Do you enjoy ‘Call the Midwife’? Each episode begins with a voiceover by Vanessa Redgrave during which words appear on the screen with the question:
Why did I ever start this?
The words come from Jennifer Worth’s memoirs which were the inspiration for the drama, and which provide much of its early material. The drama brings to life the impoverished East End of London in the 1950s and 1960s. It is told through the experience of midwives based at Nonnatus House, home to an order of Anglican nuns. As if you didn’t know!
Jennifer Worth’s words “Why did I ever start this?” come as she thinks of so many other careers that she could have chosen – clearly feeling that many of them, maybe all of them, would have been a lot easier!
I sometimes find myself asking the same question in the middle of a sermon, or even writing a magazine letter… I imagine the liturgical response:
Why did I ever start this?
Amen! Why did you ever start this?
So why did I ever start this letter?
Jenny Worth is acknowledging that her life as a midwife was grim, demanding and often traumatic but also rewarding and full of joy. She finds “the quiet thrill of the safe delivery of a healthy baby … intoxicating”. Her service illustrates what it is to ‘die to self’. The result is a grim-filled and a joy-filled life. For me that is an illustration of the abundant life to which Jesus calls us.
The TV series not only draws back the veil on some horrific conditions, but also gives hope because we know change for the better does come. And that can give us hope in joining the struggle to address many injustices that still face us at home and internationally.
It’s important to know that even heroic works of service have times of questioning and doubts – wondering if what we’re doing makes a difference, or enough of a difference, to justify the cost to us and our loved ones.
The only good answer to the question “why did I ever start this?” must be ‘because it’s worth it’. (Unless it’s not – which must always be considered!)
I guess I also just think that midwives are special people today, in history and across the world. And in the Bible.
- I think of the Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1. They refused to obey the orders of the Pharaoh, and continued working with the (Israelite) refugee community, a people suffering appalling prejudice and facing annihilation.
- I think of the children of Israel escaping from captivity in Egypt, through the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds). It’s like the waters breaking and out of suffering a new nation is born – it stumbles out into the wilderness, blinded by light, crying for food and drink, finding that with freedom comes great challenge and often wishing it were back in the safety of captivity in the womb of Egypt.
- I think of Jesus telling Nicodemus that we must be born again – of the Spirit.
- I think of the groaning of creation that Paul writes of in Romans 8 – groaning like a mother in childbirth. Groaning in hope. The new creation waiting and yearning to be born out of the old.
- Most of all, I think of Jesus, who died giving birth to the new creation. We are his body and are here to continue his work in the power of the Spirit.
We, representing Christ, are not just called to proclaim the coming kingdom, but to be midwives of the kingdom – using our God-given resources to bring to birth a new reality of life and love which is eternal. Grounded in the everyday grime and joys of life, we become intoxicated by glimpses of the kingdom here and now, motivated to bring life and love into the world despite the cost.
Over the next few years, the many and varied battles against the authorities and powers of this dark world will be shaped by the Covid pandemic. And we will often ask: “Why did I ever start this?” Words from the Communion Service may assist:
Lord of all life, help us to work together for that day when your kingdom comes and justice and mercy will be seen in all the earth.