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: