In Margaret Silf’s book “Inner Compass, An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality,” she asks a question at the heart of our relationship with God.
Her query: “Is your God a policeman or a midwife?”
I’ve had experiences with both.
Before I had children, a good friend asked me to be her birth coach for her second child. Her husband dutifully attended their first child’s birth, passed out in the delivery room at the sight of blood and asked to be excused from attendance for the birth of son No. 2.
When the big day came, he and my husband stuck together while my friend and I headed to the “birthing room” in the hospital — a quilt-filled, homey alternative to the more sterile delivery rooms. The midwife, a lovely woman who had helped countless women through the process, greeted us warmly.
Having never given birth, I dutifully used my textbook training to help my friend relax and “breathe.” I offered ice, remained encouraging and took my responsibility seriously. I was fascinated by the process, knowing I’d probably experience it myself someday.
Labor was rapid and the baby came fast.
I will never forget how, when it appeared the baby was imminent, the midwife took charge. She got me out of her way. She was gentle but firm, assured but completely in control. She and my friend, who yielded to the midwife’s direction, developed a rhythm and cadence that quickly guided the baby into the world.
I became a spectator at the beautiful dance of creation. The midwife was terrific, but without my friend’s surrender and cooperation, things would not have moved so quickly and smoothly.
I can easily envision that midwife as a loving God yearning for my surrender, guiding my creativity.
Then I think of policemen. I have terrific respect for our first responders, but having been picked up a time or two for speeding, I can’t say I love those close encounters with them. My last experience was several years ago when a policeman stopped me with just a warning for a minor infraction. I remember that my hands trembled as I handed him my insurance information.
Why? I recoil from reprimands from authority figures. I’m the oldest child, who always wanted to please the grown-ups. I don’t like getting caught breaking a rule, and I certainly don’t like paying a fine.
So, which one is my God? That’s the important question. Is God keeping score, waiting to flag me down with lights flashing? Or is God the midwife waiting to gently guide me to give birth to whatever God has in store for me in the plan of creation?
Pope Francis has reminded us repeatedly that we have a merciful God who calls us to extend that mercy to others. Today I think Catholics would be more apt to say, God is the midwife.
But a deeper question for me is: Do I really live as if God is the midwife of my life? If I did, I’d live in joyful expectation, surrendering to God. I wouldn’t spend my time beating up on myself for my failings but focusing instead on the creative things to which God continually invites me.
I would avoid the “me-centered” place where I am always finding fault with myself and instead reach out to God and others.
I would live in the happy anticipation of that birthing room, not in the fear and recrimination of the driver’s seat, ready to be punished.
Is my God a policeman or a midwife? How I behave reflects what I really believe.