A funeral homily delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
March 2, 2016
for the funeral of Lydia Mahanes
at Preddy Funeral Home, Gordonsville, VA
Luke 9: 46-48
Mark 4: 1-9
Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
For your eyes show the way
Your mind knows the truth
Your being is the life.
When I was thinking about Lydia, and what I know of her, from my visits with her, from my talks with her, from all the stories that I have heard, two things stood out to me. Lydia as a school teacher, and Lydia as grower of flowers. And I couldn’t help but think of how similar these two endeavors are when you see them combined in the life of Ms. Mahanes. I chose these two gospel passages with these ideas very much on my mind.
Luke 9: 46-48
46 An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, 48 and said to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.”
Mark 4: 1-9
4 Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.8 Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
I feel myself blessed to have one thing in common with a woman like Lydia, and that is the high distinction of being a teacher, or a school teacher as she would always say to me, and then she would start into the story of her becoming a teacher, and memories of the children she taught. A teacher, I know, has thousands of stories, about hundreds of kids, countless times, and somehow they all meld together because there are so many and it is hard to keep them all straight. That is is what it is like for a teacher, but for students, those memories of their teachers are indelibly stamped on their minds, especially favorite teachers, those special people who form us. I was lucky to see that first hand with Lydia. One Sunday we had some visitors at church, and they were grown, gray hair twinkling in the light of the morning. One of them came up to me, and asked, because Lydia was there that Sunday, and we had prayed thanksgiving for her, he asked, is that Miss Mahanes? I said yes, He said, “She was my teacher.” Somehow I knew it when he called her Miss Mahanes, you see that is one thing that never changes with teachers, no matter how much older we get, she will always be Miss Mahanes. . . and there is something in that. . . it is like it is a moment frozen in time, frozen in our minds, and everything grows from that childhood moment where we are kids, and someone cares enough to teach us. That moment doesn’t change in our minds, and within some of us it is still there , and always will be, because we grow from there, it encases us, it is like all of the life that is alive, that lives at once in potential, in a seed.
A gardener like Lydia knows that, she can see it all in the little seed, and I use the word gardener, but the poet it in me wants to sing out something like Flower Whisperer because someone who has the care of Lydia has a much more mystical connection to the flowers she brings to life. If you doubt that connection, just talk to her a few years ago when she was imprisoned, her words, with only limited access to the ground, to the dirt, to the outside. She is the kind of visionary who sees in a tiny seed, brown or white or black or grey, all of the potential for beauty that can come from it, the rainbow of colors that will explode like the Spring. She holds that seed, plants it, cares for it, waters it, fertilizes it, prunes it, on hands and knees, fingers in the dirt, giving the intimate care, one to one. You can’t help but see the connection of Flower Grower, and School Teacher, both are seed planters, and both leave a legacy behind of beauty beyond what they themselves may ever see, a living legacy.
And that is what we all will have of Lydia. We will have memories of times where she took moments with each us, to simply plant and cultivate. She knew that life is lived in the simple words of Jesus’ parable, planting seeds, cultivating the ground where the gospel is made known, because it is alway made known best in relationships, in community, in presence, in love. And she will go on to a new garden, where she will get to walk and talk with her savior, he will tell her that she is his own, and the joy that they’ll share as they tarry there, we can only imagine, but if we were listening, when Miss Mahanes was teaching, if we ever heard a story from her, if we ever saw her smile, the defiant, lively glint in her eyes, if we ever saw her walking down the street, with her trowell, her spade and gloves, once we got over the cringe of how small and vulnerable she seemed in the big fast world of the rush of cars speeding by, crossing the street, heading over to the church to plant and cultivate the flowers around the sign, seeing those colors come to bloom, and smelling the fragrance they sent out on the Spring Breeze, if you were paying attention, you may have just gotten a glimpse of the joy she and her savior are sharing right now and forever. Amen.