Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus[a] by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born anew.”[b4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c] 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You[d] must be born anew.’[e] 8 The wind[f] blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
John 3:1-8, NRSV
I have a two-year-old son who is new to the ways of the world. He is a voracious eater and a passionate lover of “boo-booberries,” “stwawberries,” and “’nanas”. When he sits down to eat and we may be busy in the kitchen, he’ll demand, “Mommy, eat! Daddy, eat!” And when we sit down, he’ll hand us some of his treasured fruit. Much to the chagrin of my partner, I joked one day, “Son, don’t you know that if you give us some, it means less for yourself?” He had no idea what I meant, but unconcerned with the economy of selfishness, continued to place a blueberry in front of me.
During the Lenten season, we begin with a reminder that we are but ash. It is a somber reminder of our finitude in the midst of all our striving as though our death will never come. Those of us who grew up in a conservative Evangelical context remember the altar calls to be “born again,” the notion of “dying to ourselves” or “taking up our cross daily.” To be born again required death, and it was death to all that our church culture decided was unholy.
But as I’ve walked a path of deconstructing my faith for the last decade, I’ve come to realize that deconstruction has been a process of dying. It has been a process of disabusing myself of the notion that my faith tradition is somehow the perfect understanding of God. It has been a process of seeing and acknowledging the systemic ugliness in the church and naming it for what it is. It is the realization that those who claim exclusive ownership of Jesus are prone to delusion, self-justification, and political manipulation despite claims about the indwelling the Holy Spirit. The death of our old faith is also the death Jesus was calling Nicodemus to.
If Lent ended with just ashes and death, we would have no hope. If a spiritual journey ends with deconstruction, we hold nothing but the dust of our former selves. But thanks be to God, the end of the Easter season culminates in the Resurrection. Our deconstruction leads us to the possibilities of a new life, to be “born anew.” When we have given ourselves the permission and time to grieve the death of relationships, worldviews, and certainty, those ashes become the soil from which we are reborn. That which is reborn is not beholden to the dead. Like my son who is not encumbered by the restrictions of self-preservation, our table becomes large, generous, and welcoming. Jesus’ obsession with those on the fringes, those who are marginalized by institutional religion begins to make sense.
Reconstruction may look differently for everyone, but it is always a process. A wise New Testament professor once told me, “You have been living these patterns for 20 some years. What makes you think those will disappear overnight?” It’s taken me 10 years to come to a place where I could even consider what it looked like to rebuild a sense of spirituality. Perhaps in the next 20 years, something that better resembles Jesus’ radical individual and systemic justice and reconciliation will grow.
Where are you on this journey or death and resurrection? Wherever you are, be kind to yourself, know you are never alone, and remember that is an ongoing process that is seldom finished.
Author Bio: The author is an Asian American academic clinical psychologist.