Dylan was on the right track
Dylan was on the right track
11 June 2017
What do the words of an outlaw Rabbi, a poet rock star and a guy who feels like a snake have in common?
An odd question, but I’ll begin to answer it with the biblical character of Nicodemus.
Our outlaw Rabbi, Jesus, meets with Nicodemus in the gospel of John, chapter 3. It is an encounter that happens at night because Nicodemus is fearful of his fellow upstanding religious friends finding out who he is meeting with. But Nicodemus has important questions about the weightier things of life and has no one else to ask. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he needs to be “born again”; not physically, but spiritually. Jesus says he needs to experience an internal awakening.
When I read this passage I always think about the movie The Matrix. I know it dates me, but I can’t help thinking about all those humans plugged into pods that program their brains to think they are living – but they are just sitting in a virtual utero, not really living at all. The born-again experience Jesus is talking about is the equivalent of taking the “red pill” in the movie and choosing to wake up to a real life. It is a harsh awakening for Neo (in The Matrix) and the beginning of a transforming journey for Nicodemus (look at John 19:39).
Some people would suggest that being born again is a moment – a spiritual experience that happens once. And I think I know what they mean. Many people can witness to this significant “a-ha” moment of utter awareness of a power greater than themselves (God), expressing love and a sacred invitation to live a deeper truth. This is often accompanied by a sense of regret at having wasted so many precious years on things that didn’t matter and breaking the essence of our humanity and potential by senseless acts of selfishness (sin). This, in turn, culminates in a moment of surrender, forgiveness and acceptance as we start to comprehend the person of Jesus and the act of his sacrifice being the deepest love ever expressed and offered.
To receive this love is the most beautiful of things to witness and encounter. The sacred eternity entering the everyday ordinary – bringing people into the real life of the spirit. I don’t doubt that experience. I’ve had one.
What I’ve come to discover is that far from the end of Jesus’ instructions, a born-again experience is the beginning. And what I mean is that what Jesus actually says to Nicodemus is not that he must be born again (singular) but born again (plural). In other words, what Jesus actually says to Nicodemus is, “you must be born again, born again, born again, born again ...”
Which means, among many things, that poet rock star Bob Dylan was right when he sang, “He not busy being born is busy dying”. I think he sang the truth.
This all hit home recently during a group discussion I was in. While sharing about events in our lives, a guy in the group explained that he felt like a snake. To be honest, initially I was a little creeped out. I’m not into snakes. But he went on to say that he felt like he kept shedding his own skin. His life was expanding, his capacities increasing, his awareness of God’s direction and leading was enlarging his life and he found that his old “container” or “skin” just didn’t fit. He had to keep letting it go.
The image went from creepy to awesome in a hurry for me. I couldn’t shake it because I kept resonating with the words of Jesus to Nicodemus all those years ago, and echoing through the lyrics of Dylan.
Which leads me to pray that I want to keep being born again. I want my interior life to keep expanding so that I can keep shedding what I used to be and what I used to think. I guess as a Jesus follower I’m more into snakes than I thought.
Danielle Strickland is the Territorial Social Justice Secretary in The Salvation Army USA Western Territory
* This article is an edited version of Danielle Strickland’s blog daniellestrickland.com/blog/