Not long ago an unsuspecting man was asked by a questioner, “So when did you become a Christian?” “Uhh…well, I was baptized as a kid, but I feel like becoming a Christian is more like a journey for me than a single moment in time.”
Immediately, the questioner dismisses the unsuspecting man as one of THOSE people who aren’t really true Christians. Why? Because he doesn’t have a date and time associated with the coming of the Spirit to him in an experiential way—giving a dramatic moment of seeing Reality differently, feeling completely liberated from what bound him, or resting for a time in a unitive Oneness with all of life.
Why do Christians marginalize each other this way?
One of the scriptures this week for the second week of Lent from the Revised Common Lectionary is John 3:1-17. This is the text folks cite when referring to Jesus saying that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above…born anew or born again.”
Let me just remind us all that one of the reasons Jesus had anything new to say to the world 2000 years ago was because humanity is extremely gifted in taking Truth and formulating it in such a rigid way that the Truth becomes lost to those who are seeking it. This is a tendency in all religions today, as well. We needn’t get stuck in shame and guilt about it as religious people, but we need to become aware of it so that we don’t continue getting lost and getting other people lost with us, marginalizing their inherent goodness in the process.
Humanity is extremely gifted in taking Truth and formulating it in such a rigid way that the Truth becomes lost to those who are seeking it.
I liken Jesus’ words about being “born again” to “seeing with new eyes”—the eyes of God—the eyes of playful spontaneity, deep fidelity, and complete abandonment to trusting every moment to the path of unfolding Love. This is the experience Jesus is inviting us toward, but it involves being willing to let go of ourselves in order to fall in love.
However, thinking that the ONLY way to learn this spontaneity, fidelity and abandonment of self is by having a dramatic experience of the Spirit, is like saying to someone that the only way to learn about true love is by getting married.
Can falling in love and getting married be a powerful path of selflessness and commitment to teach us to see compassionately through the eyes of another in this world—through the eyes of our Beloved? Yes. Absolutely. But I think most of us would say that marriage is not only not necessary, but can prove downright problematic for some in creating a space for mutual learning of Love. Insisting that all Christians have a specific time and date for their “born again moment” is just as problematic.
Instead, Jesus’ next words in the text this week give us a clue about how to better think about being born again. He says, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Jesus is trying to help us understand the unpredictable nature of God’s Spirit in awakening us to a new way of seeing more like God does. Just like we can’t predict every gust of winsome, springtime breeze that fills us with refreshment, neither can we predict when and how Spirit will get hold of us and how we will learn to fall in love with the divine in ourselves and all the world by seeing differently.
Think of how Spirit helped Scrooge in the classic Dickens Christmas tale be born again. Or the myriad of ways your own eyes have been softened over the years to be less judgmental of others…this is being born again, too. Whenever you feel surprisingly generous toward the person in front of you in the checkout line, who has just backed up and stepped painfully on your toes, know that the wind of Spirit has just kissed you once again.