Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.
Food for Thought: Rebirth, December 5, 201

Food for Thought: Rebirth, December 5, 201

Our mid-week services are designed for open discussion among a group of people with diverse philosophies and beliefs. These are the notes from those meetings, and reflect the desire to explore thought within and outside the Christian tradition. They do not represent official doctrine, but a willingness to explore our shared humanity. As such, they are somewhat incomplete without the experience of actual discussions. We post them here for the sake of those who would like to have them but cannot always make it out to a mid-week service.


There was a man of the Pharisee sect, Nicodemus, a prominent leader among the Jews. Late one night he visited Jesus and said, “Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.”

Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom.”

“How can anyone,” said Nicodemus, “be born who has already been born and grown up? You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again. What are you saying with this ‘born-from-above’ talk?”

Jesus said, “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation—the ‘wind-hovering-over-the-water’ creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit.

 “So don’t be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’—out of this world, so to speak. You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.”

Nicodemus asked, “What do you mean by this? How does this happen?”

  Jesus said, “You’re a respected teacher of Israel and you don’t know these basics? Listen carefully. I’m speaking sober truth to you. I speak only of what I know by experience; I give witness only to what I have seen with my own eyes. There is nothing secondhand here, no hearsay. Yet instead of facing the evidence and accepting it, you procrastinate with questions. If I tell you things that are plain as the hand before your face and you don’t believe me, what use is there in telling you of things you can’t see, the things of God?

I (Bryan) have said a lot about how Christianity has missed the point with the term “born again”. I presume that Jesus, as a ‘descended master’, is talking about something deeply profound—but also something he thinks is ‘basic’.

We find “rebirth” in even older spiritualities…

Saṃsāra (/səmˈsɑːrə/) is a Sanskrit word that means “wandering” or “world”, with the connotation of cyclic, circuitous change. It also refers to the concept of rebirth and “cyclicality of all life, matter, existence”, a fundamental assumption of all Indian religions, in short, it is the cycle of death and rebirth.  Saṃsāra is sometimes referred to with terms or phrases such as transmigration, karmic cycle, reincarnation, and “cycle of aimless drifting, wandering or mundane existence” (Wikipedia)

In the Bhagavad Gita…(the idea of an “eternal soul” is more prominent here than in the Bible—not to mention, in Plato)

“For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Bhagavad Gita 2.20)

This points to a part of our being that survives, perhaps transcends (?), the rebirth process?

In any case…a couple of things I would rather NOT do with tonight’s discussion:  

  1.   Try to dissect which religion or tradition is “right”
  2.   Get bogged down in a discussion about the afterlife

 What I WOULD like to do…Recognize that different spiritualities honor the idea of rebirth, perhaps pointing to something of truth.

How does the cycle work out in our present lives?

What are the benefits of going through the various “deaths” we experience (metaphorical)?

Does the cycle ascend? Automatically or with help—or at least attention?


Do religions go through “rebirths”? What prompts such a change? (Awakenings?)

What do rebirths look like in something like science? (paradigm shift—what qualifies?)

What about the life of a church?

Come to think of it, just about any system or process I think about goes through ‘rebirths’!


Dying before you die: 

“In the larger-than-life people I have met, I always find one common denominator: in some sense, they have all died before they died—and thus they are larger than death too! Please think about that. At some point they were led to the edge of their private resources, and that breakdown, which surely felt like dying, led them into a larger life.” 

“All great spirituality is about letting go. Instead we have made it to be about taking in, attaining, performing, winning, and succeeding.”

 Rebirth from the perspective of Alcoholics Anonymous (Bill Wilson, Christmas 1944) 

“Nor can men and women of AA ever forget that only through suffering did they find enough humility to enter the portals of that New World. How privileged we are to understand so well the divine paradox that strength rises from weakness, that humiliation goes before resurrection; that pain is not only the price but the very touchstone of spiritual rebirth.”

touchstone—a standard by which something is judged or recognized 

Rebirth in Male Initiation rites: 

We cannot experience rebirth, being ‘born again’, without experiencing some real form of death first. Most “born again” churches do not seem to have recognized this. The old self always has to die before the new self can be born, which is the Passover experience we resist.

 Some ritual of death and resurrection was the centerpiece of all male initiation. It is probably why Jesus sought out and submitted to John the Baptist’s offbeat death and rebirth ritual down by the riverside, when his own temple had become more concerned with purity codes than with transformation.

Leave a Reply