A spiritual midwife: God’s helpers in birthing new life

People were clamoring for spiritual direction! One of the best things I heard throughout all the dialogue of our mapping process last year was the persistent request for more help to grow in grace. We need to nurture further gifted people in the body who direct us. We need to pay attention to the people and resources we have already been given. We want to provide everyone with good opportunities to go deep. It will take more spiritual midwives — men or women who can help with the spiritual birthing process. We need them, whoever they might be.

Shiprah and Puah
Shiprah and Puah

We need clever and brave midwives like Shiprah and Puah, the forerunners of good midwives everywhere. Here is their story:

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”
                 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
                So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own. — Exodus 1:15-21

Shiprah and Puah! Why haven’t any of our most recent female children been named after these great figures in Bible history? Is it because Moses gets most of the airtime in the Exodus story and these women only a few lines, so they are easily forgotten? Is it because our family story is written by and about men, primarily? Probably both.

Even though it is a male-dominated story, a very basic image manages to push its way to the surface quite often: narratives of  pregnancy and birth, stories of new life that redirect and transform.

God the midwife

Pivotal women in the Old Testament story set the stage for THE birth story. Luke’s sensitive telling makes the incarnation vivid. Mary asks the angel “How can this be?” Nicodemus asks Jesus when he is called to be born again “How can this be?”

It can be because God himself is the midwife. Psalm 22 spells it out as we are led to pray:

You brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
 From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God. — Psalm 22:9-10

When we see God pictured like this, it should dawn on us, like Margaret Guenther says, “that the midwife helps new life into being and protects it; even more than the mother, she is the tender guardian of its safety…Shiprah and Puah may well stand as an icon, the foremothers of all midwives, but behind them is another guardian of new life. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. The Lord is my midwife, I shall be kept safe” (Holy Listening p. 84).

We need spiritual midwives

We need more directors who are like midwives for new birth: present to another in a time of vulnerability, working in areas that are deep and intimate, helping a birthing person to greater self-knowledge, assisting at a natural event. A spiritual midwife, like one who stays with a woman through a natural birth, sees what the birthgiver can’t see, knows the signs of transition, witnesses the crowning of newness. She or he recognizes the time to confront, the time to encourage and knows how to do both. Our goal for 2013 is to provide a roadmap for spiritual direction that helps people understand and exercise their options for growing in grace.

We are already blessed with people among us who have received training in spiritual direction. But we don’t need to wait to get on their schedule. We don’t need to go to the “spiritual birthing center” to give spiritual birth, per se. We have an assortment of ways we might meet the need. Our cells are hotbeds of spiritual direction, if one is listening and not devaluing. Our pastors are good directors, and getting better, as are our Cell Leader Coordinators. But one doesn’t need to wait for a one-on-one, you can access what is being taught in our meetings, dive into the pastors’ book recommendations, make a friend who is consciously a spiritual friend, or be involved in the day retreats of spiritual direction. We plan a whole brochure on the topic.

We can put Shiprah and Puah on the front of the brochure, but it won’t do much good unless people who are talking about needing direction receive the gifts given. We need directors, but we also need people who really want to be directed. It is often said that the person seeking to find direction finds a guide. A person who can’t be directed often complains they are without guidance.

{Update: see our further recommendations on The Way of Jesus site]

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