The late Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche community. wrote prolifically about human freedom and spirituality. Because he was a Roman Catholic and his heart was drenched in empathy and tenderness for the vulnerable, many life issues activists wanted him to align himself with their causes, explicitly. Vanier repeatedly resisted, much to the frustration of these activists.
A learned man of the law once visited Jesus in the middle of the night. He had many questions that were perhaps considered scandalous for a man of his position. He wanted to figure Jesus out. The man wanted to outfit Jesus with some kind of label so he could feel more comfortable. He felt threatened that such an “awakened” charismatic person appeared to be indifferent to the rigorousness required for righteousness.
But the Holy Spirit was at work in the man’s heart, making new things grow. Hence, the hour he chose for a visit.
Instead of insisting that the man simply come around to believing in him, Jesus told him about how flesh is born of flesh and spirit is born of spirit.
When Jesus mentioned the need to be born again in order to see things aright, the man answered in the way many of us would: “How is one born again? Do I need to re-enter into my mother’s womb to be born again?” He was not trying to be rude or obtuse; his eyes were simply not yet opened.
Jesus elaborates, thankfully for us. Those who live in the spirit are as mysterious as the wind; we do not see where it comes from or where it is going, Jesus says.
Do we know any people of the spirit? No doubt they are hard to come by. Jean Vanier was one of them. They often evade natural law in the way they live their lives. They can’t be hemmed in or pinned down, much to the chagrin of many. They have more time for charity, compassion, and prayer than we deem possible. They are somehow always peaceful and yet intensely intentional.
We think it trite when Jesus tells us if we have faith, we can move mountains.
More impressive than moving mountains, though, is moving human hearts. This is a feat that only faith can do. And faith is not born of the flesh, but of the Spirit.
So to pose the question that was asked covertly in the middle of the night to our Lord: “How do we come to be born of the Spirit?” This is the question upon which everything hinges. The desire must come first. But to pray for the desire is a dangerous enterprise. To say: “Lord, make us a people who hunger for you!” is a call which is always answered.
When we pray like this, we make ourselves a divine target for opportunities to increase in love and hunger and desire. We make ourselves a lightning rod for a world in need of God. God delights to share his great hunger for souls with us. When there are willing co-lovers, he will stretch out our hearts for mission by any means necessary. Like the seed that must die to give life, so must our lives be. But, it is a delight and a wonder to be a conduit of love; an ambassador of beauty.
A person of the spirit is more Person than we think is possible. They feel more deeply, they profess fidelity more readily and wholeheartedly, they set their hands to the plow and do not look back because they are impelled forward by the movement of the Spirit at their backs.