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Homily delivered at the funeral liturgy for Diana K. Bangert Drowns
St. Vincent de Paul Church, Albany, New York
“All artists operate out of a faith in abundance and the experience of hope, despite the propensity of our egos,” wrote novelist Makoto Fujimura.  Fujimura also mused that without beauty and mercy, the gospels will not change the world; for beauty and mercy are the avenues of imagination that transfigure us into what God intends for us.
As we gather today to bless the creator of an unfinished cosmic enterprise we remember Diana, who lived and worked in this environment by making beauty and advocating for loving kindness. Known for her humility and generosity, her sense of collaborative justice and truth, Diana was a maker of art. She gave expression to the gifts of creation, she revealed the love of the creator God … in her music, her art, her cooking, her marriage, her motherhood, her friendships.
Like many artists we know, Diana also experienced times of transition where self doubt clashed with confidence, where mental fatigue bumped up against clarity, where physical inabilities stifled creative ingenuity. But because her life flowed on in endless song, no storm could shake her inmost calm … through all the tumult and the strife she heard that music ringing, sounding, echoing in her soul, hailing a new creation. Diana trusted God was always at her side.
What kept Diana going? We know Diana because of her loyal and loving presence to Bob, Chris and Mike. And, her passion for ministering in the church was apparent. Before she got sick she biked briskly to worship. Determined not to give up she soon shuffled slowly with a walker back to the piano bench. She organized members of this community to create a monumental mobile of 1,000 cranes. Making art with symbols of peace and longevity. Was it resilience that kept her going? Her love of making art?
In her final hours of sickness Diana asked questions that are often set aside until shades are drawn down in life. She wondered about the word “meaning.” It was not so much about probing why her illness was happening as much as it was about her purpose, her role in God’s creative process. What meaning would her life’s portfolio have now?
The scriptures we heard this morning give us a glimpse of what made Diana a maker of art, a lover of Christ and humanity, a spirited explorer, a holy and wise woman. The passage from Isaiah (Is 25: 6a, 7-9) suggests a new level of communion and intimacy between God and God’s family. Did Diana believe that God actually “swallows up death?” Is that why she eventually wanted to transition from life to death to an alternate reality, an after life?
Diana lived on earth in a communion of saints … in the presence of God. (Ps 116 sung this morning) She perhaps also reflected on the apostle Paul’s letter (Romans 8: 31b-35, 37-39) about the meaning of God’s justice and holiness and that “nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.” Is that what hastened her desire to let go, to move forward, to fully embrace the love of Christ? Her body said “Go, Diana! Go!” But her mind said “No! Not yet.”
Maybe Diana saw herself as Martha did in this gospel text (John 11:17-27). As illogical as it sounded in this story, Jesus brings the future promise of resurrection and eternal life into the present. The artist Makoto Fujimura wrote that Martha perceived what no one else could understand at that time, that Jesus is the resurrection and life; something to be fully embraced now. Maybe Diana sensed that her life was not ending but that she would transition somehow into someone wholly new, somewhere else in a vast borderless extraterrestrial realm.
So, we ask, how does Diana live on? Another word she wrestled with was “God.” It is normal for a believer to question God, to doubt God, to reject God’s words when suffering and dying, poverty and hate overwhelm us. For Diana’s inquiring mind she wanted something else. The contemporary understanding of God as “More” gave Diana something to ponder. In fact, the idea energized her as she began to imagine that God is always something more than what is known to us.
In her art making Diana gave us a sense of beauty and mercy that is essential for giving life new meaning. She was transfigured by her art making. Those who knew Diana were also transfigured to make a difference in the world. Her life’s work contributed to an understanding of the love of God, revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, expressed in a Holy Spirit. Diana, made in the image and likeness of God, gave us “More.”
Wanting to make art in the midst of dying troubled Diana. Tired but not despondent, troubled but not angry, breathless but not silent, Diana uttered, “I am spent.” Like many artists who have completed the most important work of art in their lifetime — a concert, a sculpture, a painting, a poem — there was nothing more Diana could give. Ever eager to explore something new, she said, “I think I will now try to find out what it is like to die.” And she did. Gone now, but not forgotten.
1. Fujimura, Makoto. Art + Faith: A Theology of Making (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020)