"Nonnatus House, midwife speaking," is the friendly greeting people hear when they call the convent where nuns and midwives live in London's East End.
"Call the Midwife," the popular PBS series originally set in the fifties, but now in the sixties, chronicles the adventures of nuns and midwives who visit expectant mothers providing London's poorest pregnant women with the best possible care.
I enjoy watching this show based on the memoir of Jennifer Worth, one of the midwives at Nonnatus House. Each episode weaves back and forth between the drama of helping women give birth in their homes to watching the nuns chant in the chapel or pray in their rooms. Taking the love of God into dirty, one-room flats to help those in poverty, is the mission of patient and caring midwives, some of whom are nuns.
The Rhythm of Liturgy
When I watch this show, I am reminded of those days in my early twenties when I thought God was calling me to be a nun. Growing up in the Episcopal Church, I learned early in my life the sustaining presence of liturgy. Each Sunday, the same words in prayers, responsive readings and psalms greeted me as I sat on a hard wooden pew for a service called "Morning Prayer." "Holy Communion" celebrated the first Sunday of the month, contained a different liturgy from "Morning Prayer," but was equally nurturing.
The repetitive nature of the liturgy during my formative years offered comfort and grounding each week because I came from a home that was chaotic and unpredictable. My attachment to God grew each week and I knew I could depend on God being present for me when people were not.
Craving a Convent
As I finished undergraduate school, my heart often yearned to live in a house surrounded by prayer and people who were loving and kind - my perception of what a convent was like.
I learned that the Episcopal Church did indeed have nuns and monks, so the path seemed clear - for awhile, anyway. When I completed graduate school, my search for a job began along with a pull toward service in God's name. However, I also had a desire to be a wife and mother. All of these conflicting thoughts churned my soul, leaving me confused and undecided for the future.
A Household of Peace
God intervened when I met a young man who eventually became my husband, and wanted to be a pastor. Life in God's kingdom took an unexpected turn. Marrying Mike opened a new dimension of love, service and eventually two, sweet girls.
Mike and I created a house filled with prayer, love and kindness. Although I joined the United Methodist Church when Mike began his ministry, my soul still sought weekly familiar liturgy in worship. God's presence through liturgy carved deep paths that were sustaining and grounding when I was growing up and continued to be important now.
Now that Mike is retired, we are free to worship many places. Every Wednesday, Mike and I attend a thirty minute service of "Holy Communion" at a local Episcopal church. When I hear and say the words in the Book of Common Prayer for "Holy Communion" my soul is stirred to those days long ago sitting on a hard wooden pew.
Liturgy for My Days
For my birthday last year, I asked for the book, A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. Each day I find a set of readings and prayers for reflection that wrap my soul in God. Some of the readings remind me of those when I was young listening to words that brought me to God. I slip these on like a person dons a favorite sweater or comfortable pair of shoes. They offer assurance even a sensation that I am home - home in liturgy that brought comfort and peace early in life and continues today.
Watching "Call the Midwife" for the six-week-long season connects me to those days when thinking about entering a convent seemed the direction my life would take. Even though I did not enter a convent, Mike and I created a home filled with prayer, love and focus on service to others - not unlike the daily practice of nuns who pray, love, and serve others.
The nuns in the series, along with my liturgy book, remind me to stay attentive to God, to practice my faith every day, and to spread God's love wherever I go - especially to the poor or those on the fringe.
Questions for Reflection
1. What moments, prayers, rituals or liturgy do you recall from your early memories of church?
2. Were they meaningful and formative to your faith?
3. How are they present in your faith practice today?
Prayer: God, you come to us in many ways. Sitting in church Sunday morning is a wonderful opportunity to hear your word in a sermon, prayers, readings and music. Even when we were young, your presence can open our souls to life with you. Guide us in our faith to move closer to you as we say the Lord's Prayer, participate in responsive readings and proclaim our faith in creeds. All of these bring our hearts to you. Amen.