If there were a contest to name the common human activity Jesus uses for a metaphor when discussing lofty theological ideas with Nicodemus in John 3:1-17, first prize would have to go to the person who says “birth.”
No one sees the Kingdom of God unless he is born again... But can one be born when one has grown old? How can one enter the womb a second time and be born?”... I tell you no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he be born again….Do not be astonished when I tell you you must be born again.
Clearly there is something about the experience of birth that, according to Jesus (and misunderstood by Nicodemus), informs significantly about Christian spiritual life.
Some see this focus as a call to doctrinal purity. In fundamentalist Christianity, there are a series of proscribed steps one must take in order to be “saved”; only then can then properly call themselves “Born Again” and have access to God's Kingdom.
Other Christians note that in Greek, the word for “again” and “above” is the same (anothen); Jesus in John 3 is emphasizing one must be “born from above,” a much more universal experience that transcends theological dogma (and right-wing politics).
Others may simply find Jesus' teaching invites us to revel in the fact that “birth” - and, hence, spiritual “rebirth” - are the most joyous and sacred of human experiences; one more reason to give God all the glory and thanks!
Of course, ask a baby about what it’s like to be born, and you may get a bit of a different answer….
In the Comic Lens’s humble opinion, one of the most educational scenes from any movie anywhere comes from the comedy “Look Who’s Talking” - a film about what it’s like to be a baby, from the baby’s perspective. The most-education scene depicts the baby's birth. And here it is! Watch, laugh and learn!!
I have often wondered why human birth hasn’t evolved to the point where fetuses receive a handbook about how to navigate the world they will soon be entering; that way, when the big day arrives, they’ll know what to expect, how to communicate, where to go to get the assistance they need, etc. Maybe do some “trial runs” in the safety of the womb so babies will be completely prepared for what’s to come. After all, that’s the way we’re taught smart/good people proceed - and succeed - here on Earth. Right?
Instead, we are born into the world in a most stressful, almost cruel way. We're thrust into the opposite of the dark, comfy, want-free realm we’ve first come to know. We’re suddenly forced to endure harsh and strange light, cold, and behavior (no matter how kind and accommodating the humans handling us in this strange cruel new world may insist they are being!). No wonder Baby Mikey finds it all exhausting, weird, upsetting, and enough to make him cry out for someone to just “Put me back in! Put me back in! Arghhhh!”
As I’ve continued to think about why humans continue to be born in such a counterintuitive, difficult way…I’ve come to wonder if maybe it’s because, whether we like it or not, this is the way we will move as a human beings into each and every next moment, next circumstance, next place on the road, for the rest of our lives. The next step of the journey will always land us into a reality that is, at its core, a complete unknown. As much as we'd like to think we're prepared, we know what will happen, we're promised the outcome we expect will be the one that indeed is, we have NO control on what the future brings, even in the next tiny moment, circumstance or step.
Being born gives us the first major lesson on what the human task is and always will be: to figure out how to journey, and journey well, into the unknown. And it will always be the unknown. It’s like life is a series of moments being born, and then born again, and then born again and again and again….
And so what is "spiritual rebirth" exactly? That's coming to embrace this otherwise scary and often unpleasant process with the tools the Divine provides. One is community. The other is an invisible presence that is incredibly powerful, creative, and wild. Jesus alludes to these when he says one must be born with the water of baptism and a Spirit that blows like the wind - we can't tell where it is coming or going or what it is really up to.
Spiritual rebirth is coming to embrace the fact that faith is a verb. More than anything, it's another word for trust. Being okay with moving ahead rather than wishing we could just go back to our comfy, family past. Hanging onto the promise that each and every next step into an unknown place will somehow land us on our feet or, if we fall, provide assistance to get up again. Even if the place we find ourselves - and the people assisting us - are not what we expected or wanted.
This is yet one more very helpful, provocative, and authentic truth that emerges when letting the Comic Lens...and some kooky, funny, fun example from our culture's comic opus...focus our exploration and shape our questions. Alleluia and Amen! (And however a baby translates that!!)