A baby is born. If all goes well, it is born with no serious danger to mother or child. Though we know what pains the mother endures in giving birth, no one has yet told us of the labor of being born. No one remembers, unless they are hints of it, those odd, terrifying dreams we sometimes are plagued with as children, of darkness, of our extreme smallness, of the threatening largeness of our room, of the strange terror of seeing light through our slightly open nursery door, those strange dreams that bridge our sleeping and our waking.
A baby being born, first the head emerges, again, if all is as it should be, with foamy hair and then suddenly, there is an absolute urgency for the rest of the body to follow. Everyone is tense, and the labor of birth is one that cannot be stopped, it must press on till completion—Push!—till the babe is out. There is the struggle for air, to clear the passages of fluid so the little creature can draw in its first breath, and exhale it as a cry. When it does, everyone exhales too a massive sigh of relief, and then the cord must be clamped and cut. For a moment all attention has focused on the child, but very quickly returns to the mother. The midwives attend her and the child, for it seems both are totally helpless.
This is how it is with us. We come into the world unasked but welcomed as Job says, “Why were there knees to receive me and breasts that I might be nursed?” (3:12). We come into the world totally helpless. Everything must be done for us. Not only do we not know where we are, but we cannot even see clearly. If we see at all, what is that sensation? What are those movements in that brightness, those shapes what are they? And now, what is that vibration? It’s different from the smooth, dark and rumbling sounds we thought were our world. Then something pops, and we hear the new sounds even more loudly and clearly. But where are we? What are we? Totally helpless.
Being born is not much different than being born again, that is, from above, as Jesus tells us, “unless a man is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). He is just as helpless to do anything for himself as that newborn babe. Everything has to be done for him. Everything is pure gift, even the fact of his birth is pure gift, and all is due to a sacrifice that he is totally unaware of, by a being, his mother, whom he doesn’t even know yet, but begins to know, as his lips feel her soft nipples nudging his unknowing mouth. This is how it is with us in being born again. Everything is gift, all is grace and love and generosity, and we little know at first, and even for long afterwards, how great the sacrifice was offered on our behalf. But we feel the Spirit nudging us, coaxing us to feed and, in feeding on the pure milk of the Word, to drink, be filled, and grow.
We are totally helpless in our new birth. Who can deny that all is grace, that everything offered to us has been given for free, that Someone chose us to be born, not we ourselves? And how can we overlook this miracle? And why would we want to? We all have been born into the most beautiful of all worlds, even though the devil’s envy has defiled it with the spectre of physical death. We all can be born again into a world even more beautiful, that cannot be deformed by the destroyer of souls, because he cannot even see it.
Totally helpless in our birth, we grow by love into the image of our earthly parents and our heavenly Father, until we too conceive, and bear, and love, all for free, until our lives become grace itself.
Indeed, from His fullness we have, all of us, received—
yes, grace in return for grace,
since, though the Law was given through Moses,
grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.