Jeannine Gury is the last of our 2009 Lay Preachers. Jeannine has been a member since 1994; she is a graduate of Kenyon College and a facilitator of the Faith Leader group.
When John asked me to be a lay preacher, I had the same out-of-body experience that I had when Scott asked me to marry him some 17 plus years ago. It was the listening to the words of the request bounce up against the enormity of the idea creating an overwhelming response inside of “no way/you’ve got to be kidding me” and “listen and open yourself to the possibility” while at the same time feeling like I was watching all of this from afar. You can feel very privileged that this experience of preaching registers so intensely when it comes to major life experiences!
As I began to ponder this experience, I have to say that I seriously considered getting copies of Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved and passing them out to everyone. In the book, Nouwen reaches out to a close friend to speak to his deepest yearnings to know God in this thing called life. You know life- the crazy, insane periods mixed in with a moment of calm baked into a soupy casserole of choices, consequences, differing perspectives, pressures and opportunities. Reading Life of the Beloved this summer and continuing to go back to Nouwen’s words ground me, align me and focus me by speaking to my head, my heart and my soul as I yearn to be one with God. The unfortunate result of moving ahead with this sermon meant that not only were you not going to get a copy of a great book, but you won’t get out of here 15 minutes early either!
After John’s invitation, I spoke with (or to be a bit more precise-panicked with) John and Clover about how does one approach such an enormous undertaking of preaching. It was interesting to hear how both had such different approaches to the sermon process (or at least how I interpreted their words) yet, seemingly ended up in the same place of true connection and sharing. While at first, finding a sermon inside felt like confusion, it became clear that ultimately it was to be my journey to take — one step at a time.
Today’s gospel reading from Mark is a powerful one. It contains two stories of Jesus-one going into the region of Tyre and the second leaving the region. In the first, Jesus enters a house, but does not want to be noticed. We do not know why he doesn’t want to be noticed, but can surmise any number of reasons. Perhaps Jesus was exhausted from traveling or perhaps he was looking for some space to breathe. However, shortly after entering, Jesus is approached by a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit – she is ill in some way.
Now, there is no connection between the woman and Jesus – she is a gentile and he is a Jew. Nevertheless, she begs him for help. But, Jesus replies that he is there for the Jews. Pushing back, she quietly and humbly questions his understanding. And in that courageous challenge, she offered Jesus a broader possibility of whom God was calling him to reach out to-both Jews and Gentiles. Jesus hears God’s voice and call through that woman.
The second story occurs on Jesus’ return from the region of Tyre. The interaction is much simpler. A man, who is both deaf and has a speech impediment, is brought to Jesus. Those around Jesus beg him to lay on a hand. Jesus takes the man aside, puts his fingers in his ears, spits and touches his tongue. He looks to heaven and says, “Be opened.” Immediately, his ears are opened, his tongue was released and he spoke plainly. Those around Jesus were astounded by his act of healing.
These stories move me very deeply. The three primary people in the stories, the man, the woman and Jesus, are intimately involved in the process of opening oneself to God and moving closer in relationship with God. For me, I see pieces of my own journey of faith in these stories. My journey is a constant process of my Becoming a Beloved Child of God. This Becoming is the opening of myself to God and moving closer in relationship with God.
I was born in the Midwest-Chicago actually and was adopted as an infant. My mother who had adopted me was what some called a brittle diabetic. Certainly not a medical term, but one that reflected her body’s constant struggle, even with the daily shots of insulin.
We moved to California when I was a little older than four. From the photos that I have seen, she was a beautiful woman – tall and elegant. What I remember of that time were the many shots and pill containers that covered the bathroom counter that I could see at eye level. I remember her always in bed, certainly after a surgery and her blindness brought on by the diabetes.
She died when I was five and a half, about the same age as Aidan, my youngest child. Looking back on that period as an adult, it is difficult to imagine what it would be like to let go of a child who holds you so fiercely, feels so deeply, and loves so unconditionally. Yet in my own experience – as that child, in a life choking with intense loneliness and despair – what I was also deeply aware of was God’s presence every night in those early days and months. Each evening in the quiet of my darkened bedroom, I felt a cocoon filled with love, warmth, and peace in God’s presence.
I think, perhaps, my own father begged for God to be with me, knowing he had nothing left to give, as those around the man in Mark’s story begged Jesus. God opened me, just as he did with the man. In that opening, God held me and spoke to me tenderly and deeply. I treasure those nights. I am astounded by those nights. I am astounded by their purity and love-filled grace.
Then life happened. The world happened.
I grew up, I explored, I questioned, I doubted.
I began running and couldn’t breathe.
I forgot what it was to be a Beloved Child of God.
And then, with that, came the many other voices, clammering so loudly, so assuredly that I am simply not. The battle raged fiercely inside.
After joining Forest Hill many years ago, it has been amazing to hear from John, and later from Clover, of my Belovedness. Some Sundays it knocks the breath out of me – but more like a realignment. Other Sundays, it gives me oxygen and lifts the heaviness away. Yet, as I continue to grow, as I continue to journey, I have come to understand that while I am a Beloved Child of God, it is the process of Becoming that Beloved Child each moment and every day that I must walk.
I look at that woman who came, bowed down at Jesus’ feet and begged. I wonder about her journey. I wonder what she felt seeing her child sick. I wonder how her internal world was rocked as she looked around for healing and found none. I think about her courage to both see her world as failing and look outside it for other possibilities. As she opened to a new way, she found, too, that her journey was just beginning.
We aren’t offered anything about that period in her life. Perhaps we can only look inside ourselves at our own opening, our own stepping forward. Perhaps I can only look inside myself at my own faltering, my own struggling, my listening deep inside to the one small voice loving me, holding me, challenging me.
Her Becoming the Beloved allowed her to reach out to Jesus.
Her Becoming the Beloved empowered her to open her mouth and beg to Jesus.
Her Becoming the Beloved enabled her to challenge Jesus to a new possibility of his ministry beyond his Jewish brethren.
Becoming the Beloved for me is living my life as a mom of three children with the conviction of God’s love in the chaos of each day.
Becoming the Beloved for me is staying open to Scott in the exhaustion of our lives.
Becoming the Beloved for me is facilitating FaithLeader, a program that opens you to a deeper relationship with God and God’s call for you in the world, not only because it is life-feeding but life-giving.
Becoming the Beloved for me is trying to live God’s possibilities each day and listening to the voice inside saying that where I am, is where I am supposed to be.
As I close, I want to leave you with pieces of a psalm that I hold very dear. In it, I hear comfort, possibility, love and joy. I hear both my Belovedness and my Becoming. It is Psalm 16.
Protect me, O God, for in you
I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me
because he is at my right hand,
I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and
my soul rejoices
my body also rests secure.
You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures evermore.
I humbly offer you John’s words, Clover’s words, Jesus’ words, God’s words — you are Beloved Children of God. And in that, in each moment, in each day is the act of Becoming who you already are.
In Jesus’ name.