Sunday, June 21, 2009

Relationship Rules

My encounters with God can come and go. I have had frequent times of silence from Him and other times of sublime peace and reassurance. I have had times when I wonder if I have wandered too far off track and times of feeling as if I am in the exact place I was meant to be in.

It's a slippery thing to try and capture.

As I sat in church today, watching the people enter and find their seats, seeing the young children skip down the aisle and dart in and out of the pews, I had one of those moments of clarity and peace.

Everything I ever learned came from another human being. Stretching all the way back to my childhood there is a genealogy of transmitted ideas that shaped who I am. Like some sort of unseen electricity passing through a superconductor, the thoughts of others have flowed through me, sometimes causing new thoughts within me which I later passed on to someone else in an endless game of telephone.

While I have had experiences with God as an individual, it is as a part of humanity that I have most often heard or seen Him. Whether it's listening to music which speaks to me, or reading something that gives me a new insight, or simply the physical touch of people who care about me, there is a consistent sense that I am a part of something larger than myself....something better than myself.

It's easy to think of wild-eyed prophets eating locusts and honey in the wilderness as examples of piety, swallowed up by isolation as they try to hear the voice of God away from the noise of all the other voices. The monastic life, meant to be dedicated wholly to God, seems purer and more holy than the ordinary existence most of us live.

Yet.....I wonder if the idea of retreats and pilgrimages and self-imposed isolation is a doomed enterprise, spiritually speaking.

When Jesus preaches to the crowds and heals the sick, it is it in the masses that the power of God is coming upon the world. When he delivers the Sermon on the Mount, he is teaching people righteousness through right relationships. He uses the Good Samaritan to cement the idea that loving God is loving people....serving God is serving people. He is pointing us in the direction of living relationally with people.

We are refined through other people. We are comforted through other people. We are given opportunities to live sacrificially and unselfishly through people.

Nothing comes to us that doesn't first pass through another person, both good and evil.

When we withdraw from life, or people, we hamper our own spiritual growth. I have been guilty of hiding within myself when I have felt misunderstood, or not quite accepted....but I never overcome those feelings without re-entering relationships and choosing to attempt to be forgiving and gracious to people who don't "deserve" it.

In the same way, I have been most satisfied when I have been useful to someone else. Knowing that I was a small part of the endless transmission of God's encouragement and love, in my own meager way, fills me with peace.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

This is going to tie in to my current series of the core values of liberals, and I may be linking back to it, though not for a week or so.

I assent heartily. Even the monasteries were often communities of men or women, not collections of individual mystics, however much personal mysticism might be valued. There have been hermits throughout the history of the church, including especially the Desert Fathers, but it is rare even in the Orthodox tradition which used those disciplines most. Even Jesus, who went away from time to time, spent most of His time interactively, as you note, traveling with a band of friends and students.

This is one reason why the Oswald Chambers My Utmost For His Highest mode of thought has often left me cold. There is something artificial about a faith that does not have to go head-to-head with believers who are much better than you, or much worse.

Retriever said...

Terri, loved this post, thanks! Agree with you, and with AVI. Have had much on my mind lately the power of the company of the faithful. How we carry each other's burdens, and kick each other in the butt, and remind each other, and sometimes inspire each other.

I tend to hide away and go to church reluctantly when most deeply anxious about illness in the family. Pained being around apparently happy and healthy families. But, of course, the minute I get there, I see teenagers I taught as tiny children in Sunday school, and my current class, and their parents, and friends I have prayed and studied the Bible with. They inspire me more than any sermon. Tho I love sermons.

A friend of mine who was assaulted and badly hurt years ago told me once that she was bitter at God, in torments, maligned by others in our seminary as she healed. Who told her to forgive her tormentor. Or be a bad Christian. She could not pray.

One night she woke up with the sense of being held, as in a net over an abyss, and realized that the prayers of her friends were keeping her from despair and would hold her until she was healed and herself again. And the Spirit prays for us, when we are dumb...