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Memorial Eucharist - The Ven. Diane Marquart Moore | By The Rev. Dr. Rob MacSwain

Isaiah 61:1–3 | Psalm 121 | 1 John 3:1–2 | John 11:21–27

“At Sa’Di’s Tomb,” by Diane Marquart Moore:

Sa’Di retired on the hill of Pahandez,

orator, poet, pilgrim to Mecca,

twice smashing idols in temples there,

not unlike His Holiness Christ in Jerusalem,

and not unlike St. Francis

he fed the poor, birds, and animals;

yet, was adored by Shiraz princes.

His mausoleum destroyed and built again,

A compound, underneath flowing

Spring water as pure as his moral counsel,

Pumped to the surface for his rose garden.

Sa’Di, an Isaiah of Persia,

chiding the kings to show justice, equity,

spoke with the heart of a deacon,

serve humankind, he exhorted,

protect the weak and oppressed,

penning 1300 pages of ethical verse,

moral excellence

studied by Indian and Turkish monarchs,

proclaiming in intrepid lyric,

If we are unaffected by the afflictions of others,

we are not worthy to be called human.

This poem is the concluding entry of Diane’s 2019 volume, The Ultimate Pursuit: A Persian Transmigration—New and Selected Poetry, which she kindly gave to me a couple of years ago, but it was originally published in 2009 in her earlier collection titled Farda. I will come back to this wonderful poem in a moment but let me first consider the opening sequence of new poems in The Ultimate Pursuit (pg.55).

As Diane explains in the introduction, this sequence was inspired by an insistently crowing rooster that she heard daily in Louisiana. Linking this cocky Cajun crower to a phrase from The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, Diane’s deep immersion in Persian poetry and formative experience of living in Iran in the 1970s fused to produce a vivid imaginative journey in which, after a brutal cockfight, a badly wounded rooster relives a series of past lives in ancient Persia, such as a dancing girl or peasant farmer, only to finally return in bodily consciousness to the present—and yet profoundly changed by the memory of transmigration. In the final poem of this sequence, “Back Home,” the rooster reflects on this experience:

Later, from his cage

he sees brittle brown leaves

falling, one by one

Like his transmigrations,

feels he will not fight again.

When he looks out he sees

a grove of palmetto spikes,

their jade stems, sharp spurs

striking at his peace,

causing a flood of tears

to cover the impulse

toward beginning again.

Where? Why?

So good to have been there,

so good to be here…


No need for valiant jousts

in the Garden of Paradise.

Yet, he sighs for youth,

a sudden impulse toward hope

again enlivened by

the fragrance of spices,

visions of languid couches

cancelling the dull chill of oblivion

And he hears the distant refrain:

Be who you were, Be who you are—

Be the red comb of morning song—

Even if dissonant. (pp. 31-32)

Now, I honestly don’t know to what extent Diane associated herself with the rooster in these poems, either consciously or unconsciously, but for those who knew her and loved her and her own brave transmigratory journey, those final lines resonate with recognition:

Be who you were, Be who you are—

Be the red comb of morning song—

Even if dissonant.

But it is actually that first poem I recited that I think is most significant for those of us who have gathered here this afternoon to commemorate Diane’s remarkable life. Whether or not Diane associated herself with the transmigratory fighting rooster with past lives in Persia, either consciously or unconsciously, I don’t think that she was intending to compare herself to the great 13th century Persian poet and saint Sa’Di. She was far too humble for that. But nevertheless, isn’t it interesting and telling that she said that Sa’Di “spoke with the heart of a deacon”? And she also intriguingly described him as “an Isaiah of Persia.” To understand both the diaconal and Isaianic associations here, I think that the crucial lines are “serve humankind… / protect the weak and oppressed,” and then the concluding couplet that she quotes from Sa’Di himself: “If we are unaffected by the afflictions of others, we are not worthy to be called human.”

We see all of these themes come together in our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah, in which God tells him to bring good news to the oppressed, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners, and to comfort all who mourn. This is indeed the vocation of a deacon, and thus the work to which Diane committed herself in accepting that sacred office in the life of the Church for the sake of the world. But it is also, of course, the vocation of Christ himself, who read these exact same verses at the synagogue in Nazareth and then amazed his listeners by saying, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:16–21). And thus the poet Sa’Di, and the Prophet Isaiah, and the vocation of Christ, and the vocation of a deacon all coincide in the same mission to serve humankind by protecting the weak and the powerless. And may we all commit ourselves to this work as well.

But there’s yet more to be said here. I don’t know how seriously Diane took the idea of the transmigration of souls—otherwise more commonly known as reincarnation—that she explored poetically in The Ultimate Pursuit, but the idea involves both continuity and change. Namely, continuity of soul but change of body. And even though such reincarnation is not a traditional Christian idea, it is interesting that in our reading from the First Letter of John we see that in the Johannine view there is indeed both continuity and change between this life and the next: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” Thus, continuity of self, but change of identity as the vision of God transforms us into the divine likeness.

Finally, in our Gospel reading from John, we see the culminating piece of the Christian hope: that is, not merely an eternal spiritual existence in heaven but a renewed and redeemed bodily life on a transformed earth. The philosopher Eleonore Stump argues that in the exchange between Jesus and Martha of Bethany we see a frustrated and plucky woman challenging Jesus to stop being evasive and speaking in riddles and to finally make himself clear for once. “Your brother will rise again,” Jesus tells Martha vaguely and unhelpfully, to which she responds, with some exasperation: “Yeah, I know that already. Everybody knows that, Jesus. Of course he is going to rise again on the last day. But what about now? What are you going to do for us now?” And, stung by her rebuke, Jesus is provoked to make his great pronouncement: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” To which Martha, satisfied that she has finally gotten a definitive response from him, replies, “Yes.” And Jesus goes on to raise her brother Lazarus as a sign of our own future resurrections as well.

{See Eleonore Stump, Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), in the chapter titled, “The Story of Mary of Bethany: Heartbrokenness and Shame” (308–68).}

Our sister Diane has left this bodily life. She is no longer with us, and her ashes will soon be buried back in her beloved Louisiana. But if we trust our Scripture readings, her soul is currently delighting in the glory of God’s nearer presence, and her body will rise again on the last day, when the cock crows on the final sunrise of everlasting morning. Diane’s lifelong commitment to “the ultimate pursuit” of fusing love and justice, poetry and passion, beauty and truth thus continues even now in another transmigratory mode of being. So today we give thanks for her life among us, mourn the loss of her immediate presence along with Vickie and her family, pray for her many lines of important work to continue, and rejoice in the hope of resurrection. Amen.

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