God the midwife – 19 November 2018
The central woman is in labour, about to birth her child. She is accompanied by two midwives. She has a hand on her belly, feeling the movement of the child within her. The accompanying women are quiet and still, prayerful. Above them all hovers a dove, a representation of the Holy Spirit, also present and accompanying the woman in labour. This journey to birth might be long and painful, but there is a strong sense that all will be well.
This painting is by the Brooklyn born artist Janet McKenzie. Here the woman is Mary, in labour before the birth of Jesus. Tradition has it that she was accompanied by two midwives. This then is the labour through which the incarnate Son entered the world.
Such labour is mentioned several times in Scripture. Jesus uses the image of the labour of childbirth to speak about his own death. He sees the violence done to him on the cross, and what he will have to endure, as a kind of labour. The pain and distress last for a time, but joy comes in the morning.
St Paul uses the image of the labour of childbirth when he writes about the violence done to the earth itself. He writes that the whole of creation is groaning in childbirth, waiting to be delivered by God as the new creation, perfect, whole, at peace.
And Jesus uses the image again in Mark chapter 13, known as ‘the little apocalypse’. He describes the faith disturbing violence that people will do to people, but says that out of this labour God will bring forth peace.
Throughout all of this labour, God is the midwife.
When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves.
Yet 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.
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.