Advent is a Thin Place

“The koru, which is often used in Māori art as a symbol of creation, is based on the shape of an unfurling fern frond. Its circular shape conveys the idea of perpetual movement, and its inward coil NZkorusuggests a return to the point of origin. The koru therefore symbolizes the way in which life both changes and stays the same.” (teara.gov.nz.org)

New Zealand is a thin spot for me. In other words, there seem to be less barriers between my human experience and the divine presence.  It is a place where I easily sense God’s presence, especially in the sheer beauty of the creation one finds in that land. People say Ireland and Israel are also thin places. You probably have places in your life that feel this way for you.

The Maori language and culture reflect a deep spiritual connection with the land. New Zealand, Aotearoa (in Maori this means ‘the land of the long white cloud’), is a thin place for the people of New Zealand. Their relationship with the land has shaped their thinking and their language.  Words always have more meaning than one can initially grasp. Understanding unfurls.

NZsceneOne of the symbols the people draw out of nature is the koru. It is the unfurling baby frond of the tree fern. The symbol is everywhere, as are the tree and buds themselves.  New Zealand art and media abound with the koru.  It is hard not to think about the constant generativity of creation, of God and potentially of the self.  Any idea that life is stagnant or that we are not called to growth and change over time is wildly challenged by its presence. In these images of koru, I particularly enjoy the messy one of dead ferns on the forest floor.  Even in all that dying, new life is emerging everywhere.

Advent is a thin spot in the liturgical life of the church.  It is intended to be a time where the space between humanity and God is as minimal as can be. Jesus who comes as God among us is a thin spot; a place where the human and divine experience are drawn together as one. In our readings the prophets cry wildly of the generativity of God.  Images of birth and new life are everywhere.

I am just returning from a month of vacation in New Zealand, where we lived from 1990-1993. It was a great trip in every way. We hiked in several forests, among other activities. Just driving along the roads is a feast for the eyes and the soul, but the forest is a special place. Koru is everywhere. During that time of rest and rejuvenation (and some news fasting), however, horrific things also happened: Lebanon, Paris, San Bernardino, and Planned Parenthood were attacked by terrorists. I came back to find that we now refer to these events as “today’s shooting.”

Climate talks have been underway, the refugee crisis continues, and the debate on gun control is as unproductive as ever. Our materialistic culture remains committed not to the spiritual process of new life unfurling but the end product that can be shot, bombed or bought. One might imagine God is not here at all or perhaps worse, that God too is a product we can buy.

“Come, Emmanuel, Come!” is our Advent cry. It is our Christian walk to stop asking that peace and a healthy NZtreeplanet magically appear, but to work for their slow and steady growth, to help them unfurl in the world.  As we prepare to know God’s unfurling in the Christ-child, let us be conscious not only of a beautiful baby but also of the values of God that we celebrate this season: salvation, peace, and wholeness, to name a few.

May we walk in the thin place of this season. May we treasure the wild creativity of God in our soul, the human community and our planet. May we be part of the slow work of these Godly things.

+Mary