Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus 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." Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." 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?" Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' The wind 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." Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.
Brazen Serpent, Van Dyck, 1618-20, detail
If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. -John 3:1-17
About This Week's Meditation Prompts
Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night, perhaps so that he won't be seen by his highly critical Pharisee brothers, but perhaps also in a state of intellectual or emotional obscureness. Cautious, concrete, literal-minded, entrenched in his beliefs and practices, Nicodemus is genuinely curious and humble in light of Jesus' signs. Despite the frustrating conversation in today's Gospel, Nicodemus later stands up for Jesus against the Pharisees (7:50-52), and, with Joseph of Arimathea, receives and buries the body of Jesus after the crucifixion.
I love Nicodemus. I, too, come to Jesus by night; intrigued, yet weighted with lots of “buts,” “how cans,” “what ifs.” And I, too, would have preferred concrete answers to questions regarding my life's directions rather than “let go and sail away with the Spirit.”
Today's meditations parallel Nicodemus' coming to Jesus in mystical awareness. From certitude he must become a child again (meditation one). In darkness he finds light (meditation two). He is sent out, sailing on the Spirit (meditation three).
Good sailing, Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) we do not know
What made [Nicodemus] cling to human religious ways and theological certitudes devoid of the wind, of the breath, of the Spirit, that made him blind to the new ways of God? ...
In the face of the certitudes, the “we know” of Nicodemus, Jesus proposes another way: they way of “not knowing,” of being born from “above.” That means becoming like a child again, a child of God, a new person, listening to the Spirit of God and letting ourselves be guided by the Spirit.
… We do not know where she is leading us.
-Jean Vanier Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John
To Live With the Spirit
To live with the Spirit of God is to be a listener. It is to keep the vigil of mystery, earthless and still. One leans to catch the stirring of the Spirit, strange as the wind's will.
The soul that walks where the wind of the Spirit blows turns like a wandering weather-vane toward love. It may lament like Job or Jeremiah, echo the wounded hart, the mateless dove. It may rejoice in spaciousness of meadow that emulates the freedom of the sky. Always it walks in waylessness, unknowing; it has cast down forever from its hand the compass of the whither and the why.
To live with the Spirit of God is to be a lover. It is becoming love, and like to Him toward Whom we strain with metaphors of creatures: fire-sweep and water-rush and the wind's whim. The soul is all activity, all silence; and though it surges Godward to its goal, it holds, as moving earth holds sleeping noonday, the peace that is the listening of the soul.
-Jessica Powers 1905-1988 Selected Poetry of Jessica Powers ed. Regina Siegfried and Robert Morneau
Nicodemus, Unknown Flemish Master
Nicodemus, Giovanni Angelo Del Maino, c.1518
Meditation Two (insight) by night
Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, came blinking and timid into the light, and found that what had been light for him before must now be considered darkness.
-Bruno Barnhart The Good Wine: Reading John from the Center
...Wise Nicodemus saw such light As made him know his God by night. Most blest believer he! Who in that land of darkness and blinde eyes Thy long expected healing wings could see, When thou didst rise, And what can never more be done, Did at mid-night speak with the Sun!
-Henry Vaughan 1621-95 The Night (excerpt)
Meditation Three (integration) spread sail with the wind
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
-John 3:8 (KJV)
Don't wait till you know the source of the wind before you let it refresh you, or its destination before you spread sail to it. It offers what you need; trust yourself to it.
-William Temple 1881-1944 Readings in John's Gospel
The winds of grace are blowing, but it is you who must raise your sails.
-Rabindranath Tagore 1861-1941
The Last Word
When we realize that we do not have to be clever, powerful or successful in order to be loved, then we can live in truth, come to the light and be led by the Spirit of God.
-Jean Vanier Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John
John, Mary, Nicodemus, Descent From the Cross, Coecke Van Aelst, c.1535, detail
Nicodemus by night In his encounters with people, Jesus finds the weak spot as the locus of transformation. For Paul it is the mysterious “thorn” in his side. Paul begs God to remove it, but hears instead, “my grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in (your) weakness.” For Peter, it is his three-fold denial. After the Resurrection, Jesus will ask three times, “Do you love me?”
For Nicodemus, it is his knowledge. “How can?” “But?” Jesus meets the pharisee's literal-mindedness with a frustratingly wild metaphor. “The wind blows where it wills, you hear the sound of it but you do not know from where it comes or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Jesus confronts Nicodemus' knowing with the essential necessity of unknowing. God can be loved, says the author of the Cloud of Unknowing, but not thought. By love God “can be grasped and held but by thought neither grasped or held.”
I love Nicodemus, I suppose, because my own intellectual struggles eventually exhausted themselves into a dark love of unknowing.
Moses enters the cloud when the human spirit, overtaken by the immensity of the divine light, becomes wholly passive in a profound forgetfulness of self...One and the same cloud has overshadowed it by its brightness and enlightened it by its darkness that is, filled it with light to see divine things and brought the human into the shade. -Richard of St. Victor
Nay, but an absurd thing had lately been happening to General Loewenhielm: he would find himself worrying about his immortal soul. Did he have any reason for doing so? He was a moral person, loyal to his king, his wife and his friends, an example to everybody. But there were moments when it seemed to him that the world was not a moral, but a mystic, concern. He looked into the mirror, examined the row of decorations on his breast and sighed to himself: "Vanity, vanity, all is vanity!"
-Isak Dinesen 1885-1962 Babette's Feast
The Night - verses 7-8-9 Henry Vaughan
Were all my loud, evil days Calm and unhaunted as is thy dark Tent, Whose peace but by some Angel's wing or voice Is seldom rent; Then I in Heaven all the long year Would keep, and never wander here.
But living where the sun Doth all things wake, and where all mix and tire Themselves and others, I consent and run To every mire, And by this world's ill-guiding light, Err more than I can do by night.
There is in God (some say) A deep, but dazzling darkness; as men here Say it is late and dusky, because they See not all clear; O for that night! where I in him Might live invisible and dim.
Cast away your existence entirely, for it is nothing but weeds and refuse. Go, clear out your heart's chamber; arrange it as the abiding-place of the Beloved. When you go forth, He will come in, and to you, with self discarded, He will unveil His beauty.
Mahmud Shabistari 1250?-1340 trans. Florence Lederer