Thursday 27 May 2021

Enlightened Spirit

We have a bit of a tortured relationship with “experts” these days. It seems to have become quite easy to negate, and even dismiss, years of learning and experience and lose confidence in expert opinion. At least in some areas. Some people cite social media for that, some the frequency with which expert opinion may turn out to be flawed, some just want the expertise that offers confirmation of their own opinion, some perhaps just don’t want to know. There may be many reasons. Oddly, experts are divided on it.

Personally, I value expertise. I also think it’s important to be discerning about it and to consider how it’s being applied. Having access to expertise should not exempt one from doing their own thinking as well. I also think that it’s possible that all the expertise in the world may not yield an accurate prediction or opinion. And that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make use of expertise: a real expert is always learning. So should we. We should always ask questions. There’s a quote that’s often attributed to the philosopher and academic Bertrand Russell that goes something like “the whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”

I think expertise and wisdom are a good start. But that’s still not everything. There still needs to be a spirit of openness, a willingness to obtain all the expertise, employ discernment and engage practicality, remembering every journey is full of change.

There’s a story in John’s gospel of Jesus having a conversation with a man named Nicodemus. Unfortunately, I think, it begins with Nicodemus’ participation, but then becomes a lengthy statement from Jesus. An important one, for sure, but we don’t hear how Nicodemus replied or even how he left. John just has Jesus move on. I wish we knew more of Nicodemus in this moment because I think it would help us.

Nicodemus was a leader in the Jewish community, but not just a leader, a pharisee, an educated person who’s job was to keep and interpret the law. A pharisee would need to be an expert on the Torah and people would be expected to listen to him. Nicodemus, says John, comes to talk to Jesus, even acknowledging him as a teacher come from God.

As much as we often have a negative impression of pharisees from the stories of Jesus’ interaction with them, they feared the challenge Jesus presented to their place in society, their power and influence. Because he did. But that challenge wasn’t based on their knowledge of the words, but in the spirit in which they lived them. Or, rather, didn’t.

And that’s what Jesus talks to Nicodemus about. Being “born again” is about embracing the spirit and connecting with the divine nature within us and within creation, that energy that moves, like the wind, in, around and through us. That duality of flesh and spirit is in us and it’s what Jesus challenges Nicodemus with. He’s already taken the first step out of the safety of what he knows to learn more. The spirit is also the energy that moves us to action, to live out from each heart the love that makes the words, the knowledge and the wisdom come alive.

Nicodemus, says John, comes to see Jesus at night. We’ve tended to assume that’s because he didn’t want to be seen. But what if it’s simply a metaphor. What if he arrived in the shadows and left enlightened in spirit?