Tag Archives: Western Wall

Thin Places

Thin Places (CaD Ps 48) Wayfarer

Walk about Zion, go all around it,
    count its towers…

Psalm 48:12 (NRSVCE)

Throughout the history of the Jesus Movement and Christendom, there have been various geographic locations around the world that have come to be known as “thin places.” The concept is a very simple metaphor. It is a specific location where the divide between temporal and eternal, heaven and earth, matter and Spirit, is thin. The power of the Spirit seems to flow more palpably. “Thin places” might be locations where spiritual revivals have occurred, miracles have occurred, or where people experience God’s presence in extraordinary ways.

One of the things I’ve noticed in moving from Book I of the Psalms (Psalms 1-41) to Book II (Psalms 42-72). The songs in Book 1 are mostly songs of David expressing his personal emotions and faith. In the first six songs of Book II we’ve had a variety of songs that were written with specific liturgical purposes. There’s been a diplomatic wedding of royalty to another nation’s princess, a song celebrating a king’s enthronement, and a community plea/prayer after suffering military defeat.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 48, is a song that celebrates Jerusalem as the center of Hebrew worship. It celebrates Jerusalem as an ancient thin place where people find joy, where God has done great things, where the things of God are pondered, and spiritual guidance is found.

It was very common in ancient Mesopotamian cultures for major cities to have patron deities and temples to those deities. The Hebrews would have experienced this while in slavery in Egypt. They would have been familiar with the concept, and way back during the Hebrews flight from Egypt God made clear that a city would be established as the place where Yahweh would dwell and be worshipped (Deut 12:5). How fascinating that over 3000 years later pilgrims from all over the world continue to flock to Jerusalem and pray at the Western Wall of the temple ruins. It is still considered by many to be a thin place.

In the quiet this morning, Psalm 48 has me thinking about thin places. I have been to Jerusalem, I have walked its streets, and I have prayed at the Western Wall. Personally, I didn’t find Jerusalem to be a thin place but a dark place, despite knowing that the Great Story makes clear it still has a role to play in history’s climactic events.

I have, however, observed that our place at the lake is what I’ve experienced as a thin place. It is a place people have found peace. It is a place where both myself and others have found healing of both body and soul. It has been a place of retreat, of soul-searching, of life-changing conversation, of joy, of love, and of Life.

In my spiritual journey, I’ve come to believe it vital to identify and regularly visit a thin place. I’m reminded that Jesus regularly slipped away alone or with his closest followers to the top of a mountain along the shores of Galilee to pray. Interestingly enough, when I visited that mountain-top location in Israel, I found it to be the thinnest place I personally experienced in my tour of many, many sites in the Holy Land.

This world bombards me ceaselessly with data, information, opinions, advertisements, and pleas for my time, energy, and human resources. My spirit needs a thin place to recharge, even if it’s a thin place just to me.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Temple Considerations

A drawing of Ezekiel's temple as described in the final chapters. A. Wall (40:5, 16–20) B. East gate (40:6–14, 16) C. Portico (40:8) D. Outer court (40:17) E. Pavement (40:17) F. East inner court (40:19) G. North gate (40:20–22) H. North inner court (40:23) I. South gate (40:24–26) J. South inner court (40:27) K. Gateway (40:28–31) L. Gateway (40:32–34) M. Gateway (40:35–38) N. Priests’ rooms (40:44–45) O. Court (40:47) P. Temple portico (40:48–49) Q. Outer sanctuary (41:1–2) R. Most Holy Place (41:3–4) S. Temple walls (41:5–7, 9, 11)T. Base (41:8) U. Open area (41:10) V. West building (41:12) W. Priests’ rooms (42:1–10) X. Altar (43:13–17) AA. Rooms for preparing sacrifices (40:39–43) BB. Ovens (46:19–20) CC. Kitchens (46:21–24) (source: NIV Study Bible, Zondervan)
A drawing of Ezekiel’s temple as described in the final chapters. A. Wall (40:5, 16–20) B. East gate (40:6–14, 16) C. Portico (40:8) D. Outer court (40:17) E. Pavement (40:17) F. East inner court (40:19) G. North gate (40:20–22) H. North inner court (40:23) I. South gate (40:24–26) J. South inner court (40:27) K. Gateway (40:28–31) L. Gateway (40:32–34) M. Gateway (40:35–38) N. Priests’ rooms (40:44–45) O. Court (40:47) P. Temple portico (40:48–49) Q. Outer sanctuary (41:1–2) R. Most Holy Place (41:3–4) S. Temple walls (41:5–7, 9, 11)T. Base (41:8) U. Open area (41:10) V. West building (41:12) W. Priests’ rooms (42:1–10) X. Altar (43:13–17) AA. Rooms for preparing sacrifices (40:39–43) BB. Ovens (46:19–20) CC. Kitchens (46:21–24) (source: NIV Study Bible, Zondervan)

Then the man brought me to the main hall and measured the jambs; the width of the jambs was six cubits on each side. Ezekiel 41:1 (NIV)

The political and religious geography of modern day Jerusalem is complex. An important center to three of the world’s major religions, it can be a dizzying mishmash of faith, culture, religion, and politics. This also makes it arguably the world’s most perpetual political hotspot.

I was in Jerusalem near the Western Wall, also known as the “Wailing Wall,” which is located at the base of the Temple Mount. The wall is a section of stones which were part of a retaining wall that supported a large expansion of the temple mount by Herod shorty before the time of Jesus. The Hebrew temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. After the muslim conquest of Jerusalem in 637 A.D. the el-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock were built on the site and remain to this day. Political tensions at the time meant that the mosque and Dome of the Rock were closed to non-muslims (though we were grudgingly allowed by muslim authorities to climb an adjacent rooftop and look over the area).

The temple, as envisioned by Ezekiel in these final chapters, has never been built as described. This leads many Jewish and Christian teachers to believe that it will, someday, be built. At one end of the Western Wall complex is a visitor’s center which is dedicated to planning for and the rebuilding of the temple once again. Many Christian scholars read the breadth of eschatological (study of the end times) material and believe that the temple will be rebuilt before the end in fulfillment of what has been written.

I stood at the Western Wall among a throng of Jews and Christians, looking up at the muslim complex which towers above it, and the stairway (blocked and barricaded at the time) that leads up to the temple mount. It was hard for me to fathom a shift in the political and religious stalemate which would allow for the rebuilding of a Jewish temple.

This leads me back to the mystifying subject of prophecy and the end times. I have come to understand that prophetic visions, dreams, and metaphors are layered with meaning, and it can be almost impossible to see and clearly comprehend all the layers.  This morning I have more questions than answers as it relates to these things and confess that the on-going textual blueprint of Ezekiel’s temple vision seems to hold very little meaning for my Monday or the week ahead.

And so, I am thankful for the chance to visit Jerusalem and gain personal context for these things. I am trusting that all things will work together towards prescribed times and events. And, I am praying that I may not be so distracted by theological rabbit trails that I neglect more important matters of fulfilling the command to love God with all I’ve got, and to love others as I love myself.

No Travel Necessary

I answered the songwriters call to pray for the peace of Jerusalem at the Western wall.

“As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.”
1 Kings 8:41-43 (NIV)

In 2003 I had the opportunity to be among the “foreigners” that Solomon prayed for in today’s chapter. I was able to stand and pray at the site of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. There is nothing there now but the unearthed stone remnants which are now known as the “Western Wall” or the “Wailing Wall” because of the crowds who ceaselessly gather there to pray.

It was a special event for me simply because of the historical meaning of the site. I must admit, however, that I didn’t find the experience of praying at the Wall to have any special potency or spiritual power. In fact, I struggle with the belief that a geographical location makes any kind of difference to prayer. Jesus went away to a mountainside to pray regularly, but it had nothing to do with the mountain being somehow a spiritual place. His drawing away was more about getting away from the crowds, the demands of followers, and the stress that comes with working with people. He happened to enjoy going to the nearby mountain, but the same thing could have been accomplished by going to the woods or getting out in a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee.

Our place at the lake is very similar. I always feel spiritual peace when I’m at the lake. It’s a great place to relax, to pray, to meditate, and to think. There is nothing sacred in the dirt or water there. It is more about the fact that there is no television signal and only spotty internet service if you have a cellular modem. You’re away from the grind. It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. The stress and anxiety of every day life melt away. The quality of my prayers and meditation at the lake rise because I don’t have work piled on my desk, don’t have my home phone ringing off the hook, and don’t have people demanding my time, energy and resources. There is space to reflect, to mull things over, and to have conversation with both God and others.

Jesus taught that with the pouring out of Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the presence of God would reside in the hearts of believers. We are God’s temple, and we take Him with us wherever we go. Pilgrimages to special places can be meaningful, educational, inspirational and spiritually beneficial, but they are certainly not necessary. I don’t need to write my prayers down and slip them into the Western Wall to be heard. With God’s indwelling Holy Spirit, my prayers are heard wherever I am at any given moment.

Chapter-a-Day 2 Chronicles 6

Can it be that God will actually move into our neighborhood? Why, the cosmos itself isn’t large enough to give you breathing room, let alone this Temple I’ve built. 2 Chronicles 6:18 (MSG)

I stood in line there in Jerusalem and I walked up to the ancient wall. It’s called the Western Wall though it’s known by most people as the Wailing Wall. It’s at the foot of the temple mount in Jerusalem. It’s right there where the events of today’s chapter took place. I prayed at the wall with a throng of others. Prayers are offered there without ceasing. 

A while back I was introduced the Celtic concept of “thin places.” The basic premise is that there are certain locations where the veil between the spiritual realm and the physical realm is thin. In these thin places, prayers take on greater power.

I thought about thin places as I read Solomon’s dedication prayer to the temple. Reading between the lines, I believe Solomon knew that the temple he built could not contain an immeasureable, almighty God. He seemed to hint at the understanding that God was establishing a thin place where the confession and prayers of the people would receive a special hearing.

There is no doubt that Solomon’s Temple was (and is) a special place, a thin place. God moved in to the neighborhood. Over ten centuries after Solomon’s prayer, people are still flocking to the site to pray. The temple was destroyed long ago, and the mount is now capped by a mosque, but there at the uncovered footings of Solomon’s Temple, people still come from around the world to offer prayers.

Solomon’s prayer was answered.