“No one can see/understand the kingdom of God without being born again.”
“No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.”
My readings into Aramaic offer a new translation/interpretation of this popular Gospel text from John 3 that can simply be a reference to the spiritual practice of meditation. Neil Douglas-Klotz says that the Aramaic version of the word for “born again” uses the same form that refers to being born from the beginning (and that refers to way back to the beginning, as in returning to the way we were created originally, in the image of God – complete, whole, good). The word for “water” uses the same form as the Hebrew in Genesis 1:2, which also means the flowing, chaotic darkness. And the Aramaic word for “spirit” can also mean “breath” (just like Greek and Hebrew). This parallels the creation story when the “spirit/breath of God moved upon the face of the waters.”
If you noticed, the spirit referred to in the text is not attached to the word “Holy.” This is an assumption made by clerics and theologians who tend to be attached to fourth century theologies. Translators even capitalize the word “spirit” to make sure you don’t think any different. What if John really meant “breath” instead of the third person of the Trinity? That would mess up a lot of baptismal interpretations so commonly applied here.
Klotz suggests that Jesus was telling Nicodemus that he needed to “recreate the creation story within himself by returning to the primordial darkness from which the light first arose, using his own spirit-breath as a vehicle.”
In other words, to enter a place of harmony and unity within yourself (the kingdom of heaven), you need to establish a practice of meditation, learning to follow the breath into your inner self. In meditation, you seek the Divine Unknown within you who reveals the truth (which in Aramaic means “right or harmonious direction; that which liberates and opens possibilities, or is strong and vigorous”).
Klotz says, “To be reborn from the breath by following the sensation of it inside, into the seeming darkness and out again, is the foundation of many Western breathing therapies today. One steps off into the unknown, into what seems like the dark and foreboding place of one’s inner emotional life. With perseverance, one comes through to a new state of being.”1
Wouldn’t it be a disappointment for many if Jesus was simply trying to teach Nicodemus the practice of meditation? Nicodemus was a teacher of Israel and he didn’t know the importance of going away (like Jesus often did) to enter into the primordial darkness in his own heart and enter into the presence of God, to unify the brokenness within.
When you have found harmony, peace, unity with the One who made you in God’s image through meditation, the kingdom of heaven is within you. When the kingdom is within you, you can offer its peace and joy to those in the world around you. When that happens you can be a teacher of Israel (‘Israel’ means “one who struggles with God”) who offers them the truth – direction towards unity.
Some will dismiss an interpretation like this as being New Age. But meditation isn’t something new. It’s much older than first century Aramaic. Meditation goes further back than Isaac meditating in the field as Rebekah arrived to be his bride (Gen. 24:63). And to David many years after that, “When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches” (Psalm 63:6).
Yet it’s too easy to keep promoting that baptism in physical water and the third Person of the Trinity is what opens the gates to the kingdom of heaven – which stereotypically is a reference to life after you’re dead…a concept foreign to Jesus’s teachings. Jesus taught that the kingdom is at hand – not after death.
Unless you set aside time to enter the primordial darkness through meditation, following the Breath inward to embrace the Unknown, you cannot enter a state of inner peace and unity.
So, which interpretation is closer to truth for you? Which one liberates you and opens possibilities to new life?
1Neil Douglas-Klotz, The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the Spiritual Message of the Aramaic Jesus, (Quest Books: Wheaton, IL, 1999) 37-38, 51