By Daniel Aleshire
1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. 2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. 3 You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.” 4 For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night. 5 You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; 6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. 7 For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed. 8 You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance. 9 For all our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh. 10 The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. 11 Who considers the power of your anger? Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you. 12 So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart. 13 Turn, O Lord! How long? Have compassion on your servants! 14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. 15 Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil. 16 Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. 17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands — O prosper the work of our hands!
— Psalm 90
Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life. 25 Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; 27 and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and will come out — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
— John 5
51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
— 1 Corinthians 15
Today is one of those days when none of us really wanted to come to church. We would rather this had been a normal Monday, when we would be in offices and classrooms, busy with the tasks of life. We would rather call a phone number at the school of social work and be greeted by “This is Diana Garland.” We long for a normal day, but this is not one.
Illness has struck, caused pain, and taken a life. Some illnesses are gentle and do their damage slowly. Not Diana’s. It was harsh and brutal and fast. We have gathered in this sacred room today with one less friend and colleague. A family has gathered without daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, sister.
We cannot ignore or gloss over the sadness of this moment. While the words of the Psalmist often comfort and inspire us, they seemed cold and harsh when we heard them today:“You turn us back to dust, and say, ‘Turn back, you mortals.’… For all our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh. The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong ….” We could have wished that Diana had gotten her 70 or 80 years, that might have softened the blow of her death, but she did not. We might have wished that the God who formed the human family from the dust would keep us from turning back into dust, but God did not. We could wish for many things today, but wishing will not assuage our grief, lighten our burden, or change the heaviness that has brought us to church today. We cannot be Christian and not grieve on a day like today.
We grieve, but we do “not grieve as others do who have no hope” (2 Thess. 4:13). Our faith doesn’t take away the grieving, but it does place that grieving in the arms of hope, and hope according to scripture, “does not disappoint” (Rom. 5:5). We cannot be truly Christian today without celebrating the good that Diana has done, acknowledging the love that she has shared, and affirming the future God has granted her.
The Baylor community has been a place of spectacular accomplishment for Diana Garland. That accomplishment was honored in the celebration last spring that named the university’s school of social work for her. David Brooks, New York Times op-ed columnist, published an interesting book on character earlier this year. He distinguishes the kind of qualities and virtues that were celebrated last spring and the virtues that are mentioned in a eulogy. “The eulogy virtues are deeper,” he writes. They are “the ones that exist at the core of your being.” I invite you to consider qualities that I think were deeply a part of her, qualities that were the source of her significant accomplishment.
The good she has done
1. Diana was a person of true Christian faith. It was not so much a faith that issued in theological arguments about God as it was a faith that acted out the desires of God’s own heart. You would have thought that she had read the Gospels! The judgment narrative in Matthew was real to her. “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the earth; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” She understood that these words of Jesus were not intended to teach us what we need to do to attain a heavenly home. Rather, they teach us what — of all the good and wonderful things that are part of the Christian faith — matters most in the end. Diana was a social work educator, at least in part and perhaps primarily because, she was a Christian. She understood the gospel’s deep commitment to persons on the margins: the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the widow, the orphan, the aged and infirm. Individual acts of mercy enact the gospel’s concern in meaningful ways, but in a complex society, they are not enough. The gospel also requires structured systems of support, intervention and help.
Some Christians are suspicious of social work and judge it to be too secular to serve the gospel. Diana never accepted this suspicion. She lived and worked with the conviction that attending to the needs of troubled and abused children, addressing the devastation caused by poverty and racism, helping troubled families and finding ways to strengthen healthy ones are not the elective actions of Christianity, they are Christianity in its purest form.
2. Social work can also be as suspicious of religion. Christians can be seen as do-gooders who may be well meaning but whose religious orientation does not support the harsh edges of social justice or provide the critically skilled engagement the society requires. Diana never accepted this suspicion, either. She was engaged in professional social work and took its conventions thoughtfully and artfully. She helped build one school of social work in the context of religious commitment, and when that school was closed, helped to create another. Others may have been deterred when the first school closed. Not Diana. She understood that Christian commitment can reside comfortably with the social scientific contours of social work, and that social work needed places where both could find their way into concrete reality.
“Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life …. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands — O prosper the work of our hands!”
The love that she has shared
1. I think that Diana Garland was right about the most fundamental commitments of the Christian faith and I think she was equally right about academic and clinical excellence in social work that serves the gospel. She was wrong about one thing, however, and that error influenced her life. She thought she was normal. We know better. The level of achievement that she attained, the breadth and volume of the work that she accomplished, the influence that she exerted as architect and administrator of a strong and effective school of social work — these are not the achievements of an ordinary person. They embody vision, tenacity, determination, energy, stamina, and imagination that we normal people just don’t possess. Diana, however, thought she was normal, not exceptional.
There are exceptional people who know they are exceptional. They have a tendency to assume that others should defer to them, to think that they merit entitlements that others do not, and to presume that their exceptional accomplishments deserve commensurate reward. Diana had none of those tendencies. She was immensely talented but never expected others to kowtow to that talent; she was remarkably accomplished but never wore her accomplishment as a badge to keep others in their place. We are here today, in part, because we knew Diana to be exceptional, and we hold her tenderly in our memory because she never acted as if she were. This quality gives us a glimpse into how she loved. Love, after all, is “not envious or boastful or arrogant … it does not insist on its own way ….” Diana’s deep sense of being normal, it seems to me, was one way she loved others. She was wrong, of course, and her error was our blessing.
2. Diana loved her mother, Dorsie, who gave her birth, blessed her, raised her and celebrated the many accomplishments of her adulthood. She loved David, husband of 45 years, intellectual and spiritual partner, companion in life and caregiver in death. She loved Sarah and John, children who are the kind of adults who would make any parent proud and grateful, and no parent was more pleased or proud than Diana. She loved their spouses, Matt and Abby. And she loved her four grandchildren, Aurora and Azalea, Tess and Matthew. Matthew came last, just this past June, and Diana willed the disease not to take her before she had the chance to travel to New York and meet him. She made a quilt for each of these grandchildren, and they will find in fabric and stitch the love of a grandmother they hardly had a chance to know. I cannot speak a great deal about these loves, they are beyond my knowing and too intimate for the public spaces such as this service. But I have watched from the sidelines as a friend for almost four decades, and have seen this living love time and time again.
3. Sarah Garland, James Graves and my daughter, Jennie Aleshire Moctezuma, spent their childhoods together in Louisville. They remain friends. James wrote Diana a word of blessing and gratitude that is printed in the worship bulletin. A part of who James is, he writes, is a gift that Diana gave. To help a youth find the core of what will be his adult identity is an act of love. Jennie wrote Diana late in her illness about a memory from a time with the Garlands in Colorado. “I remember climbing to the top of my first mountain, Mount Chapin, with you and James and Tom and Sarah and John and David. … The afternoon storm clouds were rolling in and I was scared. We had to get down the mountain under the tree line. You stayed behind with me going slowly for a little bit and, as the clouds got darker, you said ‘Jennie, go!’ You pushed me out of my comfort zone from a safe and loving distance. … You held me without holding me back.” To hold without holding back is an act of love.
“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. … Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”
The future God has given her
This is a service of memory for us, and as Christians, it is also a service of hope.
1. Sarah Garland posted a picture in June of this year on her Facebook page. It has been on my mind, Sarah, the whole time I worked on this homily. Diana is sitting in a chair, holding her youngest grandchild with his feet toward her body, his body on her legs, his head cradled in her hands. She is looking at him as if she is cherishing a future she knows she will never see. There is joy in her face, even delight, not a hint of sadness. The reality of death and the hope of a life are, no doubt, both on her mind, and in this moment, the hope of life wins.
2. Earlier this year, the president of Columbia Seminary in Decatur, Ga., died of pancreatic cancer. The blog post announcing his death included this letter a friend had sent him shortly before he died:
“You remember [the time at that retreat] we were given various iterations of the ‘trust walk.’ In one of those exercises we were supposed to guide our blindfolded partner from behind using only our voice. You walked in front of me and I directed you with only words into a small thicket of woods. I had you stepping over logs and ducking down below strong branches. You went slowly and could feel dead wood snapping beneath your feet and all of the twigs on your face as you brushed past them. …
“Then I brought you almost out of the woods to the very edge of a large flat grassy field and stopped you 6 inches from the grass … .You had no idea that all the tangles and tripping hazards and undergrowth and slapping branches and hard trees were behind you and that before you was only a broad, flat, lush field of green grass. …
“Then I said, at the count of three I want you to run straightforward as fast as you can. … With great trust, you took off running, charging ahead . … This is the journey ahead for you my friend. … The Word is behind you but also goes before you; the Word made flesh walks with you and is within you.”
“When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ Therefore, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
Our hope as Christians is that God has brought Diana through the terrible thicket of death into a meadow of life. Our hope is that “All will be well, all manner of things will be well.” The good has been done. The work is complete. The loves of this life have overflowed into a future that God will surely give. It is well, it is well, it is well with her soul and may it be well with ours.
Scripture for this homily was selected by David Garland, Diana Garland’s husband of 45 years.