I started watching the show “Call the Midwife” on Netflix during this pandemic time. It’s set in England, starting in the 50’s, I think. The midwives live together and serve alongside nuns who live a monastic sort of life. They are called any time of day or night to deliver babies. They are a community who gather around the dinner table to swap stories and pray for one another during evening prayers.
As midwives, all of them respond to the call to encourage and support mothers birthing babies. Although women’s bodies are anatomically designed for childbirth, it’s tough work! The body may be willing, but often the mind or spirit are weakened or vice versa. I loved watching the midwives work, sometimes in pairs for difficult births, and always focusing on mother and baby, The goal was to keep up the spirit of the mother in labor, to let her know she’s “doing great” in the midst of pain and slow progression, to remind her of the joy to come. The midwives knew ways to position mothers for safe births as well as when to call in more help. When babies are born quickly, the midwife’s job is easier, but no less needed. She brings assurance to both the first time mother and the mother of three previous children. Each context is different. And when the birth experience is complicated, the midwife brings knowledge needed to safely bring baby from womb to world. She is lifeline to mother and baby while offering calm assurance to the family. The midwife steadies the mothers, sees them through, as they bring new life into the world.
In this week’s Old Testament passage, we learn of a new Pharaoh who wants all baby boys killed at birth. And he turns to the midwives to deceitfully enact his evil plot! Pharaoh summons two Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah (meaning “beautiful”) and Puah (meaning “fragrant flower”), commanding them to kill all Hebrew boys at birth. Baby girls are to be allowed to live. But the midwives continued to allow all the babies to live. They feared God; they had a healthy respect for God’s authority and bent to God’s will (for life) rather than the will of Pharaoh. When the angry king found this out, he questioned them as to why they allowed the boys to be born. And they cited the quick births of Hebrew women; they said, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” Now, whether or not this was true in every case, these women were staying true to their calling. They supported, encouraged, and even protected these women and their babies, subverting one relationship and upholding several others. They were a lifeline to Hebrew babies from womb to world.
I remember the midwife who helped bring my oldest child, Olivia, into the world. She was a former nun and was the ultimate calming presence. As I progressed into labor, my mind was spinning. About every other thought was “this was not how the book said it would be!” She actually read my mind, as I had difficulty speaking well in the midst of my labor, and walked me through a long yet fairly uncomplicated birthing process. I knew when I could simply rest and I knew when to concentrate on pushing or whatever was asked; I trusted the process because I trusted her experience and appreciated her approach to birth. My body was doing the work; she was keeping my spirit engaged in the process. I needed her to guide me through something I had never done before. The baby would have been born regardless (even though she was 10 days overdue!); my state of mind, confidence, and anticipation of a great outcome were completely connected to my midwife and my faith in God.
Women have attended the births of other women and assisted in birth probably as long as we have been birthing babies. In any birthing process, whether it’s a human life coming into the world, or birthing a new ministry, birthing a business, or birthing a new idea, it’s essential to have the experience and expertise of others surrounding us. As a first born, I have trouble asking for help or remembering its okay to seek out assistance or collaborators. I find it difficult at times to invite others into my idea lest it be changed or redirected. And yet, the times I have engaged in partnership, while the process was longer, it was also richer, fuller, deeper. The voice and wisdom of another has led me to reconsider my own ways, to seek God’s will further, and to embrace a wider outlook in general.
I wonder if we can invite others into ministry with us who may offer encouragement, support and guidance because they have been there. Maybe this means reaching out to retired pastors or retired laity. Maybe this means asking for help, asking for co-creators and collaborators. Maybe this means seeking out faithful midwives whose faith is firmly planted in God and not other idols; we need those with a strong faith to pray for and send encouragement to their pastors! Have you ever thought of asking another to be your midwife or your lifeline? Maybe this is a practice we can adopt, much in the same way as having a coach or spiritual director.
As we seek to make disciples for the transformation of the world, I pray we will allow ourselves to be transformed by the Christ in the disciples around us. My hope is that we will continue to seek out relationships that protect, support and encourage us as leaders so that we will have the energy and wisdom to do the same. May God bless you and keep as you navigate another day in the life of pastoral ministry.
If you would like to view past editions of Time with Tara, follow this link: https://harbordistrictnc.org/category/from-the-ds/