Sunday 10 August 2014

For Lygia Waller, 25 January 1923 - 3 August 2014

This address was given on Saturday 9th August 2014 at Killodiernan Church of Ireland at the funeral service of my cousin by marriage Lygia Janina Waller nee Bansinska.
It was a great privilege to be asked to lead the service. A lifelong Roman Catholic, it was her expressed wish that her funeral should be in Killodiernan and be ecumenical. Fr John Slattery and Archdeacon John Hogan from Puckane & Carrig Catholic parish, and family friend Rev Felix Stephens OSB, as well as Church of Ireland Rector Canon Marie Rowley-Brooke also attended and took part in the service.

We have just heard the Beatitudes, the opening section of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount.
They are radically counter-cultural. They were when Jesus spoke them, and they remain so today. Surely poverty and grief are not things anyone would wish to be blessed with?

Now is not the time or place to try to expound them, though their paradoxes do repay much pondering and meditation. Rather, let me try to relate the first two beatitudes to the Lygia that we knew and loved.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Lygia was a fortunate woman. She was brought up in comfortable homes reflecting the status of her father Eugene Banasinski, a Polish diplomat. He and her mother Kira, though, had both experienced being refugees with nothing in a foreign land. And Kira is celebrated in Poland today for her work with Polish refugee children. After marrying Hardress, the rootless life of an army wife must have been difficult for Lygia at times, but with his rising career came a comfortable life and many opportunities for exciting travel and appreciation of art, which she developed into her own career as a picture restorer, trained in the Courtauld Institute. I can testify that she enjoyed with relish the good things of life that came her way. I can’t conceive that she ever felt poor.

But Jesus is not talking about material poverty here. To be ‘poor in spirit’ is surely not so much about what you may or may not have, but about what you desire. For all the comfort she enjoyed, Lygia was not consumed by desire for wealth or possessions, material things – what mattered to her were qualities like beauty and honesty and kindness.

A life-long Catholic, Lygia was not conventionally pious and was seldom seen in any church. When religion came up in conversation with me, as it occasionally did, she used to joke, ‘You know, I think I’m more a Buddhist than anything else’. Buddhists, I understand, believe that desire for material things is a poison that brings suffering - it must be avoided to achieve Nirvana, release from suffering. It seems to me that as she aged, and particularly after Hardress’s death, Lygia began quite consciously to give material things up, to live more simply, to enjoy the present moment. So perhaps she was only half-joking about the Buddhism!

But the way I see it is this - she was cultivating being ‘poor in spirit’, in the sense Jesus meant it. Let us pray that she is now experiencing the blessings due to the poor in spirit in the kingdom of heaven.
May she rest in peace and rise in glory!

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’
Theologians debate what this means, but today let us take it as a simple promise by Jesus, that those who mourn will be comforted.

To mourn, to grieve for lost loved ones, is part of the human condition. Good mourning, giving time to attend to grief, is hard work, but it allows us to come to terms with loss. Over time the good memories of loved ones emerge from the pain of losing them. We are comforted.

Lygia had her own share of grief, but she did not allow it to consume her – she kept her mourning quite private. Each anniversary of Hardress’s death, she would ask to be taken to Cloughprior, where we will shortly take her body, for me to lead some simple prayers. There she would spend just a few minutes remembering Hardress and her much loved grandson Ed, and laying flowers on their graves. I feel sure these little formal acts of mourning gave her comfort.

Afterwards, Lygia being Lygia, she liked to be taken for a jolly good lunch with a glass or two of wine somewhere nice, and she would be the witty good company all her friends enjoyed.

Today, Jocelyn and Tom, Alex and William grieve for a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother. And Lygia’s many friends are grieving too. Let us pray that they will be blessed with good mourning, and that they will receive the comfort promised by Jesus for those who mourn.