Being Born From Above

Posted by

The Rev. Stuart Craig Higginbotham
Lent II, Year A
John 3:1-17
March 16, 2014

Listen while you read…

One of our favorite games as a teenager was spotlight, a particular twist on hide and seek. We would go to one of our friend’s houses and wait until it turned really dark. Then, we would each go hide somewhere in the house. The person who was ‘it’ would have a flashlight, and they would crawl around on the floor looking for people. It was a rule that they had to crawl; I don’t know why, but that was a rule.

They would crawl around until they found someone, and then they would shine the flashlight on them. Spotlight. They couldn’t say anything. The entire game was done in complete silence. And, it could go on for a while, until everyone was found or until the seeker got tired of it and called it off.

I remember one night never being found, because I managed to open up the cover from the intake duct and crawl inside, peeping between the slats in the vent screen.

The most interesting part of the game for me was that the entire thing was done through the play between darkness and light. No one said anything, you played the game by taking cover in darkness and waiting for someone to find you and having them shine their light on you.

Light and darkness have an interesting relationship. Just a bit of candle light can break through a dark room, letting us see shapes and forms…

Today’s Gospel is full of the play between light and darkness—perfect for Lent when we are entering even more fully into this prayerful space.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus “under cover of darkness” to find out more about him. He acknowledges Jesus as a great teacher who has come from God, but Jesus doesn’t just accept it.  He uses the opportunity to invite Nicodemus into a deeper spiritual awareness.

“No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born from above.” 

Nicodemus cannot get his mind around the requirement, or the expectation, of being born. “How is this possible? Do we go back, somehow, into our mothers and be born that way?”

And, here we can see the brilliance of Jesus’ teaching. We realize suddenly that there is nothing ‘rational’ about this. Jesus isn’t playing by the normal rules.  The closest teaching space I have ever found to it is with a Zen koan.

In Zen Buddhism, the ‘point’ is to break out of our rigid, rational, ego-centered minds and perceive the deeper reality that permeates us and of which we are a part.

Koans, a particular type of riddle, force us, as it were, to be stretched. We are not going to ‘get the answer’ through our own devices, through reliance upon our own intelligence.

One of my favorite koans goes like this:  [Ring bell] What is this?

When I answered this with a friend, I gave her all sorts of answers:

  • A bell
  • Clichéd descriptions of the sound of the bell connecting to my soul
  • More clichéd descriptions of seeing the resonance of the sound as calling me to my deeper self.

None of these connected with the deeper truth.

Until I got mad and  she asked me again, [Ring bell] What is this? And I grabbed the mallet out of her hands and hit the bell again……

And just listened to it…..

Just experienced it……..

And realized………

That the experience of it is the truth of it……

No words,

No seeking to control or define…..

What is this? [Ring bell]

No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.

Nicodemus doesn’t realize that Jesus has given him the “answer” as it were right there. He is experiencing it already. He just doesn’t see it, because he immediately tries to define it and rely on his rational, controlling mind.

Nicodemus can only imagine being born one way. And that is impossible to repeat.

But Jesus is inviting him into something much more than a literal experience. ‘You must be born from above.’

In order to perceive, or more fully realize, or cultivate a deeper awareness of the Presence of God within our lives—here and now—we must experience a conversion (remember Joan Chittester’s writings here) and be opened up to a higher level of perception. The old paradigms, such a Nicodemus’ reliance upon control and his rational mind, are not sufficient.
But when this happens, when we experience God’s grace, we find ourselves like kids who have been sitting in darkness, suddenly having light shone on us and being able to see the rich detail of what had, up to then, been only vague forms and outlines.

This truth of God is beyond us, yet we are amazingly invited into it! Time and time again, we are invited to enter more deeply into a relationship with the Spirit, which, as the text says blows like wind where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.

We do not know where it comes from.  We do not know where it is going.

Yet, as we are reminded in Lent, we are invited to share in this Divine Life.

We are invited to lean into these spaces of risky communal prayer, of having the light shone on us…of being born from above…

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