Getting Thin in 2015

The sky on the fourth Sunday of Advent that knocked me off my feet! (Tracy Kemme)

It’s the second day of 2015, which means that after having stuffed our faces for a few weeks, everybody is talking about getting thin. It happens each January without fail. Do we still believe that smaller jeans will somehow lead to a fuller life? How urgently our souls need a different resolution! It’s time to imagine a new kind of “getting thin.”

Last year, around Christmas time, our novitiate house community gathered for an evening of prayer together. We reflected with a 2012 NCR article called “The Thin Places Where God Speaks,” by Jay Cormier. The piece tells us that the Celtic saints spoke of “thin places.” They are, Cormier writes, “locations in time and space where the things of heaven seem to touch the things of earth. To be in a ‘thin place’ is to be in the real, present world of God. Christmas is the ultimate thin place: God touches human history in the birth of a child. . . . [T]he boundary between heaven and earth is at least blurred, if not breached, forever.”

This idea of Christmas being a moment in which the divine catapulted into our human reality forever is mind-blowing and life-altering. It means that Jesus came, and will come, and is coming. Today. Right now.

I turned that powerful truth over in my heart as I sprawled on my bedroom floor last New Year’s Eve. There were photographs scattered all over my carpet as I attempted to organize my 2013 memories into albums. I smiled gratefully as I scanned the places and faces that were tangible expressions of God’s oh-so-close presence throughout the year. Of course, some of the days had seemed full of “thick places.” God at times felt too distant, too big, too mysterious, or too silent. But how easy it was to see the Incarnate God in those colorful pictures spread on my floor! Had I grasped the power of each moment as the camera flashed?

It’s not often enough that I let myself be engulfed in the boundary-blasting mystery of the Incarnation. The celebration of Christmas reminds us, but this miracle cannot be contained in one calendar day or in an isolated historical event. God never ceases to take flesh and dwell among us. The divine infusion is ongoing and wonderfully inescapable. As the psalmist ponders, “Where can I flee from your presence?”  

I was overcome with prayer, the best kind: the kind that catches you off guard and reminds you that it is God who does the praying in us, anyway. What a joy to behold that the entirety of life is a “thin place!”

2014 has been a year filled with experiences that have both stretched me and brought me joy. A difficult but deepening canonical novitiate has given way to an apostolic novitiate characterized by energy and hope. All of it has helped me to become more fully myself and intensified my excitement about religious life as Andrea and I prepare for first vows, God-willing, in June of 2015.

As I look back on 2014 with the perspective that the end-of-year seems to bring, I see God’s fingerprints on all of it. I sense the Spirit’s breath as the central driving force. I know that Jesus walked each step with me. Even the moments that felt like “thick places” were somehow “thin,” after all. God drew close to me in hurts and frustrations and brought shoots of new life out of what seemed dead. I am in awe of God’s intimate closeness and enduring faithfulness.

A Christmas outing with the Sisters of Charity Novitiate house community. One of the many "Thin Place" moments of 2014. (Tracy Kemme)

One of my favorite poems, “Rumi, Pay Homage,” comes to mind. It’s adapted from Rumi in the book Love Poems from God by Daniel Ladinsky. I’m going to take a little liberty and put my name where Rumi’s is in the published poem.

If God said,

[Tracy], pay homage to everything
that has helped you
enter my arms,”

there would not be one experience of my life,
not one thought, not one feeling
not any act, I
would not
bow
to.

While the magazines assure me that this will be my best year yet if I boost my biceps and tone my tummy, I am resolving simply to aim for awareness. I pray for God’s help on this journey of conversion. I desire to “get thin” in the spiritual sense, to be attentive to the loving presence of God that permeates my life and abides deep in my heart. I ask for the grace to open my eyes and to pay homage, through “thick” and “thin,” recognizing God Incarnate in each experience of my life.

If we’re honest, it’s probably a healthy move for all of us to eat less cream cheese and cookies in 2015. But how could our world change if we take time each day to stand where we are, as we are, and behold how heaven is touching earth? God is near! Year after year, the place we are in is thin.

[S. Tracy Kemme is a novice with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. Author of the blog, Diary of a Sister-in-Training, Tracy is excited about the future of religious life! She has a background in Hispanic ministry, having served both in Ecuador and at the U.S.-Mexico border prior to novitiate.]

Note: This column is an adaptation of a Dec. 31, 2013, blog post.

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