“In the beginning, I was. I was for a long time. Then things began to happen. Inside me, something was beating fast and outside, something was beating slower. For a long time, that was all I knew.”
So opens the marvellous first-person story of an ordinary unborn child, as told by Regina Doman in Angel in the Waters. It is a children’s book with much to teach readers of all ages, particularly those pro-lifers whose convictions arise from, or are informed by, a Christian worldview.
In this month when most of Christianity celebrates the Annunciation of Our Lord – and also, in this year, the redemption that depends on his incarnation – it is good to meditate on his earthly origin, as an unborn child with a beginning that was both ordinary and extraordinary. In turn, this perspective will invigourate our efforts on behalf of all tiny humans made in his image – lives more and more threatened by our society’s contraceptive and abortive practices.
We can give thanks that the emerging spirituality of our movement has brought fresh insights into the significance both of the Word becoming flesh and into the value and dignity of each new person who incorporates an ensouled body and embodied soul.
Two worthy grown-up contributions I will mention here are Unborn Jesus, Our Hope by George Peate and Redeemer in the Womb: Jesus Living in Mary by John Saward.
To be sure, the unborn Jesus as a divine person with no human father must be distinguished on many levels from every other unborn child. Still, we cannot fail to take heed of God’s decision to assume human nature as a Son, whose dwelling among us started within a mother. “Before being a newborn baby, God incarnate was an unborn baby – in modern jargon, a fetus, an embryo, a zygote,” says Saward. From this time forward, then, “to attack the unborn is to declare war against God.”
Two of the great falsehoods of our day involve defining pregnancy as beginning with implantation and motherhood as starting with a woman’s subjective feeling of acceptance. Scripture belies the arrogance of such beliefs.
Just as in any human’s conception, Peate notes that “providence waited for a particular ovulation of Mary’s body” when the time came for Jesus to enter the world. While few conceptions are pre-announced by the declaration of an angel, nevertheless, the creation and union of any individual’s body and soul is not random, but always due to God’s intention. Without the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, in fact, “nothing (comes) to be” (John 1:3).
Most biblical commentators hold that the Incarnation did not occur until after the fiat of Mary: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Since there is good reason to believe that Jesus’s development was much like other babies’, Peate locates the conception in one of the virgin’s fallopian tubes.
Peate further interprets the first act of the unborn Jesus as occurring at the one-cell stage. “When He came into the world” – not when He was implanted in Mary’s womb, taken for visitation, born, presented or left behind in the temple, baptized or undertaking public ministry – “he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight in. Then I said, “As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God”’” (Hebrews 10:5-7).
In this understanding, Jesus’s self-awareness is of course unique to him among unborn children. Yet, we are reminded of the purposefulness of every human existence and the tragedy that we do not know which unborn lives have been lost and what callings of theirs from “before the foundation of the world” have been prevented from realization (Ephesians 1:4).
In recognizing the mystery of our infinite God’s having taken on the vulnerability of finitude, we can find our strength to persevere for the cause of life, even when the culture of death “belittles” our efforts.
“Without ceasing to be omnipotent God, the Son assumes human nature in its tiniest, most powerless form. Here begins the kenôsis, the self-abasement of the Son of God,” observes Saward. “Even (unborn), as truly as when He preached on the mountain, He was at the work of revelation; by the simplicity of his embryonic life, Christ revealed God.”