Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Riverton: A Thin Place

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.   

Nature is Overflowing


Nature is Overflowing

by Jo Randolph with Rick Randolph

“Look! Nature is overflowing with the grandeur of God!” John Muir

My husband and I were blessed to be able to travel this past August. We floated the Grand Canyon, an eight day adventure – experiencing the grandeur of God, the power of water, the majesty of the canyons, and the haunting acoustics of the music of a four-string quartet. Beautiful sounds with seven concerts performed in caves, canyons, and even while floating through the Granite Narrows. 

A “thin place,” more commonly a location, is one in which there is an undeniable connection to the Sacred. Who would associate “thin” with the majestic Grand Canyon? As we began our 226-mile float, the canyon greeted us as an object of awe and majesty and we felt totally insignificant. How could we possibly matter in comparison to something so massive and seemingly eternal?

We became immersed, in more ways than one, and found our thoughts directed to that which is Holy. “Set apart for the service of God.” Experiencing the Colorado River and this grand canyon, as representative of our relationship with God and the sacred. Our horizons formed by the cold, silty Colorado River and its rapids, the upper walls of the canyon, the expanse of the blue sky above, a star-filled sky each night and a warm sunrise each morning, we became one with this sacred place. Through our choice to enter wholly and completely into the canyon and its waters, we experienced the power of the canyon. Facing a wind/hail/rain storm with rocks falling from the canyon sides into what would be our next morning path, we understood the canyon is alive, dynamic and always changing, as is our relationship with God, and with the Sacred.

O our mother the earth, O our father the sky.

Your children are we, and with tired backs

We bring you gifts that you love.

Then weave for us a garment of the brightness.

May the warp be the white light of morning,

May the weft be the red light of the evening,

May the fringes be the falling rain, May the border be the standing rainbow.

Thus weave for us a garment of the brightness

That we may walk fittingly where grass is green, 

O our mother the earth, O our father the sky!


Jo Randolph is a lifelong passionate defender of creation. A member of Heartland Presbytery's Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, Overland Park, she led them to become a PCUSA Earth Care Congregation in 2011 and continues to renew the commitment every year since.

Rick Randolph is a family physician with a certificate in Public Health. A member of many different environmental organizations, he speaks on the effects of climate change on health and poverty. He is currently chair of the Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group.

The Sacred on Earth


The Sacred On Earth

by Diane Waddell

Late in 2020, Andrew Kang Bartlett shared in his Presbyterian Hunger Program news that the LUX Summer Theological Institute for Youth was accepting applications for 2021. Appreciating Andrew’s sharing, I contacted Rev. Jessica Hawkinson, Director of LUX, to find out more about the program. I was familiar with Monmouth College, a beautiful PCUSA campus in Monmouth, Illinois, and was thrilled that the 2021 theme was based on environmental justice. 

I shared news about the opportunity to my granddaughter Elizabeth Fite, who applied and was promptly accepted. She attended the two-week Institute, which was truly an exceptional event, and loved every moment!

I interviewed her about the experience and how it relates to the Sacred… to “thin places.”

Monmouth College is a peaceful place. There are sculptures around the campus which are like mobiles which move in the wind and help make it tranquil. The trees and natural areas made me feel connected with the Earth and disconnected from the outside world, even though the campus was small. There was wisdom there. I hugged a tree and it rejuvenated me for the entire day.

I was there within Nature and became more aware of Nature. Nature is everything. We are one with the Earth. No Earth, no “us.” The Earth could live without us, but instead it lives with us!

Since I have been home, I have felt more thankful in general. I realize now that everything is a gift and that things happen for a reason.

Amen. What a creation-connecting story about a beautiful “thin place” and experience where Elizabeth discovered the Sacred on Earth!

Elizabeth Fite
has attended two PEC conferences, at Menucha and Stony Point. She is the oldest of four children and lives in St. Joseph, MO with her parents and 5 cats. She attends First Presbyterian Church, and keeps in touch with the many friends she made at LUX.




by Joy Douglas Strome 

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth and their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19: 1-4)

Psalm 19 is one of my favorites. It contains three sections. The first section is about God in nature and our uncanny ability to sense and feel and experience God in the mystery and miracle of the created order. We have five fingers and five toes—not two, not twenty, not thirteen, but five. And that should lead us to some sense of awe. There could have been a mistake. The design could have been faulty. But five fingers and five toes on each hand and foot seems to work, and it comes with the miracle of life. If you haven’t thought about that, today’s the day. When you pick something up, or balance on one foot to reach into your kitchen cabinet, remember the near perfect design of your body and you’ll know what the psalmist is talking about when they write, “All creation is shouting for joy.”

The second section of the psalm is about God found in the Torah or law. In the same way that the sun energizes the earth and makes life possible, so the Torah offers life, reviving the soul, making wise the simple, offering up the commandments of God in a clear way. This written word is the guide for life, though as it continues we will see that even the word is not enough. 

The third section is the reality check. Yes, we have this wonderful world, yes, we have these inspirational words in our tradition, but even with it all, as humans we sometimes mess it up. There are still errors and faults and missteps. The psalmist begs to be blameless before God, which is to say that the psalmist wants to be dependent on the God who has the ability to make ones’ words and thoughts acceptable, the same God who is rock (or strength) and redeemer (or savior). Let’s remind ourselves about this word redeemer. Its common use for our writers in the Hebrew scriptures was to refer to the responsibility that family members had to “buy back” relatives who had fallen into slavery. Redeemer then suggests family ties, family responsibility, an intimacy that makes God “next of kin” when the estate gets settled! 

So Psalm 19 effectively gives us some clues about how it is we find our place in the world. We marvel at the miracle of creation and know ourselves to be in the presence of something way beyond ourselves. (Five fingers.) We use our written word to help us come to a clearer understanding of what that presence might be. In the end, we rely on our connection to this God—made known to us in creation, in the Word, and through Christ—or our strength and our affirmation and our place, however fractured that world might be. 

That’s the quick summary, but far from complete. Because we could get lost in all that “glory of God” stuff and still be, well, lost. We could temporarily divert our attention to the contemplation of the miracle of our hand and become so engrossed that we never do anything useful with it. We could engage in lengthy study of the scriptures, analyzing them up one side and down the other and never have to really listen or be affected or changed by what’s being said.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and redeemer. (Psalm 19: 14)

Preachers all over the world use this last line from Psalm 19 as prelude and prayer to the words they are about to say. We hope that every heart who hears will be beating, and meditating, and wondering at all there is to know and understand about this God. We ponder it for fifteen minutes or so on a Sunday morning, and we are off to the next thing and we want it all to be enough, to be acceptable to the one who is our rock (our strength) and our redeemer (our savior).

Psalm 19 helps us place ourselves in the bigger story and yet not feel swallowed up by it. On the contrary, every week we re-coup losses and feel stronger, more connected to the “heart of love.” That won’t end. There are many more years to study God’s words and find our place and find ourselves oh-so-radically loved, and loved back into the work of making a difference in a broken and fearful world.

Rev. Joy Douglas Strome is pastor of Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago.

Waterrock Knob


Waterrock Knob

by Sarah Ogletree

In my work as Director of the Creation Care Alliance, I often speak to congregations about the importance of creation care. The beginning of the talk I give is the beginning of my story. Before I get into what creation care is and ways we can practice love for all beings, I talk a bit about why I do what I do and how I came to feel called to environmental ministry. That story is centered in place. 

Growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I understood the world as sacred from a young age. How could I not? My pastors and Sunday School teachers taught me about God’s love, and I felt God’s love outdoors. The sun, rain, and wind offered me the sense of wonder associated with my experience of the Divine. My backyard wildflower garden, and the woods behind my neighbor’s house, provided space for me to connect with God and the deep well of love that’s available to us when we are present. I found God with the birds singing outside my window and under rocks where my brother and I looked for salamanders… God was all around me in the mountains of my upbringing. But no place served as such a conduit for God’s presence as Waterrock Knob. Waterrock Knob was, and continues to be, my “thin place.” 

Frequently referenced in Celtic spirituality, “thin places” are locations where the veil between this world and the eternal is thin. Waterrock Knob, the highest peak in the Plott Balsams and 16th highest in the eastern United States, has long been that for me. It’s hard to say precisely why, but that craggy mountaintop with its stunning views and steep trail has always caused me to feel as though my eyes were newly opened. There in that place, I feel simultaneously small and connected to all of life’s largeness. I feel like the world just began and like it is the most ancient thing in the universe. The strangeness of living is put into perspective, and I am free to breathe and be. God is with me. 

I have many special memories at Waterrock Knob. It is a place I often went to with my family as a child, and it’s a place I continue to go with my husband and our friends. I know it well. For instance, I know that if you go off the trail to the left about a third of the way up, there is a tree with a knot in it where I once found a bouncy ball. The ball had a smiley face on it, and underneath it, there was a note that said, “have a great day.” I know that when you reach the summit, you can go through the trees to the right and find the perfect rocky perch to watch cars twist up the parkway. I know that the mountain oscillates between smelling of evergreens and skunk—due to an unknown-by-me high elevation plant that I’ve come to associate with this place and this place only.

I know the mountain. I am also surprised by it. Every time I’m there, something “new” shows its face: through a flower I’ve never seen before, a mammoth tree I hadn’t noticed in visits past, or the light playing off fragments of mica along the forest floor. Perhaps this is a part of Waterrock Knob’s “thinness.” In this place, I am comforted by the familiar and gifted with mystery. I am shown that there is more than I can know, and I get to marvel at all that I can see. The opportunity to experience the love I’ve known for years while glimpsing the love that exists beyond all I could ever imagine—it feels like God. 

What “thin place” has touched your spirit? How does that place offer you inspiration? Hope? How might that place aid you in your Earth care? This coming week, I will go to Waterrock Knob with members of the Creation Care Alliance community to contemplate our callings to creation care. I hope you will also sojourn to a sacred place and consider how God is speaking in your life. May we all find strength, joy, mystery, connection, and conviction in the world that God made and calls good.

Sarah Ogletree is Director of Creation Care Alliance in Asheville, NC. Sarah holds a Masters of Divinity from Wake Forest University School of Divinity, where she received a concentration in religious leadership and ecology. She holds her Bachelor of Arts in Sustainable Development from Appalachian State University. She was the recipient of the national 2018 Emerging Earth Care Leader Award from Presbyterians for Earth Care and was named a 2019 Re:Generate Fellow.




by Nancy Corson Carter

This summer I received a great gift from a neighbor who is a Master Gardener. On our regular walks, my husband and I and others in the neighborhood passed near the edge of her garden where she set out a wooden tub filled with water. From it rose some six or eight great round leaves shaped a bit like umbrellas turned inside out by the wind. I thought I recognized lotus leaves and began a careful watch. One day a long stem had pushed up, supporting a tightly wrapped bud, its first. About four days later, it bloomed—I should say it “luminesced,” because I was stunned by its ethereal light. I’d been carrying my camera, a practice on my walks, and I immediately took a photo. Otherwise, how to explain this beyond-gorgeous moment of Creation bursting forth?

For me this was a moment of meeting the Divine in a “thin place,” a moment of knowing that God’s goodness was manifest, emanating sacred presence in my very neighborhood during a trying time.

It’s no wonder that the lotus is one of the most ancient and deepest symbols we have, equaled only by the rose in its symbolism in art and literature of purity, compassion, transformation, and spiritual enlightenment. The Buddha and others from many traditions have beheld its wordless sermons as it grows from muddy water to rise high above it, manifesting remarkable pure beauty.

My avocation of photography often helps me to acknowledge such “thin places,” a practice that Thomas Merton’s photographs affirmed for me when I first discovered them as reflections of his contemplative life.

Merton suggests that the transformation of object to image involves meanings that can transcend the meaning of the object itself, but this in no way contradicts [the photographer’s] “unspeakable reverence for the holiness of created things.” What we see and experience in the moments of being in “thin spaces” (with or without a camera in hand) can reflect what he called a “reality which is perceived spiritually in the artist’s [or beholder’s] own soul.”

Nancy Corson Carter
, PhD in American Studies, is professor emerita of humanities at Eckerd College. Since retirement to North Carolina in 2003, she has facilitated the Earth Care Committee at The Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill. Her most recent book is A GREEN BOUGH: POEMS FOR RENEWAL (2019).