What connects Calendar Girls, Rosa Parks, a Teenage Blogger and some Fast Talking Midwives? Read on and be inspired….
I am a sucker for the story of an underdog, for people achieving remarkable things with seemingly few resources, other than courage and gritty determination. Behind ‘Calendar Girls’, that film about of a small group of women and some well placed utensils, is a story of pain, grief, courage, determination, and not a little chutzpah, which resulted in a massive amount of money raised for Cancer research, money which directly benefited cancer patients at Skipton Hospital.
Then there’s Rosa Parks. In not giving up her seat on a public bus for a white person in Montgomery Alabama, she stood up to bullying oppression, and history was changed. What a woman!
A more contemporary example of an ordinary person demonstrating extraordinary courage is that of teen blogger Malala Yousufzai. In speaking out against the Taliban’s policy of not educating girls she made some ferocious enemies and took a bullet in the head and neck in an assassination attempt by the Taliban. Thankfully she is recovering. Will she be silenced? Absolutely not. A teenager takes on the Taliban by having the courage to speak out. Breathtaking! If you do nothing else today, say a prayer for this young woman.
Right in the first chapter of Exodus (Exodus 1.15-22) we run into two apparently ordinary folk. In a story of despotic power wielded by a nameless king, we stumble across two women, Hebrew midwives, named Shiphrah and Puah. Shiphrah means ‘brightness’ in Hebrew and Puah means ‘splendid’. Their names are apt. Two women, tasked to bring life into the world, faced a tyrant hell bent on wiping that life out. He commanded them to kill at birth every boy born to a Hebrew woman. What did these women do? Because they ‘feared’ God, which I take to mean ‘reverenced, respected worshipped and loved Him,’ they defied the king. Defying despots is a risky business, especially if they are armed and have no qualms about shooting teenagers, to draw from our more contemporary story. These women did what they could, with the resources they had in the situation in which they found themselves. I’ll bet the king of Egypt was no ‘new man’. I’ll bet he wasn’t present at the birth of his children, so what would he know about childbirth? Shiphrah and Puah, as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves, used their knowledge as midwives and played it off against the king’s ignorance. Full of courage, integrity and a fair bit of blarney, they stood up the corrupt power of the king. I once used this story in a school gathering and I asked people to put up their hands if they’d heard of Moses. A forest of hands went up (hurrah… it was a church school). I asked people if they’d heard of Shiphrah and Puah. Not a single hand. But without them Moses would have been killed at birth.
Shiprah and Puah were women whose behaviour was shaped by their faith. As God-fearing Jews, they could not bow to the king’s murderous request. Their faith is seen in their actions and their actions affect the life and freedom of their people. I find myself inspired by those Rylstone and District WI members (though it’s probably best if I keep my kit on), their humour and compassion, their well placed kitchen utensils. I am moved by the courage of Rosa Parks, her defiance in the face of ignorance, selfishness and rank injustice. As for the Pakistani teenager Malala Yousufzai… words defeat me. Such incredible courage. To blog in the face of murderous hostility. Two of the ancestors of these and countless others, men and women, are Shiprah and Puah. Splendid brightness in the opening chapter of Exodus.