(a Lection Reflection on John 3)
My wife and I have two grown sons. We have experienced many special, wondrous moments with each of them. I have to say, though, that one of the most amazing moments I have ever experienced was the moment when each of them was born. Words like life-filled, miracle, connection, extra-alive, and heart-burst all come to mind — but none are adequate to fully capture the moment.
And yet …
That moment was the culmination of one long process, and the starting point of another long process. Each boy was able to be born because some months earlier my wife and I conceived them. And THAT act happened because years before that, we met, dated, got engaged, and got married. And all along the journey of our lives, there were events and decisions and influences that affected each of us, and us as a couple, and eventually our two sons. In other words, “being born” is an event, a point in time — but it is also the result of a process, a process with tendrils that reach sometimes far into the past, but that certainly reach to a matching moment of conception.
So I think we need a new word; a word that captures both the point in time and the process that got us there. There is “carried,” as in “she carried that baby for nine months.” There’s also “bore” which is where we got “birth.” But just for this Reflection, let’s go with “born-ed” and “born-ing” to show both the process and the event.
Why make the distinction? Because I think that Jesus’s words in John 3 are sometimes at risk of being too closely associated with that single-point-in-time meaning of “born,” and if we do that, we miss something important.
Make no mistake — Jesus is plain about the need for spirit-birth. Without being born from above, of the Spirit, you cannot see nor enter the kingdom of God. Without having your eyes opened by the Spirit, your heart touched by the Spirit, your understanding of the world illumined by the Spirit, you can’t see the kingdom all around you, nor can you enter it. That much is clear.
But, I think we have taken that profound truth and twisted it, cheapened it, by focusing only on the birth event and not on the process of being born-ed. We have reduced that amazing moment that was the culmination of so many other moments and turned it into a question, a question answered in just that single moment, and assumed we would get the same result. It’s as if we asked someone “do you want to have a child” and if they answered Yes, then Snap and there’s a newborn in their arms.
What does it change of our understanding of John 3 if we recast “you must be born again” into “you must allow the seeds of the Spirit to enter your soul, germinate there, grow there, until finally they come forth in an amazing and God-filled way, and your very nature and your relationship to all around you is changed forever”? How does it affect our relationship to others, if we know that the way we deal with them might be part of the process of born-ing? And finally, are we okay with trusting the process of born-ing as God’s timing and the Spirit moving as it will, rather than us trying to force a new birth through spiritual inducing?
Being born culminates one process of germination and growth and transformation, and begins another. Let’s make our churches and our lives into supporters of both the born-ing process and the be-ing process, and not just delivery rooms.