Sermons from St Faith's

Mary... and Mary Poppins
Fr Michael Wood, May Devotions Service, 2009

It is exactly a year ago since I was reading one of the trashiest books I have ever set eyes upon, it is Emma Brockes’ book “What Would Barbara Do?” and it is subtitled “How musicals can change your life.” This book did change my life because it pricked one of the bubbles of my life and of course once a bubble is pricked it can never be put back together again. The book talks about Mary Poppins, telling us that the movie started out as a novel written by the Australian P.L. Travers, just listen to what she has to say:

“The original Poppins has small eyes to denote shrewdness. She is vain, very vain, constantly looking at herself in reflective surfaces and concluding ‘very smart, very interesting.’ She throws out terrible glances and levitates Uncle Albert’s landlady against her will. She is not remotely sentimental about the Bird Woman, a vagrant who clogs up the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral and whose birds, she suggests, ought to be baked in a pie. It transpires towards the end of the book that Mary Poppins has a cousin at the zoo, who is a snake. All of which is rather strange, given that Poppins has come to stand for a nauseating kind of niceness. But as it turns out , and as her creator puts it, she is a woman who ‘never wastes time being nice.”

We can see some of the Mary Poppins we know and love but it is definitely not the same. Of course Hollywood in General and Walt Disney in particular is quite capable of redacting almost any story to suit its purpose, and it certainly did a job on the Blessed Mary Poppins. As much as she deserves homage, it is not Mary Poppins we are here to celebrate tonight. We are here to honour Our Blessed Lady as mother of Our Lord, the Madonna who liked to say, “Yes.” In the pages of scripture we have a series of snapshots from the time of the Annunciation, when a young woman was given a task which would change the course, not only of history but of eternity. However there is rather more to Our Lady than simply the one who provides us with a ‘jolly holiday.’ Over the years we seem to have woven the strands together to form a story which is not actually the case. There is rather more to Our Lady than is sometimes allowed to meet the eye.

There is a delightful monologue called The Bethlehem Charabanc Trip which in humorous terms gives us a slightly different perspective.

“Now our Joe, there’s summat you should know
I’ve just discovered I’m going to give birth
He looked straight in her eye “Yer what?” she said “Aye”
And started explaining for all she was worth.

Joe says “I’m supposing we should be glad we were chosen
Fancy picking us, what’s the odds!
There’s summat I’m missing, do you get pregnant by kissing?
She says, “No, you daft tatie, it’s God’s.”

She thought she’s best mention divine intervention
Cause Joe was smelling a rat.
He says, “Oh aye, hunky dory, you mean God takes the glory
And leaves us with the bairn, begger that.”

Divine intervention is all well and good, but it is costly and that is a lesson Mary was certainly going to learn, not only in terms of just how perplexing the ways of God can be but also the pain of the prophecy that a sword will pierce her heart. The Virgin Mary provides us with many things, but the one thing she does not give us is a picture of “nauseating niceness” which is exactly how she is so often portrayed.

Our second reading, the wedding at Cana, is a story we can all relate to. A wedding and it is here where Mary’s humanity comes through as she shares the anxiety of the wine running out and we then hear a comment which is just so vital. As Mary said yes, so she now tells others, “If you want to share in this new wine, you also must now do the same, you also must say yes.” Of course those who were present at that moment could in no way have interpreted these events in the way I have just put them to you, they simply heard, “Do as he says and it will be right” but what’s the difference? Perhaps I am guilty of looking back and adding a mystic meaning where none exists, I leave you to decide for yourself. What I do know though is that we do Our Lady a disservice if we take away her humanity because if we do that then she becomes disconnected from us but more importantly if we take away her humanity we also take away her connection to Our Lord, whose mother she was.

How amazingly coincidental it is that this week there has been an item on the “odd news” which said that an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been found on a food griddle in a restaurant on the Mexican Californian border and more over the parish priest has declared that it is a true likeness. It is not just a matter of how coincidental that she appears there at this moment, but just how does the priest know that the smudge in the grease actually does look like her. So we are here to give thanks for a woman who knew joy and sorrow, a woman whose simple yes enabled us to live the life with God which she also was privileged lived.

John Keeble’s poem for the Annunciation touches on that very same thought:

Ave Maria! Mother blest,
To whom, caressing and caress’d
Clings the Eternal Child;
Favour’d beyond Archangels’ dream,
When first on thee with tenderest gleam
Thy new-born Saviour smil’d:

Ave Maria! Thou whose name
All but adoring love may claim,
Yet may we reach the shrine;
For He, thy Son and Saviour, vows
To crown all lowly lofty brows
With love and joy like thine.

Blessed is the womb that bare Him – blessed
The bosom where his lips were pressed,
But rather blessed are they
Who hear His word and keep it well,
The living homes where Christ shall dwell,
And never pass away.

Yes, may we through the prayers of Our Lady truly know within our hearts just how gracious the Lord is and may He in His mercy there for ever dwell.

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