midwives, mary, and a golden cord
If your church uses Godly Play or Children’s Worship and Wonder, odds are the youngsters in your congregation have heard the story about the Christian year. In this particular story, the storyteller has two objects: a long golden cord and a circular puzzle full of color.
The storyteller begins by picking up the cord and stretching it out in a horizontal line, a golden metaphor for chronos time, linear time, the world’s time, with its beginning, middle, and end.
Then she turns her attention towards the circular puzzle full of deep purples, shimmering whites, and rich greens. “This,” she says, “is the church’s time, God’s time, kairos time.”
And then, to top it all off, she lays the golden cord down beside the puzzle, and slowly ties the cord's ends together to make a circle.
“God’s time,” she explains, “is different than the world’s time. In God’s time there is no beginning, middle, or end, no start or finish. God’s time is not a straight line. God’s time is a beautiful, golden circle that goes around and around and around.”
Then she asks one of the most beautiful questions I've ever heard: “I wonder what this makes you think of?”
For my part, it makes me think of the prologue to John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...and the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
With his signature, circular language, John, like the storyteller in my children’s Sunday School class, ties together the ends of that golden cord: the Word of God -- who was in the beginning with God -- became flesh, becomes flesh, this coming Christmas day as much as any other. God’s Word slipped into our world, slipped into our time with its beginning, middle, and end.
I wonder what this makes you think of?
It makes me think of the midwives in Exodus. It makes me wonder if the ends of that golden cord were tied so tightly together that Shiphrah and Puah, too, appeared in that stable to help Mary labor, to attend the birth of God incarnate?
You know the story: the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, “When you’re attending a Hebrew birth, and see a Hebrew woman on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him, lest those people grow in number and fight against us.” But the midwives, fearing God, did not do as he commanded. They let life win (Exodus 1:15-17).
Then, thousands of years later, a decree goes out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered and Israel finds herself, once again, hanging by a thread. It’s true, Pharoah is no longer in charge, but Israel is still languishing, this time under Roman rule, and so is Mary, laboring in a barn, no birthstool in sight.
And so I wonder if Shiphrah and Puah were there, walking and swaying with Mary through her contractions, irregular at first, then stronger and more steady. I wonder if they supported her, encouraged her, challenged her, and praised her until finally God slipped into our world: God, wet and wrinkly and vulnerable; God, small and screaming; God, the Word made flesh and dwelling now among us.
It’s true: God’s time is not like the world’s time. God’s time has no beginning, middle, or end. God’s time is like a golden cord going around and around and around, connecting the stories, the pain, the hope and therefore the whole human family.
I wonder if those Hebrew midwives are with us now as we “get ready” for God to be born again?
I wonder if they are always with us in our seasons of deep purple, shimmering white, and rich green?
I wonder if they are with you now supporting you, encouraging you, challenging you, and praising you -- even and especially when you are hanging by a thread?
I wonder what this makes you think of?
Leave a comment below and let us know! Wondering outloud about God's mysteries is one of the best and most beautiful things about the Christian tradition...
Thanks to the storytelling of Rev. Cheryl Cloar, Minister of Children, Youth, and Families at Central Christian Church in Indianapolis; to Sabrina Tang for photographing this new, little miracle (ten hours old!); and to the Fund for Theological Education for inviting SALT's very own Rev. Elizabeth Myer Boulton to share her words and ideas.