When we were expecting out first child we decided to go with a midwife. Actually, there were several midwives in this particular practice. In the course of our many visits we saw each midwife so that we would be familiar with whoever happened to be on call when we arrived at the hospital.
On the night our son was born the midwife amazed me. My wife had started induction earlier in the day and progress was slow. That night, when hard labor came, the midwife was in our room the whole time. She coached on occasion, and she waited patiently while we did what we could to make it through the contractions. When it was clear that a little more intervention was needed, she stepped right in and confidently guided my wife.
At some point in the last few minutes the IV line pulled out of my wife’s hand. At the sight of the blood on her arm I began to panic. But the midwife looked at me with her cool face, and told me everything was fine. She was the epitome of what counselors call a non-axious presence.
I was reminded of the work of a midwife in a conversation with my theologian, poet friend Dana. We were talking, as we usually do, about the new energy in pockets of the church and the age old question of what a church bureaucrat is to do with old wineskins and new wine. Maybe this is the time for midwives of the church. Maybe we need those people who recognize the pain, and point to the birth of something new.
Some argue that as institutions and structures begin to crumble there are open places that emerge. These open places are the perfect place for creative and new things to take shape. What is need though, are those persons who can inhabit the fissures and work in the open space. It is a weird mix of being within the structures yet challenging old visions and dreaming new dreams. It is in this middle place of the now and not yet that the midwife is most needed.
We need coaches who know the signs of pain for pain’s sake and pain that births something new.
We need leaders who can discern what that “something new” looks like, even if it is just visible in outlines.
We need pastors who aren’t anxious and can hold the space for conflict and struggle, not taking it personally but offering counsel and guidance when those around are too mired in the structures as they are to see the possibilities.
And we need compassionate guides who see the failures in the way things are now and can invite others into new modes of faithfulness.
We need more midwife-theologians.