People in many cultures believe the veil separating the living and the dead is especially thin at this time of year, making communication in dreams and in spirit more easy. Perhaps we believe this in the northern hemisphere because in most places plants are dying or at least going dormant. Autumn is a time of transition, not unlike the transition that is death.
Clergy often sit with people during transitions like that from life to death, particularly hospice chaplains. Furthermore, as leaders clergy people are called to assist or even lead congregations through transitions that can be painful. After all, part of any transition or change is facing what feels like death – the death of what used to be. As the poet Langston Hughes wrote, “Dear Lovely Death, Change is thy other name.”
What if we thought of guiding or leading transitions as midwifery rather than hospice chaplaincy? In transitions what was dies, but what is to be is also born or created. Anyone who has experienced birth knows that the most scary, dangerous and painful time is what’s called “transition labor.” Transition labor is the time of rapid change when the mother feels she will never make it, and may call the father bad names. During transition labor midwives reassure and encourage the parents while keeping a careful watch, safeguarding the lives of both child and mother. It is a risky phase for both of them.
These are apt metaphors for the ministry of transitions. Whether or not we are professional ministers, we all regularly observe or participate in the sacred process of transformation. As midwives of change, cooperating with the Sacred in this process, we must be very attentive during periods of painful, rapid change - guiding people through the shock of the new. It seems to me that our world is in a period of transition labor right now. There is a great deal of painful, rapid change occurring around the globe.
What would happen if we saw ourselves as midwives of this “transition labor” that is bringing something new to birth? Following the metaphor, we would recognize that this is at time of great risk both to what has been and to what could be coming. We would act to safeguard the process without stopping or inhibiting it, trusting in the life of what is to be. We would also act to reassure and encourage all the stakeholders in the process. We would wisely perceive, never deceive, leading and freeing, as Wren writes.
Birth is stressful but nearly always has a joyful result. A child is related to its parents, and yet a unique, new individual. A child changes the lives of the parents forever, in ways that are challenging and that require maturity. What if we saw all the change in our country and around the world as a process of birthing (painfully, perhaps) something related to what has been, but that creation has never before seen? What if we saw our role as helping the Divine midwife that change? Dear Lovely Birth, Change is thy other name.