This painting from a friend’s church is of the Archangel. Church tradition recalls two archetypes which each provide us with powerful but differing tools in the Christian life. On the one hand, we are often finding the need to be or employ a midwife – helping to give birth to something new. On the other hand, we are often in the position of needing to be or have access to the warrior in which the big, sharp sword is employed.
As a midwife, we companion the birth-giver. We are friends to the one or ones whose idea or longing or project is in need of being given birth to, and in so doing we wait with them in vigil as the birthing happens. We coach calm. We encourage when the pain is too much to manage. We arrange for the hot water and towels. We calm the anxious family – especially the ones whose inheritance the birth will upset. And then when the birth is complete, we comfort the birth-giver into rest and praise him or her for the job well done while keeping an eye on the new-born idea or project to be sure it is kept safe. We do not pretend that everyone is happy about the birth – the change – the new.
As a worrier, we use the blade of a long knife or sword. As a worrier we are sometimes called upon to cut with a fast, hard blow. What we know of executions is that the sharper the knife and the more skilled the executioner, the faster and kinder the death. Such is also the case in the spiritual life. When we are letting go of an unhelpful way of being in the world or when we have seen a relationship is making us into a person we do not want to be, or when an addiction becomes evident (and not just drugs or alcohol, but work or eating) then a sharp sword is better (and kinder) than sawing at it with a butter knife.
As we live the spiritual life (which is really just life) we need people sometimes to be the warrior or the midwife for us. And at other times we are one of them to others or to ourselves. When a birth is happening only a midwife will do. Everyone else is just in the way. When a death is needed, only a word will do. Anything less sharp or less heavy will only bash rather than slice; only pound rather than end suffering quickly.
In my life, I am grateful for those holy men and holy women who are midwifes for my birthings and warriors to that which needs execution in my life. I try hard to listen to them. It takes humility not to be rehearsing what my response is or try to deflect, scapegoat or defend. It takes maturity and kindness to be helped through life. It shows weakness. And in my life, weakness is a great strength. It might as well be.