I wrote this short article for a newsletter our Church is getting ready to launch. It's some thoughts that have been rolling around in my brain.
I've been thinking of late about birth. Maybe that's because Andrea is getting ready to go through, for the second time, the bloody, messy, somewhat terrifying experience of birthing a child.
Seriously, it's not pretty.
But life is the result.
And so that's got me thinking about the whole process of birth and rebirth and how to get at the real experience of the thing we call life. There are many systems of belief that talk about this. Let me name a few (pardon the gross oversimplifications):
Fashion :: Ever bought a new shirt or shoes and felt like you were a whole new you? Somehow better? A little more valuable? Be reborn at J. Crew.
Health :: Have you been to the gym on January 3rd? You can barely move for all the breathless New Year's Resolutions sweating their way to rebirth.
Business :: Beating someone else is the key to the life of your business. Don't let any one take advantage of you. If you've been doing that, stop it and you'll be reborn as business.
The East :: Do well in this life and maybe you won't come back as a toad in the next one. Rebirth is the result of my efforts in this life.
The West :: Do well in this life and you'll have a big house, fancy car and all the happiness you can possibly want. Rebirth is the result of my efforts in this life (huh, that sounds familiar).
My point is that the discussion isn't actually a religious one. It's a human one. How do I experience life and be reborn into something more than I am? It's basic human longing 101.
Enter Jesus into this whole discussion. He is talking with a religious leader about the subject in John 3 and makes this interesting statement. "No one will see the Kingdom of God unless he or she is anothenon." And in saying it he characteristically reorders the discussion.
Anothenon, often translated "born again", is more accurately translated "born from above." When the whole discussion of rebirth is on how I can make some fundamental change and change myself, I am literally left to my own devices. And so out of practical necessity I adopt the story of fashion or health or business or the East or the West. A story that's 'down here.' A story that gives me some way forward to what I want. They become my birth canal to a new life. In themselves fashion, health, business are fine...just don't go looking to them for rebirth. They make wonderful friends but terrible gods.
But Jesus describes rebirth as happening outside the system. He describes a renewal of who I am that comes from Someone Else. And, as he continues to tell the religious leader, it's a mysterious thing, like the wind. "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." Maybe we could say it like this: 'We don't find life, if we are open to it, Life finds us.' And since Jesus described himself as "the life", I would take that to mean that this whole process of being born from above has to do with trusting Jesus.
But because wind isn't clear cut and easily nailed down, rebirth can be messy and terrifying. But as Andrea and I discovered with our first child, life is the result.
So how many birth canals do we have to go through?
How many New Year's Resolutions need to fail?
How many times do we have to reinvent ourselves?
What's the way forward we are counting on?
Are we instead open to the mystery of birth from above?