Pro-lifers routinely refer to “the miracle of life,” a phrase which isn’t really technically accurate. A miracle is, strictly theologically speaking, an event which wouldn’t happen ordinarily in nature. It’s something which only happens because of the special intervention of God.
If you’re going to look at sheer numbers, it’s hard to imagine anything less miraculous, or more ordinary and natural than the conception of a child. It’s something that’s happened billions of times, often without anyone meaning or wanting it to happen — often without anyone evenrealizing that it’s happened. I’ve seen pro-choice people roll their eyes and patiently explain, “Yes, babies are cute, but they’re hardly a miracle, any more than it’s a miracle every time a weed grows. It’s simple biology; happens all the time.”
Which always makes me think, “Yes? Is it somehow not amazing when a weed grows?” Maybe it’s just because I’m such a terrible gardener, but every time I put a seed in the ground, sweat and fret for those ten days of germination, give up hope, keep watering anyway, and then go out one evening to discover that SOMETHING IS COMING UP, it blows my mind. Absolutely blows my mind. I drag my husband out to see: “Look! Do you see, right there? You can even see where the soil is actually being pushed away, because the little leaves are coming up! Look how hard it’s trying! I know I planted a seed there, but HOW IS THIS HAPPENING? You can even see the little bean shell stuck to it! LOOK!”
I get nearly the same thrill when I weed, to be honest. Yesterday there was nothing but bare dirt surrounding my tomato plant; today, there are six kinds of green all fighting their way through out of nothingness into the light, all hungry, thirsty, ready to join the battle with beetles and downpours and sun and chill. Some of them are feathery, some fibrous, some creep and cling to the ground with flat, sticky leaves, some are just simple, forthright grass . . . and everybody wants a piece of life. I don’t shed any tears when I rip them out and toss them away, but I really do admire them. Or at least, I admire the system. Yesterday, there was something very close to nothing, and today, there’s something big enough to grab with my whole hand. Tomorrow, if I leave it be, there will be something with a stem thick enough to snap, full of juice and intricate hairs. Everything is ordered toward life, toward making more and more and more of itself, to being part of the plan.
And it happens over and over and over again.
When we’re talking about grass and weeds or even exquisite hot house flowers, only truly crazy people worry or marvel over every last bit of plant life: it’s not merely common, it’s insignificant. And, while we certainly cherish and delight in our own babies and the babies of people we love, no human heart is big enough to cherish and delight in the individual births of all the billions of babies conceived. There are just too many of them. It’s just too common. It happens literally all the time, every second of every day.
But here’s the thing: it’s just that very commonness, that everyday-ness of human life that is a gift in itself.
Think of other things that repeat and repeat. I’m not the first one to point out that repetition is sometimes a gift in itself, and not a stumbling block to overcome. Do you get tired of hearing your spouse say, “I love you?” Do you look at those beloved lips forming those words and think, “Oh, that old thing again. Why can’t I have something new for a change?” Would you want to have a marriage where the words “I love you” were an extraordinary, unexpected event, only brought about by special grace? No, it’s the very repetition that makes it cherished, delightful — extraordinary, even, just because it is so ordinary.
So, when a baby is conceived, maybe it’s not a miracle — maybe it’s something better than that. It’s a sign that God has given us a world which, even in its natural, fallen state, is completely stuffed with wonders. He is not stingy; He doesn’t withhold his goodness. This is the kind of marriage that mankind has with God: He says “I love you” every day, every minute of every day.
My cup overflows.
This post originally ran at the National Catholic Register in 2012.