John 3:3, “Jesus answered, ‘In truth, in very truth I tell you, unless a man has been born over again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’”
The esteemed Pharisee Nicodemus approached Jesus with acknowledgment of his being “a teacher sent by God.” (verse 2) As I ponder Jesus’ response (quoted above), I feel the emphasis on being born over in order “to see the kingdom of God.” Jesus pointed to experiencing God in one’s life, not acquiring ideas about God.
Fundamental religions often talk about being born again. They offer the familiar, prescribed formula of salvation as the way. My experiences and work with people tell me that being born again is more often a slow, personalized process forged through struggle to know God Within. People who are born again usually start the journey of transformation because they realize they have outgrown their current life, shaped by roles and ego ideals. They are prompted by God Within to shed the old skin.
I’m reminded of the snakeskin my little dog GeeGee and I found recently. The skin was lodged underneath a ground level branch of an azalea. The branch was approximately one and a quarter inch in diameter with sharp stubs on the bottom. It was a tight squeeze for even a 6’ black snake. I was curious about its placement, so I did some research. I learned several facts that seeded my thinking about being born again.
The snake sheds its skin because its body grows, but the skin does not. If it does not shed the old skin, the body’s flesh will be constricted. This will harm the snake. The old skin also carries parasites that will attack the snake’s larger body. It is important that the snake be undisturbed while shedding so it removes the entire old skin.
Snakes shed their skin every 4 to 12 months. (I had no idea it happened this often.) Their eyes become blurred obscuring their vision. Within 2-3 days, the snake finds an abrasive place to rub its head until it tears open the old skin. It then pulls itself through that tight, narrow place. This explained the snakeskin under the ground level azalea branch.
The snake is driven by unhindered, instinctive prompts to shed its skin. Our instincts are often hampered to our detriment due to familial, institutional, religious, and cultural teachings. The instinctive urge to grow, to individuate—to live one’s wholeness—is thwarted by internalized guilt, shame, and fear. These are some of the abrasive emotions and undesirable body feelings we pull ourselves out from under in order to live a new life. The ego surrenders to the experience by consciously choosing to move through the feelings instead of repressing or disowning them.
Psychologically, being born again happens as we deal with our personal history, learned roles, and ego ideals. We differentiate the ego or conscious self we are from the learned patterns we’ve adopted, and the larger Self/God Within we are. We willingly align with new energies that emerge from God Within. Negative states of consciousness are replaced by energizing, life sustaining feelings and thoughts. We shed the old skin to make room for the embodying, larger Self/God Within.
Our equivalent of the snake’s eyes blurring is confusion, misunderstanding, lostness, and disconnects. These feelings alert us to see we have grown into a different body. We no longer fit with previously held beliefs, ideologies, relationships, world views, lifestyle habits, or familial ways of being. We intuitively know that some part of us will die or become ill if we do not shed the old skin. We feel the abrasive edge of the conflict between our new, more whole self and who we’ve been. The ego chooses where to align.
Snakes were once considered gods because they shed their skins and kept living. I recall Jesus saying to his disciples, “Ye shall become as gods.” We have the blessing of living more than one life while in the same (but bigger, more expansive) body. It’s our choice to grow or stay constricted. The first leads to new life; the latter to our detriment. What do you choose?
Inner Reflection and Outer Action
Where are you feeling constricted? What do you know about your personal history, emotions, and outer relationships at play? Breathe deeply and connect to the instinctive prompt to embody more of God Within. What images, ideas, or desires arise? Write these down. What do they reflect about your larger Self? Commit to moving through the tight, abrasive places to shed the old skin and live into the new.