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.