Why at night? Why did he come at night instead of during the daylight hours?
“Because he was a secret disciple of Jesus,” I was told when I asked just this question after reading the story for the first time years ago.
It’s more than that, however. Much more than that.
Mark Nepo, in The Book of Awakening nails it, when he observes, “…we each carry a Jesus and a Nicodemus within us; that is, we each have a divine inner voice that opens us to truth and a mediating social voice that is reluctant to show its truth to others.”
Whoa! Wow, Nepo. Ponder his words, my friend. They will rattle your soul, to say the least.
So true, they are, as well.
Why is it that many of you – I know you’re out there because I was one of you at one time and for a long time – but why is it that many of you read what I write, ponder the questions I raise, and, often, perhaps not always, but very often find yourself actually agreeing with many of the things I write? There is a sound of truth to much of what you read, and so you keep coming back, albeit you come in the shadows, as it were. You read it on FaceBook or via BeliefNet or my own blog page but you never comment…no…no, you wouldn’t risk someone seeing you comment.
This is the telling part, isn’t it, my friend…you know, as I know, if you were to ever come out of the dark, out of the secret shadows where you question things just as I do…where you engage in conversations with your inner divine voice…conversations which you know, if you were ever to admit publicly…if you were to ever voice in the light of day the questions you ask in the dark night of your own soul…that, if you ever acknowledged publicly the spiritual doubts you’ve had, even the revulsion you feel for all that goes on in the name of religion…that you’re expected to be a part of but you almost always hate…you know, as I know, if you ever came out of the shadows with admissions like these, you are afraid you’d be ridiculed, reviled, rejected, and, maybe even jobless — if you are, like I once was, a minister.
What do you do?
You hide. You live a double life. In the light of day, you play by the rules. You say all the right stuff. You do your religious duties. You fulfill your spiritual obligations. You toe the line. You live by the beat of everyone else’s drum.
Meanwhile, you bury your real self, your inner self, the real you is kept in the closet. Which explains, does it not, why some Christians are so angry that gays and lesbians have come out of their closets of secrecy? It’s not that these Christians know why they’re so angry. But I can tell you why. They’re secretly jealous they don’t have the courage to do the same. To come out of their own closets of secrecy and be themselves.
So, you survive in the daylight by pretending to believe things you know aren’t so. You even say or maybe you even preach things you no longer believe. Inside, you feel divided…and, how could you not?…Two-faced, which of course you are…and, disconnected even with yourself.
Because you are. Isn’t this the same thing the writer of James was talking about when he referred to the “double-minded person” in James 1:8?
Wasn’t James really just describing you?
Of course, he was.
And, my friend, you are mistaken if you think I’m judging you. I write these thing because I know you. For, I, too, lived in the shadows for decades. Sure, like you, I loved Jesus passionately. But I had very serious questions about things, too. Things the church believed I knew were not so. Things the church was doing I knew were not right. But I went along to get along. I was afraid. Afraid of losing my job…of losing friends…of being rejected.
The day came, however, when “the pain of remaining the same was greater than the fear of changing.”
It’ll happen to you, too, I think. I cannot say for certain. But the fact that you’re still reading this must mean something is rattling in your own soul, too.
Don’t you find it strange that we never really know what happened to Nicodemus? Of course, there’s the minor reference to him at the crucifixion, helping to prepare the body of Jesus for burial (John 19:38-42). But, even there, you don’t get the feeling he’s emerged…that he’s come clean with himself, much less anyone else.
But, maybe…just maybe…he’s making progress. Stepping out of the shadows. Maybe this is John’s way of saying he was beginning to make peace with what psychologist D. W. Winnecott calls the “True Self” and the “False Self,” the innermost Nicodemus in communion and candid conversation with Jesus, and the public Nicodemus, full of phoniness pretending to be and to believe what everyone else pretends to believe, too.
“How do I set my inner Nicodemus free?” you ask. “How do I garner the courage to truly be who I am?”
Those are big questions, my friend. But here are three things you can begin doing now to initiate the “becoming” within yourself…the journey toward authenticity…the “True Self”…”higher self…the real you, fully human, fully divine, complete, whole and at peace.
1. Do not judge yourself, my friend. That’s the first thing. Right now, you’re reading this, thinking about how true these words are to your own experience but, inside, you’re spitting with disgust all over your soul. Stop it. Stop it now. Love and forgive yourself instead. Rejoice that you see the split. That’s the beginning of the shift. More and more, if you’ll keep moving in this direction, you will bring your outer self in line with your inner, divine self.
2. Start stepping slowly out of the shadows, my friend. Here’s what you’ll discover. Rather than all of the fearful things happening you have imagined happening, you’ll discover a feeling of liberation coming over you like you’ve never felt before and a freedom from the anxiety with which you’ve lived of being rejected. You’ll also experience little rejection. Oh, maybe a little. See below. But not nearly as much as you’ve imagined.
3. I love the advice Mark Nepo gives, too. This will be the third suggestion: “Comfort the Nicodemus in you that it is safe to honor what it knows in the light of day.” In other words, the illusion is fear and all its imaginary demons. If you will begin to acknowledge in the light the stuff you think about in the dark…the miracle is, most people will embrace you.
Because they’re looking for a way to be more authentic, too. Salvation is not becoming divine. You are that already. Salvation is the process of becoming more human. More authentically you.
“But what about those I know who’ll reject me?” you say.
OK, some will.
I know. Once, for example, I got fired from a consulting job by a pastor and right smack in the middle of the consultation. What happened is that a church member read an article I wrote years ago for the Huffington Post where I suggested there may be more ways to God than just through the Christian way. She was livid and complained to the pastor and demanded he must do something.
He fired me.
To this day, I know he regrets it.
You say, “How do you know?” Because the last thing he said to me was, “Steve, I am so sorry it had to end this way. But I promise to be in touch very soon because I want to meet you somewhere and hear your story…to know more about why you’ve come to the place you’ve come in your own spiritual journey.”
That was the last I ever heard from him. When, a year or so later, I wrote to tell him I’d love to meet with him, he wrote back, and said, “Yes, I want so much to do that. I’ll be in touch very soon.”
To date, now many years later, he has yet to contact me.
My own suspicion is, one day, when he’s retired, I’ll hear from him. And, I will be glad. Actually, I miss him and his friendship. So, I know he violated his own conscience by firing me. I know his actions were initiated publicly to protect his own image. He was afraid of what others would think of him if he did not “stand for the truth,” as I recall he put it. In the quiet shadows of his own heart, however, I know he lives in brokenness, not only because he betrayed me – which, of course, he had – but, worse, he betrayed himself.
I hope one day he steps out of his own shadows and into the sunlight of freedom. I know this much. To every soul who does, a joy…a fullness…a completeness will come over them, the likes of which make any words you use diminish it..
So I’ll just ask you this instead, my friend: What could be more important to you than living an authentic life? Today? Right now?
Or, to put it in the words of the Sufi poet, Rumi: “Why would you remain in prison, when the door is so wide open?”