What is the Spirit birthing? I wonder.
We don’t know what the baby will look like.
We do know that birthing is wracked with pain; that labor is exhausting, sometimes terrifying.
When labor sets in, we know there will be a birth. Or a death. There is no alternative.
The acute vulnerability we feel on that threshold creates a rare bond among co-laborers, and an uncommon receptivity to the guidance of the midwife.
What is the Spirit birthing? I wonder.
Jesus (perhaps playfully) said: “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.”
Nicodemus, taking the bait responded: “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
Jesus (perhaps smiling): “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Don’t be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus: “How can these things be?”
Jesus: “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” (John 3:5-10).
I am a teacher of the Mennonite Church. I confess that I struggle to understand.
Even so, I woke up playfully wondering what Spirit midwifery might evoke for us.
I know a birth analogy works only so far, yet the biblical writers play with it a lot—from the perspective of the one to be born, the one giving birth, and those groaning together in labor.
I have given birth—albeit a not-so-natural, emergency birth. I can’t think about birth without remembering the panic, the trauma, and the blood. The mid-wife at my left elbow shouted frantically when she couldn’t find a heartbeat. The Spirit midwife securely held my fainting spirit as I sank into a cloud of unknowing. When I waked up, there was a lot of pain, and blood.
There was also a healthy baby. And joy!
What is the Spirit birthing in the Mennonite Church? I wonder.
There are mothers and fathers who avoid the bloody mess of birth by choosing abortion. There are pre-mature births and still born births. If parents could perfect the DNA of the baby ahead of a birth, we’d find it hard to resist.
I can recount in detail many times when despite careful planning, best intentions, righteous convictions, the Spirit blew where she jolly well pleased.
I remember when I labored with others to control an outcome only to discover that it is the vulnerability of losing control that made us uncommonly receptive to the Spirit.
We experienced that vulnerability at AMBS Pastors Week last week. The exhaustion of the traumatic birthing underway at AMBS and in the wider church was evident in the capacity crowd present. So was the rare bond forged among co-laborers. With tears, and joy, we together renewed our confession, that “No one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 3:11).
A firmer footing on the foundation that is Jesus Christ freed us to live into a crazy hope:
We will be born again. We will become a church, Hyun Hur assured us, made in the image of the “tri-unity” God rather than in our own image.
The wind of the Spirit blew through the impassioned prophecy and inspired visions of young leaders—Meghan Good, Malinda E. Berry, Drew Hart, Lane Miller and Hyun Hur. The wind of the Spirit blew through the raw vulnerability and theological imagination of Janet Plenert, David Miller, Elizabeth Soto Albrecht and Greg Boyd.
Being “born again” is a painful, bloody mess. Groaning in labor together is exhausting work. Yet, when the Spirit is the midwife, it becomes a marvel! When we awaken to the wriggling, yowling, wondrous gift of new life, we will exclaim in astonishment: “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Ps 118:23).
What the Spirit is birthing is a wonder! Thanks be to God.