Last night I fell asleep while pondering the teaching Jesus offered to Nicodemus. “You must be born of water and of Spirit.” What does this actually mean?
I’m inclined to think that writers like Richard Rohr have it right when they talk about the needed death of ego consciousness in order to perceive the Kingdom of God. But what does that larger perspective look like?
When I fell asleep, I had a dream. In it I was in a grassy, open space. A fierce hawk stood over a slightly smaller bird which it had attacked and wounded terribly. I chased the hawk away. It flew just out of reach and watched me through beady eyes.
I bent over the wounded bird, trying to figure out how to help it. I didn’t want to touch it too much, since that would add terror to its pain. I thought of building a little shelter of rocks to shelter it so that it could heal in peace. I found some good, white stones and began to pile them one on top of another in a circle around the bird, making a sort of cairn. I thought I’d make a roof of sticks, and begin to consider how best to do that.
At this point I woke up a little. As I did I began to realize that it was both rather pretentious and also pretty futile of me to be trying to protect the bird, especially by placing it in a stone hut. A creature of light and air, how would it feel, locked away in a cold, dark, enclosure like that? Who was I trying to protect? Was it really the bird? Or was it me?
I dozed again. I went back into the dream. And this time I was the wounded bird. There was no sign of the stones nor of any human intervention in my plight. Immobilized and in terrible pain, I lay on the icy, grassy ground. Above me stood my death, the hawk with its cold eyes and razor sharp beak.
It struck out. I felt it tear into my breast, and agony blossomed. It went on and on, tearing me apart. I could do nothing but lie there. I was too weak to move, and getting weaker by the moment. I closed my eyes, filled with the immensity of the pain, and on it went. And finally it came to the very center of me, to a bright, tender core. In the dream this was a soft, glowing place, a place of no defenses whatsoever.
The beak clamped down on that tender center, and in a pain that was intolerable and almost exquisite, I was released. I died. I was suddenly free of body, agony, and earth. I was in the heavens. I was one with air and light – and flight. I flew. Nothing held me back. Nothing weighed me down. I was free.
I came awake again, and as I did I was thinking that I had just gotten to perceive that bird in its very essence. I had gotten to feel what it “meant”.
Is it too grand of me to believe that Jesus was teaching me through the dream? The ego perspective wishes to hang on to life. That is its value to us; it is the part of us that works hard so that we prosper in the world. Of course it wants to protect the wounded bird. It wants to make the world safe for all of us. But there is the other perspective, the one born of Spirit.
Salvation does not fit us to live more prosperously in the world, it teaches us how to leave it. It teaches us where we really belong. Being born of the Spirit uproots us. It kills us and sends us soaring. When the hawk comes for me, may I remember this. May I remember how to be free.