In John Chapter 3, Jesus is instructing Nicodemus how to inherit eternal life, and his counsel is to be born again. Nicodemus’s mind immediately jumps to, “So, like I’ve got to enter my mother’s womb a second time or something?” and Jesus is like, “No, buddy, that’s like way too literal.”
Symbolic rebirth is a common feature within stories about redemption or conversion. Often this transformation is more symbolic, the way Christ meant in his first instruction. But stories are allowed to apply this imagery a little more candidly, sometimes personifying the experience with literal transformation or resurrection. James Cameron’s epic film, Avatar, for example, plays with this motif by featuring a character who literally takes on a new body, a transformation that is linked to his own budding spiritual awakening.
The story famously follows Jake Sully, an ex-soldier assigned to force a tribe of aliens off their homeland so his military can extract its natural resources. All is good and fine until the world he is tasked with disrupting enraptures him, capturing his imagination and changing his heart. At the core of this machine vs nature conflict is a battle between the creations of man and the creations of God, and how the former tries to supplant the other. It’s a timeless conflict that speaks to our understanding of the divine. After all, machinery was created by man to exert dominion over the creations of God while spirituality, like nature itself, is eternal and points the eye toward the ultimate creator.
Jake inherits the secular mindset of the world he is from. His is a world that does not have the eyes to see beauty. But his time with the Na’Vi has him set aside the ways of his home world. When Jake inhabits his Avatar body, he’s exposed to not only the majesty of the natural world, not only the community of love within the tribe, but the eyes to see a world that is spiritual. As Dr. Grace says to the megalomaniacal Quaritch midway through the film, “The wealth of this world isn’t in the ground – it’s all around us. The Na’Vi know that, and they’re fighting to defend it.”
The spiritual world offers little in the way of temporal worth. Turning your heart to Christ, or your chosen deity, asks the believer to sacrifice their own agendas and ambitions in the name of something that isn’t easily described or seen with physical sense. Jake eventually decides to embrace the world of Pandora because it offers him something that the temporal world never could. It’s fitting, then, that Jake’s conversion incorporates religious imagery. Jake even prays to Eywa for help, certainly something he never would have done at the start of the film. His conversion comes full circle when his spiritual rebirth is ratified by his physical rebirth into his Avatar body.
Viewed through spiritual eyes, life takes on a dreamlike dimension. Moreso than, I’d wager, even James Cameron’s $240 M visual effects could achieve. Just so, it’s a nice window.