The words are there:
Verily, verily, verily, I say to you, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
All my life, I have heard about this great surging, have seen people washed forward by it all. To me, the process looks like a whole lot of chaos occurring in an extremely structured venue. A seeming dance of strict formality, a flight of a butterfly in response to a booming command.
But, other than conforming to what the person has been challenged with, I can never see any meaning to it all.
Being born again, after all, is all about our relationship with Jesus and God, not with the other members of our congregation.
But it is not just Pentecostal-style churches that attempt to formalize the concept: the Council of Trent declared being born again as the second conversion. I cannot brag and say that I understand what this means, either.
As a child, in response to people’s reference to this phenomenon, I would think, I’ve been born once and my relationship with God is sound, more than sound, so why should I take this matter seriously?
But I grew and matured (one assumes), and became more and more reflective. Here is what I “hear” and “see” about being born again.
First, let’s start with birth. Contrasted with the demand for formality and proof, birth is the most natural event a human goes through. It can happen anywhere, under any condition, and demands no witness. It is the movement of the human, soul and all, from one world into another, in both of which the human is at home. First in the water of the mother, then in the air of the Earth.
Birth, then is the process of going through a portal, and it is a process, astoundingly, over which we have no control. When the time and place comes, we are born. Period.
So, what, then, is being born again? Do we not refer completely to the meaning of the word, born, as a basis of our understanding? To do it again means that we replicate the conditions and characteristics of what we did in the first place.
We give up the illusion of control.
We surrender completely to the process, that is natural and that brings us through a portal, from one world to another, in both of which we find ourselves feeling at home.
So, essentially, it is a growth process, part of our design. Not an amateurish convulsion that we have worked ourselves into for the benefit of others to watch and approve.
Now on to the other words given to us to help our understanding: water and spirit.
What is water, in this context, except that which cleanses and possibly moves us? Is water literally meant? Probably not. For we are speaking of spirituality here. What is the water of our spirit? It is that which washes our soul, soothes our aching hearts, quenches our longing for an experience of God in our lives.
If this has to do with our spirit, then why does being born again involve The Spirit? Because being born again is a time in our lives when the spirit of God, itself, comes to us and guides us through the process, keeps us safe in its wings, and teaches us about the new world in which we find ourselves.
Our culture puts it about that being born again is this monumental one-time experience that takes us out of sin and puts us on the path to right behavior. Really? This implies that it is actually possible to stop our sinning, our everyday living, our wrong understandings. And the end result is a bunch of newly scrubbed children in proper dress all promising to do all their homework accurately and before bedtime.
This doesn’t strike me as life.
Yes, a whole lot of people lead Godly lives serving others and doing good in the world. But I bet you that there is not one among them that isn’t painfully aware of their “lacking.” Even they have portals to still go through, spiritual growth to accomplish.
And they know it. And are openly grateful when re-births occur in their souls and lives.
As a culture, we need to let go of forcing ourselves to pretend to undergo a process that is in the hands of God, that is natural to us, and which is merely the means of moving from one world to the next.
And we need to remember, always, that no matter where we are, we are always home in God.