Some Birthday Reflections: On Birth and Contingency
The following reflection was first published on my birthday a year ago. As I was thinking about what to say today, I thought I might look back to see what I said last year on DatingGod.org and realized that I’d like to share these reflections again.
The thing about birthdays is that they always seemed a bit weird to me. Not that I don’t enjoy receiving presents and cake, but in a culture like ours that is so obsessed about the myth of meritocracy, it seems odd that we would collectively make such a big deal about something for which one had absolutely no control. On some level, shouldn’t it be the parents who get the presents on a child’s birthday? They’re the ones who do all the work, right?
That said, it occurred to me while walking to my office this morning that the event that we actually celebrate is not some sort of undeserved accomplishment, but precisely the ordinariness of life. What we celebrate, ultimately, is the fact that this or that person was born, entered our world and therefore became connected to everything else in this cosmic creation.
Birthdays, it really seems to me, are an opportunity to be grateful for the gift of life that is exemplified by this or that particular person, but they are also a chance to remember what a very precious reality life is in itself. This birthday has me thinking about one of my favorite philosopher-theologians, John Duns Scotus. According to his outlook, all of creation bears the mark of a delicate, incommunicable and unique contingency. I did not have to exist, neither did you. In fact, none of creation is, ultimately, necessary. Why creation then? Scotus’s answer is fundamentally simple: God’s love.
In celebrating a birthday of a family member, friend, loved one, co-worker, or even a complete stranger what we celebrate is both an affirmation of that particular person’s existence (the cake does need someone’s name on it, right?), but it is also a celebration of the gift of all life and God’s love.
On this [twenty-eighth] anniversary of my own contingent entrance into this world, I am particularly grateful for both my own life as well as the lives of all of those celebrated on all days. So thanks for the birthday wishes, thanks for the love, and thanks for celebrating the gift of life and God’s love that brings all life into being each and every day.