It’s full of blood and babies and birthing and the screams of women in labor…things which honestly make me very, very uncomfortable. There are those people who are fascinated with these things. You know the kind—they see a pregnant woman and want to touch her belly, so enamored with the idea of life inside. I’m not that person. I don’t get it. At. All. I wouldn’t touch your belly normally, why would I want to touch it now? That’s just weird to me. Like it is weird beyond belief (I could say creepy but that might make me sound like a total jerk, so I won’t) that one of my best friends wanted to be in the delivery room while her mother gave birth to a late-in-life surprise… or when another friend wanted to be there while her sister gave birth. And to be honest, my one, irrational fear in life is the female doctor…fear which could probably be classified as genuine phobia.
So, that being said, you can understand why I am seriously uncomfortable with the BBC show, Call the Midwife, based on the book by Jennifer Worth, “Call the Midwife: a true story of the East End in the 50’s”—which is about a young midwife who joins a group of midwives and nuns serving the poor and destitute in London’s East End in the 50’s, in case the title didn’t make that clear. You can possibly also understand why it is so surprising to me that I actually like the show. I mean, I cringe, a LOT, with discomfort, but I like it…I even like it enough to get past how uncomfortable it makes me.
WHY??? You ask.
Mostly because of the way it makes me feel such compassion for the poor, the sick, the elderly—the least. This young mid-wife/nurse who has seen so little of the realities of poverty is suddenly face to face with the destitute life and conditions in Britain’s slums. She is horrified, disgusted, angered, challenged, and moved…alternately. So am I as I watch, often through tears.
I recently saw the first episode in the second season. There was an old woman. She lived in a condemned building. She was covered with fleas. Her shoes were literally stuck to her feet; she had had them on for so long. She was malnourished and smelly and just generally foul, so foul that mothers would scream if she approached their little ones, assuming the worst—because surely someone that looks like that must be crazy and would surely mean to harm or steal their children.
The truth was, that woman spent twenty-nine years in a workhouse in the worst possible conditions and lost her four children there. They “failed to thrive.” The truth was, she would never harm a child, she only missed her own, and singing to a baby brought her happiness. The ugly truth was that she was a product of her circumstances, a mirror of the world and how it treated her. It treated her like an animal, so she began to resemble one. It treated her with incivility and she began to respond in kind.
The young midwife was repulsed. I won’t lie, I was too—and it wasn’t the birthing stuff that grossed me out this time, it was the filth of her existence. (Just a little advice, this may not be the best show to watch while eating dinner—this from someone who does not *usually* have a queasy stomach.) But, as Jenny did her job and cared for the woman, with a tenderness that surely rivaled Jesus as he washed his disciples’ feet, cleaning her body, taking care of her wounds and health, burning the old clothes and giving her new ones, the woman was as transformed on the inside as she was on the outside. She was absolutely lovely.
The show ended as the midwives and nuns invited this woman in to assist them in their work, putting the skills she learned as a seamstress in the workhouse to good use, working alongside her saviors as a co-laborer.
And I wept. All by myself. Like it was all I could do to keep the ugly cry at bay.
I wept because of the love shown to this poor woman.
I wept because the midwives chose to treat her with kindness even when they were repulsed. And then I wept because in choosing to act in love toward this woman, they began to love in actuality.
I wept because it was so beautiful, the way this precious woman transformed once she was shown love.
I also wept with conviction because I wonder how many people I judge falsely, only seeing the outside, never wondering at the person inside.
I wept because I want to be like those midwives—choosing to love the unloveable, the least, the homeless, the “crazy,” and ill, and smelly and unsanitary and convicted and orphaned and “at risk.” I want to love them all…I want to see through their filthy rags and bad hygiene and all their smoke screens and anger and pain and I want to see the person God himself had in mind when he created them. And I want to be willing to roll up my sleeves and help them, just like Jenny did. She helped this poor woman take off layer after layer of filthy rag, and then she bathed her, and then she clothed her with new, clean garments.
I want to be like that—and not just because it was inspirational and meaningful when Jenny and the midwives did it on TV, but because—WWJD—it’s what Jesus does.
He loves us in our filth, but loves us so much he helps us get out of it. He gets us out of our filthy rags, taking them off layer by layer—rags dirty with sin as well as religion and our self-righteousness, all equally filthy. And then he washes us clean in his blood, the blood which He willingly spilled to pay the price for our dirty rags and to purchase new, clean garments of true righteousness. And then he clothes us and invites us in—welcoming us to work alongside Him, co-laborers with Himself as He reaches out to others who are just as we were.
May we all live like Jesus did—with a great compassion for the poor and the least. May we be willing to act in love until we love in actuality. May we be willing to see past the external ugliness to see the beauty that lies beneath. And may we be willing to partner with God in bringing that beauty to the surface—bearing all manner of filth and stench as we lovingly wash their proverbial (or literal) feet. May we know the joy of seeing lives transformed; and may we have the joy of becoming co-laborers with those we once deemed “least.”
If you’re hooked on Call the Midwife, it is my hope that every episode will serve to remind you of God’s great love for you, and his call to love and serve the least of these.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.