As promised in the last post - something about the sermon from the evening service. I may well write about something in the morning service too and cobble together some thoughts about the uses of a word. This post is written pretty much as the chain of my thoughts. It's not ever going to be some polished theological gem. Some of what follows is easy reading. I fear some of it starts heading into the "technical" and "difficult concepts" categories. Sorry about that.
Following the Anglican lectionary the subject of the sermon was "born again". A phrase that strikes terror into many people - as our preacher freely admitted, giving some of the stereotypes of the born again Christian, stereotypes which unfortunately are very often completely accurate.
She talked of a mysticism oriented Catholic priest (Bede Griffiths OSB, also known as Swami Dayananda - a Benedictine Yogi) and his idea of us all being one (he'd picked it up from the Hindus who often have the right idea, in my opinion, about monism) and a view of being born again very different to that usually preached in evangelical churches. Most evangelical churches say that God is in those who are born again. They're of God. But those who aren't born again aren't of God - they're lost. In contrast, Griffiths wrote that by being born again he came to see that God is in everyone. Most evangelicals create a duality in the human race - and back it up with Bible verses. Griffiths sees a more important unity. He saw a unity in duality. A unity in diversity. A multiplicity in the unity. But unity came first - just as so often in the Hindu Vedic writings, supremely in the writings of Adi Shankara and Advaita philosophy.
Griffiths said "“If Christianity cannot recover its mystical tradition and teach it, it should simply fold up and go out of business” (quoted by Matthew Fox - a name that's important in my own path in the last few years) and he was called before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to defend himself before the then Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI).
But the sermon returned more - in the language used, if not the underlying thoughts - closer to the usual evangelical preaching of 'get born again and Jesus or the Spirit will enter in and change your life - are you ready to be born again and to have that "experience" - what's holding you back? Get born again. Are you ready to be born again?' I guess our preacher is closer to Bede Griffiths in her views of "born again" than to those of most evangelicals and wouldn't condemn the non-Christian to hell or to being "them" but as yet I haven't translated the phrase into something meaningful to me - something which can incorporate my past experiences, my present circumstances, and the possibilities of the future.
I don't mean to stamp on our preacher's experiences. I didn't know her before but the person she's become is pretty marvellous. Overall - ignoring the embarrassing things from her past, some of which she talked of last night - her God and her belief in the story have produced a woman who anyone would be proud to know and happy to trust.
I am sure that her "born again" experience changed her life. I'm sure the corresponding feelings were amazing. And if something like the traditional "I prayed and God moved" story is leading her to the greatest fullness of love, of life and of peace then that is great. I have no problem with that. Reality is big enough to include that story and many other stories, and such an experience can feel overwhelmingly powerful. It can seem undeniable. And it can set people on an entirely different road, transforming the foci of lives. There are even cases of addicts finding freedom from addiction in these experiences, of people finding wholeness instead of mental or physical sickness.
Is that God? Or is that the human spirit letting go of worries of psycho-somatic problems? Is it the "great physician" or the "great placebo effect"? Whatever the case, to be "born again" in this way is a major event in a life. It was certainly a major event in my life, and utterly convincing at the time - though it's easy to convince someone of something if they already believe it!
I have a personal problem with the phrase "born again" because of everything I've ever heard about it. Indeed, the phrase was projected on the screen before the service and I nearly walked out before the service had even started. I believe that most of what passes for "born again" or "born from above" is a sham. I believe there are moments of deep revelation that can change a person and their outlook. But you're not "born again" by praying a prayer of "I'm a sinner, come and forgive me because without you I'm doomed" and most "born again experiences" - including my own in 1990 - I firmly believe are a gift of our human psychological makeup rather than a gift of an all powerful supernatural being.
I experienced something wonderful in 1990 but I now believe it came from within not without - a joy of feeling I belonged, a joy of feeling I was forgiven and that though (I thought) I was awful I wouldn't be condemned to my deserved fate. My joy and excitement came from within, bolstered by corresponding hormones, the endorphin release. It didn't come from an infinite God reaching in and turning me into an entirely new creation. Yes, it was a "transformative experience" as our preacher put it and I firmly believed at the time that God, the supreme other, was the transformative agent.
My question is: Am I born again?
I used to answer with a definitive "YES!" I was born again in February 1990 in someone's bedroom at university. I became a Christian then and embarked in what I saw as new life. I've written in other posts some of the reasons I see behind my embracing of the faith.
That was a transformative experience and so it doesn't matter whether God did the work or if my own brain and body chemistry did the work. I can truly call it in some way "born again".
But it's not the only born again experience.
I was born again last year when I embraced myself - recognising myself in the mirror at a deep level and releasing myself to be me. If that's not a rebirth, then what is?
I was born again, gradually, when I embraced the truth that we're all "beautifully and wonderfully made" as the psalmist puts it - rather than born in sin and continuing as sinners as the Western evangelical mind puts it.
I was born again when I admitted to myself that my walk of faith has not been fully authentic for years and that it might be alright to walk a different way.
I was born again when I admitted to myself and to others that my faith is very, very different to that expressed in the traditional creeds or in the statements of faith of any of the churches I've been involved with, all of which had been evangelical and exclusive in their own ways.
I am born again whenever I recognise new possibilities for new life.
I was born again through the cognitive behavioural techniques I was taught a few years ago, the hope they gave that depression was not my end, and the tools they gave me to start winning major mental health battles.
I was born again when I sat at White Lodge as a teenager - a born again experience I rejected for over twenty years but now embrace once again.
I was born again in the process of joining the Catholic Church in 2005. I was born again in the process of leaving the Catholic Church in 2011.
I was born again when I got married and born again when our daughter was born. Being born again transforms life - but doesn't always make it easy or turn it into a utopian bliss factory. Being born again is about real life not an illusion of problem free happiness. And marriage and parenthood are real life, many of the problems in which I have repeatedly caused myself.
I'm sure I have been born again at many other times and will be born again again many more times as the spirit transforms my life - from within or without - and as the people I meet strike new chords of harmony or melody or disharmony in my heart and mind.
I am born again. With or without "God", I am born again. And again. And again.
Question: Are you born again? And are you born again through a long birthing process or through powerful events in your life that change you for ever?