tridentine Mass,” which, historically speaking, can be both right and wrong, and which is often a springboard to an increasingly common and often deliberate fallacy.

Read the rest of this entry

Latin, the Language of the Church

jeromestat2

St. Jerome, compiler of the Vulgate and patron saint of Latinists.

Latin was perhaps the first sacrifice to modernity.  Vatican II called for its preservation and the ridiculous “Spirit of Vatican II” systematically dispensed with it.  The Church actually abandoning Latin, though, is unthinkable, and to return to it, even if only to hear it spoken in the Mass, is to come home.  Ten years after Summorum Pontificum, let’s take a look at its history, step-by-step:


Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio Latina Lingua establishing the Pontifical Academy for Latin (2012).


Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum expanding access to the Traditional Latin Mass (2007).


Pope Benedict XVI’s letter to the bishops accompanying the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum (2007).


The formation of the Fraternitas Sacerdotalis Sancti Petri (FSSP) as a traditionalist Catholic society for priests interested in promoting and protecting the Traditional Latin Mass, which broke off from the SSPX and is in communion with the Holy See, occurs (1988).


Bl. Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution Scripturarium Thesaurus promolgating the Nova Vulgata (1979).


The Nova Vulgata, or new Vulgate, the official modern version of St. Jerome’s Vulgate Bible, is published (1979).


The Ottaviani Intervention, a famous letter by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani to Pope Paul VI stressing that the Traditional Latin Mass should not be replaced by the new mass (1969).


Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, is promolgated by Pope Paul VI, allowing for Mass in the vernacular instead of Latin when a territorial decree permits the exception, see p. 36. (1963). (Permission for the change was obtained by U.S. bishops in May of 1964.)


Bl. Pope John XXIII’s Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia on the Promotion of the Study of Latin (1962).


Pope St. Pius X‘s Motu Propio Tra le Sollecitudini stresses the majesty and importance of Gregorian Chant as a part of the liturgy (1903).


Following the Council of Trent, Pope Clement VIII issues the Papal Bull Cum Sacrorum accompanying the issuance of the Clementine Vulgate (searchable text), the revision of St. Jerome’s Vulgate Bible, which stands until the 1979 revision (1592).


Pope St. Pius V‘s Apostolic Constitution Quo Primum is issued, implementing the decision of the Council of Trent to require the use of the historic Latin liturgy in perpetuity, and foregoing any other which did not have 200 years of consistent use by that date (1570).


Pope St. Gregory The Great formalizes the Mass in Latin and, tradition states, begins Gregorian Chant during his pontificate (c. 600).


St. Jerome writes a letter to Pope Damasus prefacing his translation of the Gospels into Latin (c. 377).


St. Irenaeus describes the “Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul” at Book 3 Chap. 3 Para. 2 of his work Against Heresies (c. 180).


St. Paul arrives in Rome, Acts 28:11, later martyred there (c. 64).


 

Not You

The Feast of St. Benedict

st benedict

July 11 is the Feast of St. Benedict.  Take a moment today to learn about this great man of history.  Chesterton says each age needs the saint that is its opposite, perhaps it is an age for word of him to rise back to prominence.

Exit Music

An excellent piece on a bit of music that may have been written by God.

The Return

religion

Enough said.

Imwithher.png

Who Takes Away

lamb2[This is a short story written in February 2013 for the Tuscany Press fiction contest.  Alas, it did not win, but we were rather happy with it here at Traditium and are re-printing now in its final form.  Enjoy.]

John wondered which of them looked worse. The man lumbering along the path to the city was most likely a farmer. He looked strong but stooped, ragged and older than his years, and his skin had been worn and hardened by the sun. The cart behind him clearly contained just a few days of provisions and the animal. The animal looked energetic and curious, glancing all around—it had no idea of its fate. John knew though.

John, meanwhile, was covered in hair: His twisting salt-and-pepper beard, his itchy coat, and his weathered hands. He’d always been hairy, but this was pretty bad. Almost as much as the animal, he amused himself by thinking. His seriousness quickly returned. There was a job to do. He watched the man walk along a bit then John turned and headed back toward the river, trying not to lumber so much himself.

Read the rest of this entry

Whisper of the Thin Places

thinplaceIt’s said that there are places on Earth that are just a bit closer to God. Holiness can embrace you in these places. Consolation can be experienced directly. The breath of God’s Love can be felt. These are the Thin Places.

This is a Celtic observation that the distance between ourselves and God is not so far in certain spots. That the distance between this world and that of Heaven is not so great, that the holy is, for these moments, in these places, within reach.

Perhaps it is a bench in a garden. A pew in a beautiful church. A secluded, sandy spot where the lapping of the ocean can be heard. A view of the mountains. A shrine. An abbey. A field with an endless sky. A dark spot faraway, under a sea of stars. A place your ancestors once worshiped the Lord, where Jesus once walked, where God was. A place where you cannot help but feel it.

What we do in a Thin Place is not set, not planned, not known. Perhaps it is a time to go deeper with a prayer you know, or simply to behold God’s creation, or just spend a moment with the whispering silence, but in these places it seems easier to quiet the tumbling thoughts, to feel the eternity of God stretching out before you. Our contemplations seem to have more meaning, our observations more color, the stillness more depth.

Many people these days have grown to fear silence, but our mind’s chatter of ideas and defenses, worries and anxieties are not of the soul. The soul is in the places under, above and in between. Usually, the soul bursts forth only in silence. The peace of your own soul can take quiet command in these Thin Places, and reveal to you the other half of life. The half you abandoned to live wholly in the world, the half you didn’t know you’d given up, the half that got misplaced behind the chatter, the radio, the television, the phone.

The existence of Thin Places also suggests that Heaven is more near than we believe. It is a notion of the ancient Greeks that after death you go somewhere separate and far off for eternity. The Christian belief is rather that Heaven and Earth intersect. (An interesting Bishop Barron video about this intersection is here.) If Heaven is set on top of the World it only makes sense that they interact, that one can peek through to the other, that the Thin Places must exist.

On the other hand, the Rhineland Mystics might argue that the Thin Places are not a function of the location of heaven because they are, instead, everywhere:

A man may go into the field and say his prayer and be aware of God, or, he may be in Church and be aware of God; but, if he is more aware of Him because he is in a quiet place, that is his own deficiency and not due to God, Who is present in the same way in all things and places, and is willing to give Himself everywhere what is in Him. He knows God rightly who knows Him everywhere.

Meister Eckhart

If this is the case, then all the better.

In anxious moments the peace of God is available if we can still ourselves enough to experience it—regardless of the tension level around or within us. This, of course, is a secret of the saints. All of Creation is a Thin Place. Anywhere you go can be a Thin Place if you can hold fast to the peace of God, the touch of the Prince of Peace. Indeed, you can bring that peace with you into the restless places and, though God, change them. A word of calm or forgiveness can reveal that the distance between us and the holy is sometimes no distance at all, that it can pour into a moment just as much as the chatter of life can seem to drain it away.

Perhaps, then, the Thin Places are doors. The board meeting, the room of screaming children, the end of a long day, are the challenges for those of us not near sainthood, for those of us not adept at bringing peace, only looking, at this point, to find it. But you already know somewhere where it can be found.

We should begin at the Thin Places, give ourselves the time, patience and permission to seek out a spot where God seems near, and to drink in the stillness. Once there, feeling the closeness of Heaven, we can then pray, convey, listen. While the Kingdom of Heaven may be all around us, we can’t all expect to see it everywhere right away. Perhaps it will take some time in the Thin Places for us to begin to understand the rest of life.

And so the mission, in the end, is the same as it was at the start. The next time you feel that you are in a Thin Place, wherever it might be, remember it. Think back to the places where you were able to feel peace. Make a point of returning. Pray there, or be still. Embrace the peace you feel.

They are there for a reason, and so are you.

Twas The Night Of Nicea

Twas the Night Of Nicea, and all through the land,
The bishops were gathering, with hopes for a plan.
Three cent’ries before, Jesus had been,
But many still differed on just what that means.

Go and decide, the Emperor had said,
And so they all went, pressing firmly ahead.
Easter’s date to consider, a creed to declare,
Much to decide, with faith and with prayer.

But storm clouds were brewing. A heresy had spread:
Jesus was prophet–a branch, not the head.
Arius led them. And for this he had fought,
But it was not the good news that the apostles had taught.
Read the rest of this entry