First Breathe. Then Push.
The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. – Exodus 1:15-17 (NRSVUE)
These two brave ancestors are among the relatively few named women in the Bible. The name Puah is the word in Hebrew for “cried out” and the name Shiphrah means “beautiful.” Say either of them out loud, and you will hear echoes of the voices of generations of women giving birth, breathing and panting on the birthing bed.
The modern prophet and activist Valerie Kaur says that in social justice movements, we should listen to the midwives, because giving birth to justice is just like giving birth to babies. First, she says, we breathe. Then we push. Breathe and then push. Breathe. And push.
Even with every medical test available to us in modern times, we don’t really know what the result of our breathing and pushing might be until the child is delivered. Puah and Shiphrah certainly couldn’t have known that one of the lives they would save would be Moses, who would lead all God’s people into freedom.
We breathe, and we push, and we are not certain of the outcome. We only know that we are following God to the way God leads, which is always to life.
Holy One, the more we follow you, the more we want to follow the ways of Puah and Shiprah, who cried out beauty, who breathed and then pushed, who followed you all the way to the birth of justice. Amen.
Rev. Jennifer Garrison (formerly Brownell) is a writer, spiritual director and pastor living in the Pacific Northwest. Her published work most recently appeared in the book The Words of Her Mouth: Psalms for the Struggle, available from The Pilgrim Press.