Lent: The Holy Spirit and Mary Poppins

February 28, 2021

I love the 1964 version of Mary Poppins (MP); you know, the one with Julie Andrews and Dick VanDyke.   Andrews is the perfect Mary Poppins – the mischievous twinkle in her eye belying the no nonsense veneer expected of a proper English nanny.

As I re-watched the film recently, I was amazed at how easily parallels could be drawn between the movie’s message with our Christian faith.  

I mean, think of it: in MP, two very different philosophies of life are presented. 

George Banks, the unimaginative family patriarch, grumbles his way through life, demanding no-nonsense, unending hard work as the only means to achieve order and success; because of his joyless and misplaced priorities, the children doubted their father’s love; theirs was an anxious, fearful family dynamic. 

Mary Poppins, on the other hand, achieved the same goals with a ‘spoonful of sugar.’ Carried into the Banks’ lives on the freshness of the East wind, she entices the Banks’ children to live orderly, loving and respectful lives through joyful play and experiences of the wonder of life in all its newness.  

We know that all Disney productions have a happy ending; MP is no exception. 

Joy wins! Love is renewed! A family begins again! 

Then, the wind that brought Mary into the family’s lives changes direction; the lessons Mary offered have been learned, and she’s off on the West wind to bring joy and wonder to others. 

Like I mentioned, there are so many similarities to be found between MP and our lives as we ‘do life’ as Christians – and how we ‘do church’ in the world! 

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Christianity is so often seen as a major buzz kill to enjoying life. 

From the time we are old enough to pay attention, we face an onslaught of rules:  ‘the Thou Shalt Nots” required if we really want to be orderly and successful Christians.  

Christians so often take ourselves extremely seriously and expect everyone else to take us seriously as well.  Truth be told, I used to be firmly entrenched in that camp, myself! For example:

  • Don’t adapt to the needs of the present, merely accommodate the ways of the past.
  • Folks are welcome to worship with us if they can fit into the order we have established, and successfully appropriate into their own lives those points in scripture we have deemed necessary in order to ‘inherit the kingdom of God. 

And these are just some of the components of the bitter spoonful of medicinal religiosity we think everyone should swallow…but is that Christ’s way?  

I mean, sure, following Christ is serious business; it concerns the salvation of our souls!  But this seriousness is intended to be seriously joyful if we truly understand the message of the cross and the joyful surprise of Christ’s resurrection through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Christ came to bring life in all its abundant joy. Those things of our past? Forgiven! Every day is a hoped for opportunity to begin again! 

How can we truly hear those words and stay grumpily serious?  

Christ was always full of joyful surprises!

Think of His life on earth and the joy He brought to all He encountered;  we can learn a lot!

  • Children gravitated to Christ (Mark 10:13-15). I never met a child yet who was attracted   to grumpiness! Yet, how often do we stifle young joy as it breaks out in our worship services?  Want children in our lives – in our churches – offer them joy and wonder – after all, isn’t that a definition of ‘miraculous’? Jesus taught: Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Enter with joy!
  • Jesus’ parables were often humorous (think camel through the eye of a needle-ridiculous!) (Mark 10:25). Yet we tend to teach scripture without making much room for joy; putting a condemnatory spin on everything makes the Good News burdensome not liberating. 
  • Jesus fed the 4000 (Mark 8:1-9) and the 5000 (Mark 6:34-44)out of His great compassion for the people’s needs; it was a spontaneous picnic of joy! Yet how often do we grumble about our ministerial lacks rather than find joy in what gifts we have?
  • Those Jesus compassionately healed, loved, and included in His fellowship could not contain their joy at what He had done for them!  How often do we look for serious explanations for the unexplainable, rather than joyfully giving God the glory for the Lord’s great compassion on our condition?

The Lord consistently lived out joy even while proclaiming the bedrock principles of love of God and love of others.  

Those love teachings are the spiritual medicines that will heal the world; medicine which requires a bit of sweetening, I think, because unconditional love of others – sometimes even love of God – are often difficult truths to practice.

Yet, the joy of the Lord is our strength and we can do this! (Nehemiah 8:10)

That’s the spoonful of sugar: the joy of knowing that no matter how chaotic our lives, how broken our lives, how sinful our lives, Christ loves us!  His death and resurrection over 2000 years ago was so that we even now in 2021 might know this joy-filled truth: we are loved without condition, we are forgiven without exception, we can begin again each and every day – and indeed every minute of every day!  

Filled with this knowledge – overwhelmed by this joyful truth – we can love with joy – even when we would otherwise choose not to!

Our power – our order – our success as Christians (and as church) comes not from following rules and regulations and living in constant fear of not measuring up, and seriously judging the worthiness of others beyond ourselves, but from experiencing the life-giving joy of the Lord Who knows us to the very depth of our beings!

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Surprisingly, the seriousness of Lent is actually a time of joy if we choose to be open to holy transformation and a deeper understanding of the healing medicinal of holy love, sweetened by the joy of new life found only in Christ.   Who would of thought Lent could be so joy-filled?

And to God be the glory!  AMEN.

Next week: The Holy Spirit and Glenda the Good.

Published by Pastor Catharine

Retired ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I have a Master's of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (with an emphasis on Spiritual Transformation of Community) from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

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