By Rev. Dr. Trinette McCrayOne of the most powerful biblical stories about women’s relationships with other women comes in the beginning of the Old Testament: Exodus 1:15-21, the story of Shiphrah and Puah and the Hebrew women. For me, this story is a testament to how women can be bridges of understanding that can transform our collective experiences and the world. Much like in the times of this story, we live among contextual realities which are intertwined with beliefs about culture, spirituality, society, family, and ourselves. Many of us may see ourselves, at times, walking in the shoes of these women. We, too, can be bridges of understanding, as they were, and be the difference that can transform our collective experiences and our world.
What can draw women together? Are we created to have shared and mutual woman dispositions toward one another just because God made us women? Is that a part of God’s design? If I can conjecture that this is, then are we as women (and men too, for that matter) living beneath our highest potential with each other when we fail to do so? More questions than answers, yes. But that is what we are to do: Ask ourselves questions about how God might have wanted things to be; questions that honor God by our engaging in a holy inquiry. Inquiry is one of those internal dialogues that goes on when we are faced with choices that seem untenable, just like when Shiphrah and Puah were recruited by the power of their day, Pharoah, to do a terrible thing that would deeply injure and, indeed, even socially and economically handicap the Hebrew women. This is what would have happened if these two women were to do as power had demanded of them and betray the trust of the birthing woman when she sits on her birthing stool, a very vulnerable position for her to be in.
It seems to me that some content of Shiphrah and Puah’s inner inquiry would have been going deeply within to the place of their own hopes, their own needs, their own fears and, yes, their own pain. It was through such a holy inquiry that they reached the center of their souls and, when they did, there was God. They may not have personally known or been close enough to these Hebrew women to call them friend or sister, but they did recognize God in the choices that faced them. They chose God: they chose good, for they feared God and they did not do what Pharoah asked of them (Exodus 1:17).
The everyday roles of women are met with the realities of societal and political pressures that ask us to participate in the undoing of other women—Women not like us culturally; not like us coming from where we are from; not like us talking like we talk, wearing what we wear, worshipping how we worship. They’re just not like us. God is amazing, yes. God bridges all divides between us just as with Shiphrah, Puah, and the women giving birth. Although it’s not in the text, it is suggested that these two women may have been barren, not able themselves to bear children. This means that, even more, they might be willing to be co-opted to have the undoing of other women in their hands. Pharoah’s pay-off, after all, could be tremendous. Society does dangle its rewards for our co-optation. But these women had a heart for God and God’s purposes. They demonstrated that there is another power: Their own power—their own power given to them by God to tie their future, their hopes, their own lives to the welfare of these other women. They understood a common pain that women share. They were captured by the common hope of bringing forth all that is in us to give. They accepted a common call to live to the glory of God in all we do. There is power in that. Pharoah lost power the day these women owned their power to be the difference that they were created to be.
We could call this a multicultural story, given that many scholars think that Shiprah and Puah were something other than Egyptian since their names are Semitic. Some think they were, in fact, Hebrew.
If women are even somewhat dispositioned in this way, then where are we invited by God to seize the every-day opportunities for us to bring the, yea, be the difference? The result can be wellness and wholeness. God gave Shiphrah and Puah families of their own and for the Hebrew mother, Moses was born.
Rev. Dr. Trinette McCray serves as Alignment Manager with SchellingPoint, engaged by American Baptist Women’s Ministries to work with the organization in a three year initiative, “Living Out Our Cultural Reality into God’s Intentional Desire.” American Baptist Women’s Ministries is designing the initiative to empower American Baptist Women’s Ministries to fully embrace God’s intent to live and work amongst our diversity: the beloved community.