3:4 Nicodemus said to Jesus, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.

The language of the Spirit is obscure and mysterious. Nicodemus does not understand Jesus’ cryptic statements. In spite of the fact that Nicodemus is a religious man, a Pharisee and “a leader of the Jews,” he is unable to penetrate beneath the surface to perceive the depths to which Jesus is pointing – this is a serious problem for religious leaders, not restricted to Nicodemus.

Nicodemus understands birth only in terms of “the mother’s womb”. But Jesus is calling Nicodemus to an awareness of the deeper truth of his own tradition. All human birth is both “of water and Spirit.” This truth was present in Nicodemus’ own sacred text from the beginning.

In the second account of the creation of human beings in the Book of Genesis, the writer says,

the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground.

This is the first stage of creation, the physical part, the “born of water” part to which Jesus refers. But the act is not complete. This formation shaped “from the dust of the ground” is not yet “a living being”. Something crucial is missing. So the writer of Genesis goes on to say that, after forming “man from the dust of the ground,” God

breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.

It is only then, after this second stage of creation, that

the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

This is the “born of the Spirit” dimension.

We are by our essential nature dual beings. We inhabit the physical realm of the senses; but, at the same time, we dwell in the numinous invisible intangible “Kingdom of God.” We have the capacity to perceive subtle realms that are not perceptible to the five senses by which we are accustomed to finding our way in life. While we remain deeply grounded, as we must, in this physical material realm, something inside us calls us to the invisible immaterial realms of the Spirit.

Nicodemus, for all his literalism, seems to have perceived in Jesus a profound call to open to the depths within himself for which his heart longed. The biblical view of what it means to be human holds that we are enfleshed spirit; we are God-breathed dust. When I hold this exalted vision of the human condition, I begin to see that all life is sacred. Everything points to the reality of the divine Presence at the heart of all life to which Jesus seeks to help us open.