I recently sat down with Ian Morgan Cron’s memoir, Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me. For those who aren’t familiar with Ian Morgan Cron, he is an Episcopal priest with a gift for writing, and his story is a powerful testimony to the transformative power of grace. He spent most of his childhood dodging his alcoholic father, and then turned into an alcoholic himself.
Throughout his book, Ian revisits some of the most troubling moments of his life, but he also highlights several times when he realized all was not lost. One of these moments came when Ian sat down with Dan, a psychologist recommended to him by his doctor. At the time Ian wasn’t ready to confess he drank too much, but he was able to admit, without reservation, that he was struggling with anxiety, bouts of anger and on occasion, terrifying dreams.
Initially, Ian came to Dan hoping to make sense of things, but Dan simply asked him if he would talk a little bit about his family. For two hours, Ian shared his story, something he had done with no one else. Doors were unlocked, and wounds were explored. When he finished, they just sat there in silence, until Dan asked, “Do you have any questions for me before you go, Ian?” Ian responded, “What’s happening to me?” Dan looked past him for a few seconds, and then said, “You’re waking up.”
Waking up? What does that even mean? And am I asleep, or am I awake? And assuming it is better to be awake, what does it look like to be “fully” awake?
Though I’m fairly sure Nicodemus wasn’t an alcoholic, I can’t help but wonder if he came to Jesus under the guise of night harboring all kinds of questions and concerns and was desperate for some answers, much like Ian was the day he sat down with Dan.
Addressing Jesus, Nicodemus says, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” In reply, Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3)
Nicodemus had yet to ask a question, but Jesus, a master at reading the subtext of a situation, cuts right to the chase and tells Nicodemus he must be “born again.” It’s a strange thing to say, but what’s most interesting to me is that Jesus suggests being “born again” as the means to an end, not the end itself. The hope, or telos, is to “see the kingdom of God.” In other words, being “born again” is the process we must go through in order to more clearly and fully see God’s kingdom, and more than anything else, Jesus is inviting Nicodemus to see the world anew, to experience a kind of transformation that is namely about clarity of vision—one might even say the evolution of consciousness. And so it seems that “waking up” is just another way of saying “born again.”
I’d like to think we’re all awake, but it’s safe to assume that some of us are half-asleep, or completely conked out. In a postmodern world, where pluralism is nearly impossible to escape, clarity is hard to come by; therefore, more and more people are suffering from a sort of amnesia, lost in a bunch of false narratives and operating under so many illusions that they don’t even know who they are anymore. For this reason, I wonder how many of us are crying out, “Lord, Lord,” and performing many dutiful and faithful acts in God’s name, yet we don’t even know what it’s like to live in Love.
According to Richard Rohr, in Falling Upward and Immortal Diamond, life is made up of two halves. In the first half, we construct a container, which he also describes as the False Self or ego. In the second half of life, however, we become more concerned with the contents. We discover our True Self, and as a result, we no longer need the False Self. Sounds easy enough, except that the ego doesn’t want to die, and most people aren’t ready or willing to kill it off. But if we don’t muster the courage to cast the ego aside, we run the risk of living our whole lives asleep, forever coming to Jesus in the night even though we are free to live and have our being in the light.
I think Rohr offers an interesting perspective for those of us who grew up in a tradition that equates repentance with salvation, because when you equate the two, what is a life long process of growing into the likeness of Christ becomes distilled into a moment of confession and proclamation. Unfortunately, this stilted view of salvation doesn’t make room for people who view the life of faith as a journey, a journey where faithfulness is measured by one’s ability to more fully embrace their True Self, and where arriving somewhere is less important than becoming like Jesus Christ.
Should we choose the path of further conversion, we will undoubtedly encounter pain (much like death) as the Spirit leads us to loosen our grip on many, if not all, of those ideas we hold most dear—ideas about how the world works, ideas about ourselves, ideas about others, and yes, even ideas about G-d. But if we are willing to walk into the noise and do the work of unpacking and exploring what we have come to accept as true and real (which is often little more than a mental construct), we may discover a blissful silence, a space beyond ideas—and in doing so, encounter Mystery in ways we never have before. It is there, and paradoxically it is here, that we uncover our True Self and experience the fullness of Love.
It’s like being born again. To some, it’s like waking up. Whatever you want to call it, it changes everything. Where there used to be scarcity, there is plenty. Where there used to be despair, there is hope. Where there used to be loss, there is gain. And everywhere there is Love.
Through the process, we may discover that the present moment is our greatest gift, and regardless of where we end up in the future, new life is ever before us. Whether we recognize it or not, grace is inviting us to reach out and grab it, to see the world and everything in it as if we’ve never seen it before. Such is eternal life. To stay on the surface is to miss it, because the life of faith is primarily an invitation to dig deep and search hard, to ask big questions and trust God is with us. At times things may get confusing, and there may be days when we’re racked with doubt, anxiety, and despair. But we must not worry…we’re only waking up.
Though salvation comes to each of us uniquely, it offers all of us an invitation to see the world as God sees it, and not only to see the world anew but to also participate with God in realizing, and making tangible, the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus encouraged Nicodemus to kill and bury his ego in order that he might see the world as a child. We are encouraged to do the same. Knowing who we are is important, but the kind of transformation Jesus wants for us comes when we know, in the deepest parts of our being, whose we are.
Forget about setting an alarm. The alarm has sounded, and it’s time to wake up!