Jeanne Wertheimer left Kinnelon on Monday to go live in Cyprus. She and her partner Chris came to us a year ago, “just for a little while,” but the visa process stretched out and we got used to them being here. Jeanne immediately got busy in outreach to local seniors, helping with the service at Cedar Crest and visiting a woman who needed help but couldn’t afford it. She also joined the Wednesday Bible Study.
Jeanne’s voice was a key part of that Bible Study group. Each week we read the lessons for the coming Sunday. Usually we study the Gospel in depth. Over and over, Jeanne would bring us to the question, “did this really happen?” If something was in three or four of the Gospels, she’d be more insistent that it must have been historically true. She was worried when I talked about the Gospel as stories told to a later community to illustrate the experience of being with Jesus. She wanted it to be historically true.
Jeanne’s clarity and willingness to argue pushed the rest of us to grow – to think through our viewpoints, to express them without anxiety, to be engaged without being aggressive. She surely helped me.
But this isn’t just about Jeanne. In the daily Office reading for Tuesday, Jesus tells the disciples that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Mk. 10:11). I think that Jeanne exemplified that. Receiving “as a little child” doesn’t mean just accepting it on authority, or reciting a creed. It means grabbing it, wrestling with it, not protecting it from questions or challenges but pushing forward in the knowledge that God can handle all our questions and doubts and needs. Little children don’t analyze or theorize; they absorb. As adults we are called to analyze and theorize as well as absorb, but Jesus – and Jeanne – remind me that this is a matter of life and death. We have to grab, and hold tight, to the Gospel. As Jacob wrestled with the angel, and was blessed (and marked!) for his effort, we are called to wrestle with the Word. We are blessed, and marked, at baptism, but it is in our struggle that we manifest the grace given us there.
So Godspeed, Jeanne. We’ll miss you. But we will wrestle, and rejoice, and remember. Come back soon.