In the Bible, lots of people beget and get begotten. “Adam,” we read, “begat a son in his own likeness, after his image” (Gen. 5:3). “Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob” (Matt. 1:2), and so on. Generation after generation of begetting and being begotten; innumerable men and women being fruitful and multiplying. It may be the one area in which we humans consistently obey God’s command. But if it is, it is nothing to boast about, because begetting is baked into our nature. It is part of the goodness of the created order: to procreate is to partake in the blessing of God (Gen. 1:28).

To be human is to be begotten of a man and a woman who themselves were begotten. The primary exception to this rule is the Lord Jesus, who “was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” Modern reproductive technologies may obscure this fundamental feature of being human, but they can never replace it. Human beings beget and get begotten.

I was begotten — and so were you. It was unavoidable; we could not otherwise exist. But now, finally, it can also be said about me: “He begat.” (Or, at least, almost: as I write, my wife is 41 weeks pregnant with our first-to-be-born son. Hopefully, he will be born by the time you read these words, though he is proving extraordinarily patient or stubborn in that regard.)

There is nothing necessary about this; it did not have to be. Nor is it any particular credit to me or my wife that we have begotten a son; the procreation of children is just one of the good gifts of marriage. It is simply and finally an occasion to wonder. And so I write, not to thump my chest, but to invite you to share in my wonder at the sheer gift of life.

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First, there are the particular wonders attaching to this pregnancy, those manifest in my wife’s changing body: Most obviously, her swelling belly. Also, those internal changes I know about only through what the doctors say: the growth of the placenta, the development of her mammary glands, the manifold ways in which her body prepares for birth.

Above all, the delights of perceiving the life of our child: hearing his heartbeat for the first time, seeing his tiny form on the sonogram screen, feeling him move inside the womb. At first, his movements were first perceptible only by his mother, then also by me as slight flutters, then finally a little body moving of its own accord — this his leg, that clearly his bottom. I’m convinced I once felt his tiny toes.

Then, the wonder of his hiddenness: What will he be like? Will he look more like his mother or his father? Will he have a long torso like me? Red hair like his mother? What will his personality be? What interests will he have? What will he sound like? How much will he sleep? Will he suffer from colic? From worse things? We cannot know until he arrives.

Nor do we know where he came from. Not really. Of course we know he comes from the union of his mother and father: “a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). But she and I contribute only our chromosomes (and these we have ourselves received as pure gift); we do not give our son life. His life comes as a gift from “the Lord, the Giver of life.”

It is with our son, as it was with Augustine, who confesses,

I do not know where I came from. But the consolations of your mercies upheld me, as I have heard from the parents of my flesh, him from whom and her in whom you formed in me time. For I do not remember. So I was welcomed by the consolations of human milk; but it was not my mother or my nurses who made any decision to fill their breasts, but you through them gave me infant food, in accordance with your ordinance and the riches which are distributed deep in the natural order. You also granted me not to wish for more than you were giving, and to my nurses the desire to give me what you gave them. For by an impulse which you control their instinctive wish was to give me the milk which they had in abundance from you. For the good which came to me from them was a good for them; yet it was not from them but through them. Indeed all good things come from you, O God, and “from my God is all my salvation” (2 Sam. 23:5).[1]

“What have you that you did not receive?” St. Paul asks the Corinthians. “If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” (1 Cor. 4:7)

My son is a gift. I do not boast in having begotten him, because it is only by God’s gift that I have done so. His life — his little, almost unbearably fragile life — is God’s good gift. And I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

Footnotes

[1] Augustine, Confessions (trans. Henry Chadwick) 1.6.7.

About The Author

Fr. Christopher Yoder serves as assistant rector at All Souls’ Episcopal Church in Oklahoma City. Christopher is married to Audra, who is, among other things, a historian of imperial Russia. They have two sons, Peter and Henry.

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