Mysterious Encounter

Mysterious Encounter


X NICODEMUS & JESUS Once again the lectionary takes us into the Gospel of John and the mysterious encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus is only mentioned in the Gospel of John. He appears here in the third chapter, again in the seventh chapter when he warns the other members of the Sanhedrin not to judge Jesus without meeting him. And finally Nicodemus appears with Joseph of Arimathea at the end of the gospel to bury Jesus. Many Christian and some Jewish scholars believe he was the same Nicodemus Ben Gurion, a wealthy and devout First Century Jew mentioned in the Talmud. He was reputed to have been holy, because of a miraculous answer to one of his prayers as well as his being generous. According to the Talmud he also opposed the Zealot War against the Romans, and in response the rebels burned his granaries. Nicodemus may be a symbolic character from before the time when the church and the synagogue severed relations — a time early on in the life of the church when all Christians were Jewish-Christians.


X UNLESS YOU ARE BORN ANEW According to our story Nicodemus sought to meet with Jesus at night, probably to avoid being seen by the Temple authorities and their spies. Nicodemus begins his interview by acknowledging the miracles that had accompanied the ministry of Jesus. “No one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.”

Rather than responding to the flattery Jesus replied to Nicodemus with a riddle. “Unless you are born anew, you cannot see the kingdom of God.”


X BORN ANEW IN THE SPIRIT    Nicodemus didn’t quite get the riddle and responded how many of us might answer, “How can we be born anew, when we are already old?”

And Jesus replied to Nicodemus as I think he also answers us, “Do not marvel, for you must be born anew in the spirit.”

Born anew in the spirit is a challenge for all of us no matter how old we might be no matter how far we think we have traveled on the journey of faith. Spiritual renewal can be a daily task. That is why every morning even a spiritual elder like Bill Green starts his day with his three or four daily devotionals. That is why we recommend daily prayer and at least thirty minutes of silence per day in order to center ourselves daily in the divine consciousness.


X SPIRIT OF GOD IS LIKE THE WIND I think Nicodemus might have been like an engineer. He wanted something concrete, something he could see, put his hands on take apart and put back together. So Jesus gave him a metaphor. What we seek is the Spirit of God, and that is like the wind. We cannot see the wind. If we listen very closely we might hear the wind as it whispers by, we might even feel the wind on our face or tousling our hair, but we cannot get our hands on it. We cannot grab the wind and put it in a jar or a box or a basket. The wind will not answer to our command. For the Spirit blows where it wills. If we are sensitive and skillful, we might hoist a sail and catch the power of the wind. We might set up a propeller and maneuver it to allow the wind to turn the propeller creating energy.   Indeed, those who center their lives in the spirit will be energized by the power of the spirit. But none of us can take hold of the spirit or put it in our back pocket. We must serve the spirit, rather than the spirit serving us.


X PATHWAYS TO THE DIVINE   So, how do we cultivate the life of the spirit so that we catch the power of the spirit? After all the spirit blows where it wills and there is no guarantee that anyone spiritual practice will keep us centered in the divine consciousness. So, we recognize that no one form of prayer, or meditation is guaranteed to keep us in touch with the spirit. We need an array of spiritual disciplines to keep us centered in God over a life time. Again the 12 pathways to the divine we have studied in the past can be a guide to the multitude of devotional practices that can help us catch the power of the spirit in our lives.


X SACRED TEXTS  Sacred texts can be a profound and powerful discipline for catching the power of the spirit. The Common Lectionary provides a three year discipline for the reading of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Rabbi Rami in his Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent he provides a diverse collection of cross cultural texts for meditation and reflection. Also you may benefit by collecting your own sacred texts like the Book of Joe. Joe Parker kept a kind of journal in which he wrote and collected the thoughts of others. There are many, many different ways of using sacred text for spiritual centering, and if what you have been doing doesn’t seem to be working, try something else. Sometimes stepping out of our familiar routine can reawaken our spirits in a way that just slogging along doing the same old same old cannot.


X PRAYER WHEEL  Now I understand that many of the members of our faith community are not regular in practicing the spiritual disciplines. Bible Study, daily prayer, the use of daily devotionals is not common among our people. Therefore allow me to also suggest the use of the Prayer Wheel.

This Prayer Wheel was developed by a Canadian Psychiatrist, Dr. John Rositer, for the use of his patients. If a patient was willing to devote 30 minutes a day to the practice of prayer and meditation Dr. Rositer found that the patient became less anxious, more hopeful, less depressed, and more centered in their lives. While many people still need medication, the practice of prayer was very helpful in relieving many psychological not to mention spiritual symptoms.


X RITUALIZATIONS Dr. Robert Moore and professor at the Chicago Theological Seminary and the C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago describes the benefits of spiritual practice as well as physical exercise this way:

Getting up every day we need our own ritualizations to help us contain and channel our spiritual energies. Once you begin to understand what a great spiritual struggle we all have, then you will understand how important prayer is, and liturgy, and active imagination, and consecrated objects.


X REGULAR PHYSICAL EXERCISEAnother way to create a personal ritual to contain and channel spiritual energies is a regular exercise program three to five times a week. It is amazing how much craziness in a human personality can be controlled by the ritual of an exercise program.

            Think of regular exercise as part of your ritual practice, a conscious ritualization in your ongoing spiritual discipline. When you miss your exercise program, you become more compulsive. This is a rule you can follow. Take it to the bank. You will act out more destructively to the extent that you do not tend to your physical discipline.


X COMMUNAL WORSHIPAnother resource for regulating spiritual energies is a regular participation in communal worship and liturgy. Remember we are talking about marking time. It helps if you have a liturgical year to follow. Christians are not the only ones who have done that. Most people in the world before the modern era used sacred calendars to mark time and help them feel oriented in relation to a true center. They used this means to contain themselves and help themselves stay sane, to provide something predictable, a dependable structure for living.


X PRAYERThe recommendation of prayer is perhaps my most radical. People who have a regular prayer life ritual handle their compulsions and impulsivity better than those who do not. They are less fragmented than those who do not pray regularly.

            Prayer is any spiritual discipline that enables you to be connected with the basic energies of life and keeps you from an unconscious fantasy that you yourself are God.


     X SPIRITUAL GUIDE       Each one of us is different and unique. Therefore allow me to cover one more of the 12 pathways to the Divine – Spiritual Guide. Each one of us must work out the spiritual disciplines that will enable us to connect with the divine energy and regulate those energies. A Spiritual Guide, especially if we become stuck can recommend additional or different spiritual exercises that can help us become God centered. Many of us are too proud to ask for help, and maybe just the act of seeking a guide or going on a retreat may open us up to new levels of humility that will move us forward in our spiritual journey.


            Like Nicodemus, if we seek, we may find. And in the mysterious encounter we just might connect with God.


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