TITLE: Born of God
By Helga Doermer
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In our women’s experience, we may conceive of womb only as bearing life. Yet as symbol it is more than the fertile ground of conception wherein new being is cradled and fed until it is ready to be birthed out. It is a place that holds mystery and transformation. I can remember my sense of amazement at first knowing that my body held the embryo of a being. I marveled at the mystery of life bearing life. I remember those first awesome stirrings of life – the faint evanescent flutter, now here, now gone so quickly I wondered if it was real or only my maternal imagination. I remember the hope and apprehension entwined as the unseen unfolded with burgeoning life within my body. I remember those half conscious moments of gently stroking my swelling belly, cognizant of the deep maternal bonding to the one I carried within. I remember the waiting, willing the conceptions of love to be born in perfection – symbol of our union, man and woman. I remember the growing anticipation, trepidation, as my time drew near. And my life was forever changed.
Is there a human love greater than that of a woman for the life she willingly conceives within her own body? Is there a more intimate connection with another human being than that which we encompass within ourselves – protecting and nourishing the fragile fetus until it is strong enough to be born into another world? Can we conceptualize this intimate, nourishing, protective womb of love as a possible metaphor for the eternal, inclusive, expansive love of God? Can we find a more powerful human metaphor for the intimacy of God’s love toward the inhabitants of the earth?
I responded with a sense of amazement to an introduction through scriptural stories to God portrayed as conceiving humanity and birthing the world from God’s womb. Moses appears to be referring to God’s conception and birthing of the Hebrew people as he complains to God: “Did I conceive all these people? Did I give birth to them that you should say to me, ‘Carry them is your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child. …?’” (Num. 11:12 NRSV)
The image of the Hebrew people as born of God gains strength in Deuteronomy 32:18. In this passage, Moses reprimands a refractory people: “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.” Clearly he addresses them as people to whom God gave birth.
The book of Job portrays a picture of God birthing a people, but more than that, also birthing the world: “Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘. . . who shut in the sea with doors, when it burst out from the womb? . . . who has begotten the drops of dew? From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven?’” (Job 38:1, 8, 28-29).
The image of a people and a world birthed form God’s womb draws me to the story of the encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus (John 3:1-12). I wonder if Nicodemus, like us, suffered from an inability to imagine being born of God. You may have wondered at his puzzled response when Jesus said to him: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (vs.5). Yet, Nicodemus must have been a brilliant and learned man. I can relate to his response, wondering how one can be born again. When I’ve attempted to understand the heart of the meaning of being born again, I’ve been confronted with a fragmented metaphor. Like Nicodemus, we’ve experienced human birth. This is a birth in which we know ourselves to have been born of the womb of someone into another life. It really isn’t surprising that he wondered how another birth could take place. What or whom are we born of? From what womb does the second birth take place?
Last winter, I read the story of Jesus and Nicodemus again. I stayed with Jesus’ words for a while: “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” (vs. 5-8)
As I entered into the mystery of Jesus’ words, I began to play with them. The phrase “born of water and Spirit” particularly intrigued me. As if in a dream, two parallel portrayals of water and spirit arose. We truly do encounter two births, both of water and of spirit/Spirit. Our first birth, which we know of but cannot remember, is in the rush of amniotic fluid as we leave our mothers’ bodies and encounter the world. Of vital importance to our survival is drawing in the breath of life (spirit). The second birth is encountered by conscious and deliberate choice. We step into/through the baptismal waters, an image of being born again, and we breathe in the Breath of Life (Spirit).
Another fragment of the metaphor of the second birth, Spiritual birth, took shape when I stumbled across biblical images of the womb of God. It was as if encountering the missing piece of a puzzle. Suddenly, being “born of God”, a statement used freely by the writer of 1 John, became a more comprehensive metaphor grounded in the womb of God (see John 3:9, 4:7, 5:4,18).
Nicodemus must have been aware of entering into Mystery when he asked Jesus how one can be born again. His question arose out of his human experience. If in our first birth we are born from a physical womb, the metaphor of a Spiritual womb- the womb of God- helps us to comprehend our spiritual birth.
I cannot remember the experience of becoming in my mother’s womb. I cannot remember the mysterious process of development, of being transformed from a tiny cell to a fully formed being. Yet, I wonder if it was not the most secure experience of my human history. If I close my eyes and imagine being cradled in the womb of God and being birthed out of Spirit, I find a comprehensive frame of reference for being “born of God” into salvation. References to the transformative experience of life in the Spirit, finds a parallel in the mystery of the new creation of human life. The unfathomable love of God finds itself reflected in the depths of a mother’s love. Imagine being conceived in and born out of the unfathomable love of God’s womb – intimate, nourishing, protective, inclusive, expansive, and eternal love.
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