John 3:8-18 (NRSV)
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.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
In this passage, Jesus speaks to Nicodemus of being “born again” in order to enter the reign of God. Jesus hints that heaven is a place or condition where he dwells, and that it confers eternal life on those who dwell there with him. In this place we have no more control than we have over the wind, and yet there is no condemnation and no end.
What do I understand about these terms? Does something like a second birth have to replace our human self-centeredness with pervasive lovingness? Is heaven like doing well all day long? Like being humble, charitable, self-humbling, forgiving and utterly real all the time? How do we get there? The few people I have met most meeting this description also have had a delightful sense of humor about their failings, faults and inconsistencies. They’ve been far from perfect, yet almost perfect in their compassion for all of us who are mired in the “human condition.”
In order to personalize this passage, I find myself leaning on my experiences with Centering Prayer since the early 1990s. Fr. Thomas Keating had introduced this practice to the contemporary world in the mid 1980s, so Contemplative Outreach was a youthful organization, dedicated to teaching and supporting this prayer. During my first 10-day retreat in Snowmass, CO, I watched Fr. Keating’s Spiritual Journey video tapes. These provided crucial information — informed by psychology and science — about our “human condition.” As “thinking animals,” we are capable of the most angelic and/or devilish behavior. Our natures are divided and contradictory. Faced with this reality, I accepted that I could never be a “good person” by myself alone. I took the first steps — with great relief — towards deeper self-acceptance and habitual forgiveness towards myself and others. Certainly God knows and loves exactly who we are, and offers mercy and redemption as an every-day gift to keep us growing towards Him.
Perhaps we are not born again just once, but many times a day, each time we recognize how our self-centeredness grabs our attention and spurs our behavior. I now can spot these times quickly, and correct myself simply and directly. I don’t believe I could have grown in this way without the daily practice of sitting in silence with my God, simply communing with the intimate, humble, tender, loving presence of our Creator.Kathy Kramer-Howe
Prayer: During this Advent season, as the world “waits to exhale” in expectation of the unexpected, let us slow ourselves down and just rest in the present moment. May we breathe slowly and deeply and simply open ourselves to the approaching and ever-present Jesus. With silence and receptivity in our hearts and minds, let us make room for Christmas for just a few minutes every day. Amen.