Riverton: A Thin Place
By Ann Loomis
A “thin place” in Celtic spirituality has been defined as a location or a moment in which our sense of the Sacred is more pronounced, where the space between the transcendent and the mundane is narrow. It is a time or situation when the veil between the worlds is parted, and we experience another realm. Nature is often a “thin place,” especially if it is a part of our childhood.
Riverton, in Scotland County, North Carolina, near the town of Wagram is one such “thin place,” mainly because of the palpable sense of the nature spirits and the ancestors. Those of us who were fortunate enough to grow up around the community of Riverton often speak of it as “a piece of heaven.”
The community is centered around the Lumber River (or the Lumbee, as the natives call it), a dark tea-colored river with cypress trees all around the banks. As a child, I often swam across that ice-cold water with a snake by my side and a turtle sunning itself on a log across the river. Dragonflies caught the sun beams with their iridescent wings, as if to remind me of the light of the divinity in nature. I was convinced that they were of the fairy folk!
There was an older woman in Riverton we called “Miss Undine.” She was the mother of one of my mother’s friends and the grandmother of one of my childhood friends. In the elemental system, “undine” is the name given to the water spirits. In my mind’s eye, I can still see Miss Undine in her white bathing cap floating down the dark, bubbly river current in an inner tube. She is one of the many ancestors who lift the veil between our world and the spirit world.
There’s a wonderful tradition held in Riverton every Fourth of July when we gather to have a picnic on the riverbank. It is a moment when our ordinary sense of time shifts into divine time. We begin the picnic by calling the names of those loved ones who have died in the past year. As we tell stories about their lives, it’s as if we are invoking the ancestors to protect this river and all its creatures.
One of the families who grew up in the woods of Riverton has the last name of Memory. How fitting that there is a family stone marker in the town cemetery with the word “memory” on it! If we don’t remember our ancestors and call them by name, we are in danger of losing our connection to the “thin place” within our souls that bridges Heaven and Earth.
Every time I go back to Riverton, I am filled with awe and reverence for my Celtic roots. I know that the nature spirits and the ancestors dwell in my very DNA and that I honor them by swimming in this sacred water and walking this sacred land. When I am preparing to pass on to the great beyond, I will choose that wonderful Presbyterian hymn “Shall We Gather at the River” to accompany me to the other side, and then I will know I have reached the heavenly shores.
Ann Loomis is a cradle Presbyterian and a native of Wagram, North Carolina, in Scotland County. She now lives in Chapel Hill, NC, where she is a member of Church of Reconciliation (PCUSA) and an ordained Elder. She and her husband, Bob, have moved all the country with Bob's career in the U.S. Forest Service. Ann says she was attracted to Bob for his "Green Man energy" and their mutual love of trees. A retired English teacher, Ann also has a love of words and enjoys giving writing workshops. She is the author of two books: "Write from the Start: Discover Your Writing Potential through the Power of Psychological Type," and "Celtic Cycles: Guidance from the Soul on the Spiritual Journey." She and Bob have two grown sons and six grandchildren.