If asked for a biblical model of strength,
probably few people would name the midwives Shiprah and Puah.
We might be more apt to remember the tenacity of Moses, the
leadership of Deborah or the might of David.
The story of these two women is not frequently lifted up
for our reflection. Yet here we have people who risk everything
by refusing to be a part of the death-dealing plan of a political
Although their story is told in seven brief verses (Exodus
1:15-21), they remain powerful examples of faith and courage.
The text specifically cites their awareness of God as the
reason for their selfless act of defiance.
The very image of the midwife offers us ample reflection.
A midwife is someone who facilitates birth, who recognizes
the signs of new life and encourages women through the pain
and struggle of birth-giving.
Shiprah and Puah are two women who were trained to reverence,
facilitate and celebrate life, but are then expected to be
instruments of death. They represent the privilege and the
challenge that we all sharethat of recognizing and encouraging
the unique gift of life present in each person.
Every parent, grandparent and teacher who helps children
know their own goodness and develop their own gifts is a contemporary
Shiprah. Every therapist or counselor who refuses to give
up on the person hidden beneath grief, anger or fear is a
modern-day Puah. People who risk their jobs by daring to speak
about unjust practices or labor laws are midwives for the
oppressed. Those who cross over barriers of prejudice of any
kind are helping give birth to something new. Being a midwife
is not easy!
Several years ago, a friend of mine was approaching her 50th
birthday. She wanted to mark this moment with a ritual. She
felt within herself that she was on the verge of something
new, that she was about to enter into a new and deeper part
of her life. Having a particular gift for symbolizing both
her history and her desire for growth, she was able to surround
herself with reminders of who she was and where she was going.
One part of the ritual I shall never forget was what she
called her "wall of midwives." Hanging on the wall where we
gathered was a large cloth on which she had written names.
These names represented people whose encouragement or wisdom
had somehow helped "bring her to birth" at significant junctures.
That wall of midwives served as a sign of gratitude for friends
and mentors she had known. It was also a statement of faith
that, as she moved forward, God would continue to grace her
life with the people she needed in order to be birthed, again
and again, into the fullness of who she could be.
The story of Shiprah and Puah invites each of us to recall
the midwives in our lives. It also invites us to move more
deeply into our own prayer, asking ourselves where the gospel
challenges us to midwife others.