February 20 – Nicodemus and the Truth – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
“How can one be born again?” Nicodemus to Jesus
I often think Nicodemus, the one Pharisee who secretly believed in Jesus and who would meet with him anonymously at night to have deep spiritual conversations, but who would never acknowledge his questions of spirit or his association with Jesus in the light of day. Of course, this did nothing to the essence of Jesus, but traumatically thwarted and plagued Nicodemus for the rest of his days.
This story shows the quiet pain that comes from not honouring what we know to be true, even if all we know to be true are the questions we are asking. It is even more useful to realize that we each carry a Jesus and a Nicodemus within each of us, that is, we each have a divine inner voice that opens us to the truth and a mediating social voice that is reluctant to show our truth to others.
The famous British child psychologist D.W. Winnicott called these aspects of personality our True and False Self. It is the True Self that lets us know what is authentic and what has become artificial, while the False Self is a diplomat of distrust, enforcing a lifestyle of guardedness, secrecy and complaint.
In everyday terms, this means that each time we experience a change in reality as we know it, we must choose whether to declare or hide what we know to be true. At such moments we either need to bring the way we have been living into accord with that shift of reality, or we need to resist the change. Thus, in daily ways, whether we live in our True or False Self depends on our willingness to stay real. And so, over time staying real becomes the work of keeping our actions in the world connected to the truth of our inner being, allowing our True Self to see the light of day.
Very often, we continue, out of habit or fear, to behave in old ways, even though we know that the way of things has changed. Time and again, I have found myself at this crucial juncture: having to admit that what was essential is no longer essential and then needing to summon the courage to make the act of living essential again.
I know that every time I hear or see the truth but hold to the old way – of being or thinking or relating – I am giving my life over to the Nicodemus in me. And in so doing, I embark on a divided life, in which I listen to the divine inner voice secretly at night, but deny it day after day.
But this moment of inner embarrassment, when we catch ourselves in the act of split living, is also the recurring chance for us to honour once again what we know to be true. For anyone, no matter how wounded or distressed, can in a moment of truth let the God within show itself out here in the world. However small or fleeing, this one repeatable act can restore our common and vital sense of being alive.