I’m 32,000 feet above Lake Michigan.  It’s -51 degrees outside the Delta 737 I’m a passenger in.  In 1600 miles I hope to touch down to earth again. 

As I look out the window of the plane I am recalling some words spoken by a Protestant pastor during a retreat I was attending years before I became a Catholic Christian.  He used a turn of phrase now and again, saying we best encounter and sense God’s presence in “the high thin spaces”.  At the time I presumed he was referring to mountaintops, misty, forest isolated cabins, or even monasteries where we can quiet our minds and breathe in a kind of rarified, holy air.  Then we will feel better about everything.

But I am older now, and now I think this likely wasn’t what I was supposed to understand at all.  I’ve changed.

I’m 39,000 feet over Iowa now. It’s a high thin space. But I’m thinking of a very specific place on earth, an airport tarmac in Afghanistan. Can anyone forget the images of Afghan citizens clinging to, then falling to their deaths from an overloaded plane of 11th hour escape?  What horror.  Could that have been me?

Spending time alone in contemplation is a wonderful thing.  Taking time to rest is necessary to our health.  Doing so in places of natural beauty are especially healing. There really is no question about that. But is it a “high thin space”?

I’ve come to learn that the “high thin spaces” are really where I see people stepping forward to alleviate the suffering of someone else, particularly those who are displaced. When I encounter this and even better, move to help, I breathe in this rarified, holy air of God’s presence, justice and compassion. We can all do something to help, no matter how small. Peace to you from 32,000 feet over Idaho. 

– Bruce LaCrosse

 As is my custom, I share a sketch I have done on this theme.