“Call The MIdwife”
Isaiah 66: 7-9
Psalm 22:3-5; 9-10
June 10, 2017
Chilmark Community Church
Rev. Vicky Hanjian
One of my favorite programs is the PBS series “Call The Midwife”. The drama is great. Every week there is the promise of a tension filled labor and delivery and the miracle of a live birth right in front of my eyes. We witness the personal dramas of the nursing sisters and the midwives as they carry out their mission to provide safe childbirth in the poorest sections of town. We are also included in the significant issues of health care, racism, social justice, ethical dilemmas, internal conflicts in the midwifing community. As each season unfolds, we watch the evolution of maternal and child health care as the show progresses through the 50s and early 60s.
Some of the scenes that have the greatest drama value are of the progress of labor at the point when the midwife is called. The tension in the room builds as the mother reaches the transition phase of labor. Much fun has been made of this phase of labor in situation comedies over the years. Stereotypically, transition is the time when the mother is near exhaustion with the labor. She is anxious. She is sure she will not ever deliver this child. At times she says “I will not do this. I want to go home!” In really high drama, the mother wants nothing to do with the father who caused it all and just sits there not knowing what to do now. “Get him out of here!” In reality, the transition is the last phase of labor, is fairly short compared to the earlier phases, and transition signals that birth is near.
Transition is just plain hard work. The labor and delivery room are an apt metaphor for what happens when any life transition is set in motion.
On the one hand, there is hope and expectation for whatever the new thing is that will come into being at the end of the process – but on the other hand – there is tension and anxiety – and a yearning for things to just go back to the way they were before the labor ever began.
As a faith community, we are in transition. The metaphors of labor and delivery are helpful for thinking about the work we will do together between now and July 1 when a new phase of life begins for our faith community. It is a good time to call upon the midwife!
The scriptures are full of midwifing images of God. Isaiah offers one that speaks to the life and history of Israel. After a number of verses addressing the suffering of Israel, Isaiah shifts to prophecies about Israel’s restoration and re-birth and describes the ease with which new birth takes place: “My holy city is like a woman who suddenly gives birth to a child without ever going into labor. Has anyone ever seen or heard of such a thing? Has a nation ever been born in a day? Zion will not have to suffer long, before the nation is born. Do not think that I will bring my people to the point of birth and not let them be born.” The Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 66:7-9)
I take from these prophetic images that God is involved with the life of Israel from the moment of conception – and there is never a time when God is not part of the process – continually working with Israel in order to bring about a satisfactory birth. Even before the labor begins, the birth is already assured – because God has been in the picture, attending to the pregnancy all along. This is an image of God we can trust as we make our own transition.
In Psalm 22 the psalmist affirms Israel’s trust in a midwife-ing God: “… you are enthroned as the Holy One, the one whom Israel praises. Our ancestors put their trust in you; they trusted you, and you saved them. They called to you and escaped from danger; they trusted you and were not disappointed. It was you who brought me safely through birth, and when I was a baby, you kept me safe. I have relied on you since the day I was born, and you have always been my God. (Psalm 22:3-5;9-10)
From the psalmist we can take assurance that as we move through a time of transition to new pastoral leadership, there is a Holy Presence in attendance – like a midwife – monitoring and guiding us toward a healthy delivery if you will. It is the intention of the Holy One that we will be well and there will be a healthy outcome. God will midwife this beloved church community into a healthy life on the other side of the transition
Even so, transition is not without its stress. Transition is hard work. In a normal labor, the contractions come more frequently and are much stronger. Both mother and midwife are intensely engaged and focused.
Life is full of transitions. We might even say life IS transition because life is in a continual flow of change. The death of a loved one sets in motion a life transition as those who mourn move into a new way of being in the absence of the loved one. Transition is vividly apparent at this time of year as our kids of various ages prepare for their graduations and the inevitable transition to different schools, whether to high school or college. Weddings signal a major transition from life as single persons to life in committed relationship. June signifies the transition to the summer season when life changes for all of us as we anticipate what we will need to navigate between now and the end of August. The arrival of a new pastor precipitates a time of transition. Transitions are stressful.
So, we must acknowledge that we are in a transition phase. And just as with a pregnancy and labor and delivery, even though we knew it was coming, it is still a bit jarring to know that we are here – that the transition phase has begun and that something new is about to be born.
As we move through this time together, there has been an increase of attention needed in order to make the transition a smooth one. This engages all of us at one time or another at a variety of levels. The SPRC has had more communication flying back and forth. A few unscheduled meetings had to
be added to already full life schedules. Contractual expectations between the congregation and the new pastor need to be stated and clarified. The trustees have the parsonage preparation on their agenda. Files in the office need to be current. Anxieties need to be addressed. A grieving process is in motion as we begin to mourn the passing of the way things have been. Transitions are hard work. Giving birth is called “labor” for a reason.
In an occasional episode of “Call The Midwife”, it is interesting to watch the shift in the behavior of the midwives as the transition phase begins. Sometimes the midwives turn into cheer leaders – – “Come on – you can do it – breathe – push – One more good one and your baby will be here!!” Midwife and mother become a team effort to get that baby into the world. In other episodes, the midwife is the center of calm in the midst of the stormy emotions that often typify the transition phase when weariness and frustration and fear engulf the mother. Calm reassurance becomes the midwife’s mode of operation in order to ease the mother into a successful delivery.
The prophetic understanding is that long before anything begins, God is there. God witnesses and guides the process. Isaiah intimates that because the Holy One is always a part of the process, that giving birth to new life begins long before the labor contractions start – -that all the work God does with us all along the way brings us to the point where we consciously begin to participate in the labor of birthing ourselves into the next chapter of life as a church family.
Sometimes transitions are challenging – in the birthing room a laboring mother can reach a point of exhaustion. She may think she cannot see the birth through – it’s just too hard. She may feel like she doesn’t have the inner resources to get that baby into the world. At times like this the midwife plays a critical role in supporting the mother, reassuring her, calming her – – reaching with her spirit into the mother’s anxiety.
Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome witnesses the way the Holy Spirit works as a midwife to bring our innermost longings to birth – and how important it is to the world – indeed, to all of creation that we trust in the power of God to attend to the safe birth and re-birth of the church: All of creation waits with eager longing for God to reveal the children of God. For we know that up to the present time all of creation groans with pain, like the pain of childbirth. But it is not just creation alone which groans; we who have the Spirit as the first of God’s gifts also groan within ourselves as we wait for God to make us God’s children and set our whole being free. For it was by hope that we were saved; but if we see what we hope for, then it is not really hope. For who of us hopes for something we see? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not even know how we ought to pray; the Spirit itself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of God’s people and in accordance with God’s will. (Romans 8:19-27)
The Holy Spirit becomes the midwife who assists us in bringing to birth the prayers, the longings and hopes and desires that we may not be able to easily articulate without the assistance of the Holy Spirit in quiet prayer and discernment as we move along. The Holy Spirit whom we celebrate on Pentecost is an invisible living reality in our midst who can be trusted, like a trusted midwife, to help us bring to birth a renewed life, a sense of adventure into a new unknown, a revitalized sense of who we are as a power for good in the community and in the world.
So as we move closer to the time of the end of our own transition phase, may we increasingly depend upon the wisdom and guidance and companionship and love of the Great of Midwife – – and may we take our training from her as we learn to take our own place as midwives ourselves in a creation that waits on tiptoe, groaning in anticipation of our birth as Children of God. 14th Century mystic, Meister Eckhart wrote the “God never leaves the birthing room – her hands are always wet.” May we enter into this transition with confidence knowing the midwife is on the way. AMEN