There aren’t that many books that I feel confident enough to recommend, but if there were ever such book, it would be Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist. I read this book last Christmas break, before I read her first book, Cold Tangerines (which I also really recommend). As corny as it may sound, this book is like drinking coffee under a blanket next to a fireplace with a cat on your lap (unless you don’t like cats, in which case, I’m not sure why we’re friends). I don’t know if it is because it is about change, but I just feel like this book should be read during the winter.
There is a chapter titled “Thin Places,” where she talks about this Celtic idea of, believe it or not, “thin places.” Thin places create this beautiful image that there are actually places (sometimes physical places) where the boundary between heaven and earth are more permeable—thinner. It is this place where we feel God’s presence in our world, where we can have a taste of what heaven is like.
Christmas is a thin place. Advent is a season of thin places. It is a…
“season during which even the hardest-hearted of people think about what matters […] in the face of the deep beauty and hope of Christmas. The shimmer of God’s presence, not always plainly visible in our world, is more visible at Christmas.”
She writes about another kind of thin place. It is a less joyful thin place, but it is the reality in each of our lives. Brokenness. Now, brokenness doesn’t always bring us to feeling closer to God.
“Heartbreak brings us lots of places—to despair, to bitterness, to emptiness, to numbness, to isolation. But because God is just that good, if we allow the people who love us to walk with us right through the brokenness, it can also lead to a deep sense of God’s presence. When things fall apart, the broken places allow all sorts of things to enter, and one of them is the presence of God.”
I recognize this to be true. Without this thin place of be able to come so close to the presence of God in our pain, I think we would all feel a lot more hopeless. This year has been a year of great loss, especially for people that I love more than anything. I visited a Dachau concentration camp this year, and I can’t think of any other place where the feeling of great loss is so overwhelming. This has been a year of tears and pain. Yet, standing in the gas chambers, sitting in that hospital room on Easter Sunday, lying on the dorm floor as my roommate was crying, I still felt hope.
I felt hope, because, here’s the thing: Advent is the beginning of the new year for the Christian calendar. We just celebrated a new year on Sunday. A new year. We have joy because Christ came, and we have hope because we know Christ will be coming again.
“Let yourself fall open to Advent, to anticipation, to the belief that what is empty will be filled, what is broken will be repaired, and what is lost can always be found, no matter how many times it’s been lost.”