Around the globe, in every country, in every culture, there is likely a place, a particular spot designated as “sacred.” These are places where the presence of the Holy is palpable for believers. Many have been enshrined and attract scores of pilgrims, eager to touch holiness and be touched by it. The ancient Celts had a name for such spots – thin places, they called them. These are places where the veil between heaven and earth, between the realm of the divine and humanity, between the world of Spirit and the material world around us, is very thin and the Holy can break through.

Many of these places are well known and draw great crowds. I have been fortunate to have visited some of them. In the holy land, I waded in the Jordan River renewing my baptismal vows. I walked along the Sea of Galilee where Jesus spent so much of his ministry, healing and teaching. I climbed the hillside of Mt. Nebo, from which Moses viewed the promised land and where God spoke to him.

I have spent time on the windswept Isle of Iona where St. Columba landed in 563 CE to found an early Christian community and I’ve wandered the highlands of that beautiful country, touching centuries old standing stones keeping their silent vigil in an open field. In all these places, I experienced the presence of something beyond me. Holiness seemed embedded in the rocks and flowed through the water. Perhaps it was the faith of those who came before me, who saturated the site with their prayers and reverence, that made it so.

Of course we all have our own special sacred sites, places that draw us when we need to soothe our souls and remember that we are not alone in the world or even the universe, but are connected to the transcendent. In a world where it feels we have lost our way, these place, famous or personal, can ground us in our journey.

As I consider sacred places, I am reminded that the apostle Paul in his letter to the ancient Corinthian Church referred to the human body as a temple of the Holy Spirit.

The writers of some of the psalms also remind us that the essence of sacredness is not found only in a location but in a way of life. Sacred sites are preserved and revered because they help us to feel closer to God, and yet as the psalmists inform us we can be no closer to God than the values we uphold in our everyday lives. As inspiring as they are, visits to holy places, including the places we might gather for weekly worship are not the only manifestation of true holiness or sacredness.

Real holiness is determined by the honesty of our relationships, by the justice we promote in our communities, by the respect we express for others and by using our financial blessings to help those in need. The sacred is not limited to special places or moments but is personified in us.

I came across a quote on a magnet stuck on the refrigerator door in our church kitchen – “As much as people are capable of inflicting pain on others, we are also each other’s windows into healing.”

I believe that is true. When we live our faith through acts of compassion, justice, and mercy; when we practice humility and put peace at the center of our lives; and when love is the ground of our being we become a thin place for others.

We will not need to seek out holy places and shrines to find the holy because we will embody it.

The Rev. Janet Dorman is the pastor at Foreside Community Church, UCC, and can be reached at [email protected]