You can’t be “a little” pregnant.
We’ve all heard it said, probably jokingly, one time or another. At first glance, the point seems pretty obvious: either there’s a baby in there, or there’s not. Facts are either true or false, and being pregnant is a fact. It’s sort of like winning the lotto, or finding out the shower’s got no hot water—it’s all there, all at once, stark-naked in its reality. There’s no “a little” about it.
Yet funny quips and folk wisdom fear no contradiction. Opposites may attract, but birds of a feather still flock together. The saying “you can’t be ‘a little’ pregnant” is no exception. Just consider another playful turn of phrase: “She is so pregnant!”
Well, which is it? If she can be so pregnant, can’t someone else be a little pregnant? But if you can’t be “a little” pregnant, how can you be “so” pregnant? This is a serious existential problem and, like the meaning of life and the state of the soul after death, will probably keep you up at night.
Perhaps we can untie this linguistic knot by reflecting on another curious twist of language regarding pregnancy. In English, the word “expectant” serves as a synonym for the word “pregnant.” So we say things like “she’s expecting” or “the expectant mother” to mean the same thing as “she’s pregnant” or “the pregnant mother.”
There’s something beautiful about that interchangeability. It tells us that being pregnant is more than just a brute biological fact. It’s a period of growth and anticipation, a period of planning and preparation, a period of relationship and purpose. The expectant mother’s whole life, her whole person, becomes oriented towards the child she is bringing into the world. The quip with which this post began is true regarding impregnation, but pregnancy isn’t just a fact: it’s also an act. There really is a “more” and a “less” to it—just ask any 8-month-pregnant mother’s back.
This dynamic of fact and act that we find in pregnancy is also true in the life of faith. In faith, we conceive Jesus Christ in our souls. In fact, we become Christians. But this faith—if it is not to be stillborn—must also be lived out in act. Our whole life, our whole person, must be oriented toward the Savior whom we have received in our hearts and whose coming we await with ever-growing expectation. The fact of faith demands a conversion of life, and as we continue along this path of conversion, we become more and more pregnant with expectation and longing for the coming of Christ.
This is what the season of Advent is all about. It’s about recognizing the ways in which we are only “a little” Christian, and inviting the Lord to stir up our holy expectations. As such, Advent is a journey with Mary through her pregnancy. With her, we believe the promise of God—that the Savior will come to us. With her, we undertake the journey to be numbered among the children of Israel, the Church—even when there seems to be no room for us at the inn. With her, we make serious changes in our lives—fleeing from the King Herod of our sinfulness and trying to make our way in the foreign land of virtue.
Advent is a time to let the faith grow within us. It is a time to allow hope to swell in our hearts and charity to kick within our souls. It is a time to grow big with eternal life. Advent is about becoming so Christian that we can no longer hold it in.
Image: Frederick Carl Frieseke, By the Cradle