Reflections - Before I was born

Eleanor Deckert

“Oh, if I had the money!”

I stood before a plate glass window in front of an art gallery in the little town of Dayton, Washington. The painting I was admiring just made me smile from the tips of my hair all the way down to my toes. In the ornate golden frame, the large, bright, pastel scene conveyed gladness, warmth, satisfaction and creativity. A friendly looking old man with a long white beard was checking the contents of a white cloth bundle tied and slung from the beak of a long legged white bird. A child-sized, winged helper with rosy cheeks and an alert expression ticked off the list written in a leather-bound thick book. In the distance, passing through puffy, pale blue and pink-tinged clouds glided a train of flying storks, each with a similar bundle, descending from the heavenly realms towards a beautiful, welcoming Earth.

Why did my heart yearn for this fantasy scene?

The Wise Old Man reached out his hand in a gesture of blessing, caressing the infant who looked adoringly into the Old Man's eyes. The scribe's quill pen was poised to record the name, address and instructions for this newly formed little person. “All is as it should be” was the message of this glimpse into the workshop of the Creator.

If that tiny baby was me, then I was made for a purpose, made specifically to be “me,” sent to the parents and circumstances that were known to my Provider and Protector, and, although I cannot remember, I once beheld the face of my Maker.

Little children ask their parents, philosophers wrestle with the logic, religions choose sides, but deep inside, everyone wonders, “Where was I before I was born?”

Here is a sampling of answers to this question found with a little research with the heading “Did I exist before I was born?”

Storks have been associated with marriage (they mate for life), fertility (they often have four young) and delivering babies (they leave for the south and return in nine months). The stork is the Egyptian symbol for the soul. Norse, Greek, Chinese, Israeli and other cultures observed the migrations, mating, nesting, and rearing of the young and noticed favourable characteristics that embodied ideal family values (they care for their young even after they reach adulthood).

Common sayings about life before birth include, “He was standing behind the door when God passed out good looks,” implying a pre-existing person before birth; and, “Before you were a twinkle in your Daddy's eye!” which seems to mean life begins with a tiny spark first and the body is formed later. Then there is the old, “You were found in a cabbage patch,” to avoid those tricky explanations of reproduction.

A website from the UK for university students (thestudentroom) has this to say, “When I say 'before birth', I mean before being formed in the womb. Obviously we exist immediately prior to being born.”

“askphilosophers.org” gave an interesting response when a parent asked how she should answer her four-year-old daughter who asked, “Where was I before I was born?” “If you don't already have a religious point of view you want to pass to your child, you might say, ‘Where were the cookies before they were made? The ingredients were here, but the cookies did not exist.’”

But this idea of the coming together of the physical ingredients necessary to build a baby might not be the answer to the question the child was trying to ask, surely one we all ask in some way: “Besides this physical body, is there a 'Me'? And when did it come into existence? And where was 'I' before I was born?” Some say we are complete within our bodies: chemicals, electrical impulses, hormones and other governing cells and productions within the brain live and then die. The End. Thus, there is no interest in the “before” and there is no “after.” However, in every culture this question is asked and various replies are given.

Hinduism belief involves reincarnation, and the Bhagavad Gita says, "Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be."

Buddhists believe in a cycle of the spiritual self returning to earth again and again until it “achieves nirvana by giving up cares/desires/woes from the previous life.”

In Islam, all souls are believed to have been created in adult form (before earthly life) at the same time God created the father of Mankind, Adam. Although we forget, we are not excused from right worship and right living because before we were born, we knew the truth.

Baha'i teachings convey the idea that “the individual soul of a human being comes into being at the time of conception and only thereafter is eternal.”

In 1844, Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saints explained, “There never was a time when there were not spirits; for they are co-equal with our Father in heaven.”

Christianity, quoting ancient Hebrew texts, finds Billy Graham explaining, “God knew all about us even before we were born. In fact, He gave our lives to us, and we are here because He created us and allowed us to be born. The Bible says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). Furthermore, it’s important to remember that God not only made our body and our mind through the natural processes He created, but He also gave us our soul or spirit, which is the part of us that is able to know God.”

Plato, writing in ancient Greece, thought that “we are born with knowledge from a previous life that is subdued at birth and must be relearned.” He saw all attainment of knowledge not as acquiring new information, but as remembering previously known information. “Before we were born, we existed in a perfect world where we knew everything.”

I may never know the answer to this age-old question. I do know how I feel when I look at this reassuring painting. It seems to be an illustration of this verse from the Psalms, conveying the message that I was made for a purpose by One who loves me, sees me, hears me and will never be far away from me. And, if the “before” was so sweetly good, surely I can hope for an “after” equally calm and welcoming.

“Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.

And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me,

When as yet there were none of them.”

- Psalm 139:16