Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Keep the Conversation Going

Thanks to Pastor Jonathan Zinck and the members of the Pier Church for inviting me to meet and speak with the congregation last Sunday! Everyone made me feel so welcome and the service was outstanding. When we take the time to converse, we all grow in understanding. Thank you so much for helping me grow.

Here's the story about the midwives that several people asked about:

Then the King of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives*, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” (Exodus 1:15) [*Egyptians who ministered to birthing Hebrews]

A Baby is a Baby:
Shiphrah and Puah glide into the hut after dark, their footsteps muffled by sand and by the moaning of the woman on the mat. Little Miriam continues pressing her fingers into her mother’s back. She kneads and pushes, as the shadows fall across her. Miriam’s mother looks up in desperation. The baby twists and assaults her. He is strong.

Shiphrah and Puah deposit their urns of water and oil, then lay out cloths – clean linens even for a Hebrew slave. A baby is a baby. Even so, they hope it is a girl.

The command was clear. Kill all the Hebrew boys.

Miriam relaxes into the background as the partners take over. They whisper encouragement, give hope, inject fortitude. Stories unfold in the night. The midwives bring peace and a vigilant eye.

Hours disappear, and at last the mother grabs the rope securely tied from the roof. She holds, pushes, groans – a tiny cry, a fist, and the midwives have caught the infant. The woman has produced her third. A boy.

Miriam reads the worry in the midwives’ eyes even as they smile, murmur congratulations, and wrap the child. Her mother cries softly, and holds the baby close.

Then Shiprah speaks, “It’s amazing you had that baby so fast, even before we got here.”

“A miracle birth,” adds Puah. “You Hebrews are so strong.” She shakes her head in feigned wonder, her long silhouette quivering against the mud wall.

Miriam’s mother looks up, eyes wide.

“Well, since we have nothing to do, we’ll go,” says Shiphrah. She begins to pack their cloths, the soiled beneath the clean.

Miriam’s mother sits and cannot speak. Then gestures to Miriam to bring the flatbread wrapped in the basket in the corner for the women to take with them.

“We cannot,” says Puah. “If we take anything, they’ll think we’ve helped you with this birth, and of course we arrived too late.” She smiles, gentle. “There are plenty of Egyptian women who provide for us. A baby is a baby.”

And the two women disappear into the night, hushed as an infant’s breath.

Miriam and her mother sit together in the sand-shrouded hut watching the infant suckle, counting his life-minutes, while possibility and hope grow slowly between them. Egyptian women know that a baby is a baby. An Egyptian woman, one of them, might raise a Hebrew child.

A decision is made. A plan is born. History unfolds.

Miriam remembers this night all her life, long after her baby brother has become Moses, adopted son of Egypt, hope of the Hebrew nation. She remembers it every time a slave cries, every time hunger arises, every time hate and despair try to ensnare her.

Years later the memory breathes light and courage into her, when Moses tells her that only those houses anointed with the blood of the lamb will be spared. So when the lamb is slaughtered, the journey about to begin, the retribution about to unfold, she requests a pause, an hour. Just one.

Then, silent as an unborn child, she steals through the Egyptian community, and finds the houses of Shiphrah and Puah. In the utter silence of that darkest of nights, she stands alone. Slowly, carefully, lovingly, she anoints the doorframes with sacred lamb’s blood.

A baby is a baby. A life is a life.

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