Most of us have experienced special moments when the beauty of the natural world overwhelms us. We sense and feel not just beauty but the sacred.
The Celtic tradition suggests there are thin places on the earth where the presence of God radiates brightly. Places where the distance between heaven and earth are very thin.
Rudolph Otto invented the word numinous to describe an intense emotional experience of feeling holiness or sacredness. Often these experiences happen when we are in a more natural and less urban setting. Majestic, transcendent, luminous- these words describe these experiences.
While I continue to enjoy these experiences, today I am thinking about a few important transcendent experiences from my childhood that shaped my spiritual life.
Most of them happened in Texas where I lived as a boy from the age of 3 to 15, 9 years in Dallas and 3 in Corpus Christi. My brother Keith who is 3 years younger than me experienced all these moments with me, and we often speak of them.
When the gulf was still
In the summers, our mother would take us to the Bob Hall Pier on the Gulf of Mexico, a short drive from our home in Corpus Christi, to fish all day.
While most of the time the water was muddy and rough, there was one memorable day when the gulf was very still and the water very clear. We were amazed and delighted to look off the pier into the clear water and see so many fish and many kinds of fish we had never seen or caught before. We caught pompano and black and white striped angel fish and Spanish mackerel and red drum and sea trout.
It was a magical day of fishing, a heavenly day that was not hot and enhanced with an unusual cool breeze. As the Celts would say, it was a thin place.
Paradise amid brown fields
Another time we camped at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park on the Mexican border. It was a lush verdant paradise surrounded by flat brown fields. The sounds of all the birds at night was amazing. We saw a giant snake maybe 20 feet long.
Thirty years later my brother and I returned to this park on a sort of nostalgia tour. It seemed boring and uninspiring and not particularly lush or verdant. But our luminous memories shall not desert us.
Into the hills
The coastal plain of south Texas is flat, dry, and uninspiring. To find beauty one must drive into the hill country and enjoy the many clear cold rivers that flow over limestone rock.
One place we loved was Garner State Park on the Frio River. That was another majestic, numinous place for us, a thin place where the water flowed boldly, and the air was clear and cool and crisp compared to the humidity of the sultry coastal plain.
Or so we remember. Perhaps it will be better not to return and be content with our luminous memories.
Recall your childhood
I invite you to return to your own childhood and call to mind your sacred memories. Perhaps they will create happy thoughts and pleasant dreams during this time of unhappiness for many.