One of the most remarkable events I have ever witnessed was the birth of my first child. As she emerged, what struck me most vividly was her face. I was overcome with a sense of wonder. It was as if I had known her my whole life, and saw her as part of my very self.
How does that happen? How is it that we can see ourselves in our children from the moment of birth? Certainly, there is a direct biological link, so that we can share physical attributes. That’s the visible connection. However, there is also an invisible connection that reflects the relationship. While parent and child are physically separate, they are unified through an invisible, yet very real, bond of love. The relationship between parent and child, like all of life, functions in two distinct dimensions: one physical and of the body, the other spiritual and of the mind.
In the physical dimension, we experience birth only once. However, in the spiritual dimension, we will all experience a second form of birth at some point in our lives. Jesus once explained this concept to the teacher Nicodemus. Jesus said,
“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” [John 3:3]
Nicodemus was confused:
“How can someone be born when they are old?”… “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” [John 3:4]
Nicodemus realized that this second birth cannot be physical, but he didn’t know what else it could be. Jesus clarified:
“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” [John 3:5-6]
Like Nicodemus, most of us are familiar with the amazing process of childbirth, but we find the idea of being born of the Spirit to be a mystery. Yet the two processes are remarkably similar. In this post, the first in a two part series, we will examine how this spiritual rebirth begins. Part two of the series will focus on the spiritual growth that follows a spiritual conception. From here on, we will refer to the second birth or being born of the Spirit simply as rebirth.
Like pregnancy, the process of rebirth begins with spiritual conception. Just as the sperm and egg from two separate bodies join to form an entirely new entity at conception, rebirth begins when two separate minds join together as one. Although all of us will eventually experience this rebirth, we can experience its conception in several different ways. For example, marriage is one common form of spiritual conception.
Jesus explained spiritual conception in the context of marriage as follows::
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the creator ‘made them male and female’, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” [Matthew 19:4-6a]
Here Jesus is talking about a spiritual principle, but he uses the physical analogy to facilitate his listeners’ understanding. As sperm and egg join together to create new life, so the union of two people in mind (marriage) forms a new spiritual creation. Since bodies are by nature separate, the joining described here must be spiritual and of the mind.
Since we do not all get or stay married, how else can we experience rebirth? Again the teachings of Jesus provide us with an answer.
“Again truly I tell you if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” [Matthew 18:19-20]
When Jesus says, ”where two or three gather in my name,” he is describing the gathering together of like-minded people. The key point is their agreement or unity of spirit, which Jesus described as gathering ‘in my name’. When you gather in the name of Christ, you are his literal presence. You have become a new entity. All present are a unified whole. Therefore, this process of rebirth ultimately represents the reunification of the mind of God with the minds of humans.
Although Jesus places no restrictions on marital status, it sounds on the surface like he is limiting the joining to a physical gathering. But once again, he is using a physical analogy to help his listeners understand a spiritual principle. Jesus is describing a connectedness among us that extends far beyond the physical. It doesn’t matter if one person is located in New York and another in New Delhi. If they possess unity of mind, they are spiritually connected and are experiencing rebirth. This is a unique feature of spiritual rebirth; it has the power to unite all of us.
Of course, practicing unity of spirit can become more complex and difficult as numbers increase. Even Jesus himself sometimes had difficulty maintaining unity among the original 12 apostles. The New Testament epistles provide still more examples of groups of people struggling to get along with each other. That’s why Jesus mentions ‘where two or three are gathered in my name’. By focusing first on a few relationships, we better learn the skills necessary to walk together in a spirit of love, devotion, and freely-chosen unity.
So like birth, rebirth starts small. Both are initiated by joining, and these small beginnings transform our thinking. For example, when a woman becomes pregnant, she becomes aware of her body’s inward changes long before they become outwardly apparent. She feels intimately connected to and responsible for the new life within her, and her life will never be the same. Likewise, spiritual conception brings about dramatic inward change. When we join together, our well being becomes inextricably linked in a bond of mutual love. Like in motherhood, a spiritual union is an expanded expression of love that initiates powerful personal change and sets the stage for further growth and transformation.
Of course, the story of pregnancy and childbirth does not end with conception. As the fertilized egg grows, it is dramatically transformed. The new entity formed at spiritual conception also experiences a similar dramatic transformation as it grows. How does this happen? Are there various stages of spiritual growth that correspond to physical growth? What do these stages of spiritual growth look like? Who is the spiritual child that is eventually reborn? We’ll examine these questions and more in the next post: “The Mystery of New Life: Part 2”.