Epiphany 1: Baptized and Beloved

Baptized and Beloved © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Epiphany 1/Baptism of Jesus, Year C: Luke 3.15-17, 21-22

A few nights ago, I had a dream. In the dream, I was sitting by a lake. A woman came and sat down beside me. She looked like a woman on whom life had been especially hard. Turning to her, offering my hand, I told her my name and asked hers. “My name,” she said as she took my hand, “is Fayette.”

Fayette. It’s the name of a woman who has haunted me for years and whom I have never met in waking life. I first learned of her in a story told by Janet Wolf, who used to serve as the pastor of Hobson United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Hobson UMC is a wildly diverse congregation that includes, as Janet has described it, “…people with power and PhDs and folks who have never gone past the third grade; folks with two houses and folks living on the streets; and, as one person who struggles with mental health declared, ‘those of us who are crazy and those who think they’re not.’”

Years ago, a woman named Fayette found her way to Hobson. Fayette lived with mental illness and lupus and without a home. She joined the new member class. The conversation about baptism—“this holy moment when we are named by God’s grace with such power it won’t come undone,” as Janet puts it—especially grabbed Fayette’s imagination. Janet tells of how, during the class, Fayette would ask again and again, “And when I’m baptized, I am…?” “The class,” Janet writes, “learned to respond, ‘Beloved, precious child of God, and beautiful to behold.’ ‘Oh, yes!’ she’d say, and then we could go back to our discussion.”

The day of Fayette’s baptism came. This is how Janet describes it:

Fayette went under, came up spluttering, and cried, ‘And now I am…?’ And we all sang, ‘Beloved, precious child of God, and beautiful to behold.’ ‘Oh, yes!’ she shouted as she danced all around the fellowship hall.

Two months later, Janet received a phone call.

Fayette had been beaten and raped and was at the county hospital. So I went. I could see her from a distance, pacing back and forth. When I got to the door, I heard, ‘I am beloved….’ She turned, saw me, and said, ‘I am beloved, precious child of God, and….’ Catching sight of herself in the mirror—hair sticking up, blood and tears streaking her face, dress torn, dirty, and rebuttoned askew, she started again, ‘I am beloved, precious child of God, and…’ She looked in the mirror again and declared, ‘…and God is still working on me. If you come back tomorrow, I’ll be so beautiful I’ll take your breath away!’

Beloved, the voice from heaven had proclaimed as the baptismal waters of the Jordan rolled off Jesus’ body. Beloved, the voice named him as he prepared to begin his public ministry. Beloved, spoken with such power that it would permeate Jesus’ entire life and teaching. Beloved, he would name those he met who were desperate for healing, for inclusion, for hope. Beloved, echoing through the ages, continuing to name those drenched in the waters of baptism. Beloved.  Child of God.

Fayette—beloved, precious child of God, and beautiful to behold—haunts me, blesses me, goes with me into this season. She challenges me to ask what it means that—like her, with her—I have been named by God’s grace with such power that it won’t come undone. As I remember the Baptism of Jesus, how will I reckon with the fact that I, that we, have shared in those waters—that in the sacrament of baptism and as members of the body of Christ, we, too, are named as beloved children of God? How will we live in such a way that others will know themselves as named by God, beloved by God—especially those who have been given cause to think they are less than loved, less than children of the One who created them?

In the coming days, may the waters of our baptism so cling to us that in their depths we see who we are, and from our depths reflect to others their true name: beloved, precious child of God, and beautiful to behold.

Blessings to you.

[Janet Wolf’s story is from The Upper Room Disciplines 1999 (Nashville: The Upper Room).]

[To use the “Baptized and Beloved” image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. For all my artwork for the Baptism of Jesus, please see this page. Annual subscriptions for unlimited downloads from janrichardsonimages.com are available at a special holiday discount through Epiphany (January 6). Visit subscribe for more info. Your support of JRI helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

For previous reflections on the Baptism of Jesus, please see these posts:

Epiphany 1: Take Me to the River
Epiphany 1: Ceremony (with a Side of Cake)

10 Responses to “Epiphany 1: Baptized and Beloved”

  1. girlwhocriedepiphany Says:

    ‘…and God is still working on me. If you come back tomorrow, I’ll be so beautiful I’ll take your breath away!’

    I hope that I never get Fayette’s story out of my head. To be haunted by her, accompanied by her is a blessing to be sure.

    As discussions spin round the baptism of our daughter, your words are especially poignant. My husband and I are no longer church goers and though I feel like I love an incredibly intense spiritual journey, so often in communion with Spirit, it is not a path that has lead me back to the church door. We are happy to have our baby initiated into our families’ faith, but the conversation of “what next?” swirls on. Some are looking for promises that her baptism will get us back in a pew each week, but I am not yet ready to take that step. You allow me to step back from familial politics and expectations and simply look in wonder at what the waters truly are.

    Blessings and thanks,

  2. mary beth Says:

    I have all the goosebumps in the world. thank you.

  3. earthchick Says:

    WOW! Thank you for this. I just turned in my sermon title earlier this morning – “Beloved” – and was thinking in this direction when I found your post (linked to in your comment on the RevGals lectionary leanings). This is awesome. Thank you for sharing it!

  4. Sarah Buteux Says:

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. I can’t stop reading your post and hope to share this story with my congregation this Sunday before we renew our baptism vows. What a blessing.

  5. claire Says:

    Simply beautiful. Thank you for the gift of Fayette — of beloved, precious child of God, and beautiful to behold. She reminds me of a young woman I have known. She is an angel among the angels now. Thanks again.

  6. Tess Says:

    Reading this it was as if everything in the world stopped to listen. Extraordinarily moving. Like Marisa, I hope I never get the story of Fayette out of my head.

  7. juniper Says:

    Wow, what a great story. Thanks for sharing this.

  8. Beth Says:

    Thank you Jan!

  9. Jan Richardson Says:

    Friends, please accept my oh-so-belated thanks for your words here! I circled back to this reflection in preparing for Baptism of Jesus this time around, and was chagrined to realize that I hadn’t responded to you at the time. Blessings and deep gratitude to you.

    • Laurie Hays Coffman Says:

      Thank you, Jan, for capturing this story so powerfully. What a proclaimer of good news you are! I heard Janet tell this story years ago, then found it in a book and read it to my congregation on various occasions, then lost it. I am thrilled to find it again here with your beautiful art and surrounding affirmations. I will offer it to an elderly group of saints in my retirement community Sunday, assuring them of their true identity.

      I continue to pray for your broken heart, ever so grateful for your gifts generously shared. God be with you, Beloved and Beautiful.

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