Shaking. That’s mostly what I remember. There was puking too, and at some point I remember yelling “will somebody turn off that f#$%ing Bon Iver?!” (My thoughtfully crafted birth playlist.) But mostly I remember the uncontrollable trembling evoked by the pain, shock and fear that surrounded the delivery of my first child. The suffering quickly turned into quiet joy when we met Ryder. But then the terror set in again. The anxiety. The responsibility. The fact that if we didn’t make a solid parental effort, this beautiful baby boy could turn into the world’s biggest asshole…and still more ominous, the fact that even if we did use all our strength and faculties, he still could turn into a giant asshole. The joy and suffering were, and still are, a woven cord that lies piled about our feet like a soft shag rug that could trip us or give us immeasurable warmth at any given moment.
When Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be “born again,” the metaphor is not just flippant or sentimental. Rebirth, much like the first birth, is messy… it’s not the clean pink infant in soft white muslin sheets posted on social media. It’s dirty, bloody, and dangerous. When taking up your cross, suffering and peril are a guaranteed part of the delivery. Lifting your eyes to the snake in the desert will heal you, but it also gently promises that you will be broken for the sake of others.
Rebirth means that we are not just new, like a tablecloth bleached clean, but like the water becoming the wine… or the pitcher…or lilacs. A completely new chemical makeup; the way a lung transplant gives life with a foreign DNA. And in that same way our new lungs will fight with our existence in the world. There is this myth that the Holy Spirit will make life smooth and simple, when it is in fact a new pair of spectacles that alerts us to the serpents that were there all along. Much like becoming a new parent driving home from the hospital, the horror that always surrounded you suddenly becomes increasingly obvious and transparent.
But, thankfully, rebirth also yields a peace and a joy that cannot exist without it. It’s not just the messy result of random intimacy, but it’s the unfolding of an ancient stratagem…a rescue plan laid out before the need for a rescue existed. The same icy winds that whipped across our lives before we were made new, blow over us now. The only change is how we’ve set our sails, the way in which we position our bodies, our hearts, and our minds amidst the breeze; our faces turned eagerly towards the warmth of the Son.