‘Everything’s turning turtle’: Hope in dark times

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Mary Poppins Returns, 2018, Walt Disney Pictures

Throughout Lent we have been exploring themes arising from the recent film ‘Mary Poppins Returns’. This picks up the story when the children in the first film have grown up. Michael, the young boy, now has a family of his own. Their lives have been struck by tragedy when his wife died and the family home is struggling with mourning and the hole she has left in their lives. In the first week we used that as a springboard to explore grief and loss. The second week brought us the practically perfect nanny and fun at bathtime as they dived into the bubbles. That gave us an opening for imagination and faith. Last week a chipped bowl took us into a fantasy world of the Royal Doulton Music Hall and a song about the cover not being the same as the book. With that we thought about who we really are, integrity and identity. Today we combine those moments when the world is turned upside down and needing to find hope in dark times with Mothering Sunday. These fit together better than we might think.

First, to set the scene. The children go on an outing to see if they can get that chipped bowl fixed. It belonged to their mother and got damaged in a squabble between the siblings, so it carries far more significance and emotional importance than it might otherwise have had. Fixing it is therefore about fixing more than the porcelain. They need fixing too, but then that is why Mary Poppins has turned up. They visit the eccentric Topo-trepo-lovski. She can fix anything, but has moments when the world is dark and then she can’t see through the fog of gloom and despair, just like the children are in a bit of a fog and can’t see through to how it can be made better. These are sad days, ones where there is too much darkness to see clearly, when everything looks gloomy and lacking in hope. On these days everything turns turtle, flipperty flop, upside down like an up-ended turtle and then she doesn’t know her up from her down, her east from her west. It’s not a happy place to be. Is she depressed? Is there something else that causes this gloom? What is needed is to get the view changed, so that things are the right way up. Getting alongside her seems to make a difference; being there, accompanying her makes it feel less scary and weird.

Being there is a much under valued skill. It is the importance of presence, of turning up. It is the gift of time and with that comes valuing and honouring. It is one of the profound gifts of the Christian faith that it talks of God showing up, being present in the person of Jesus Christ. He displays the divine empathy with who we are and what we face. Knowing this changes everything. The world and creation is not so lonely a place. It is to know that there is hope, however dark the world may seem. It is knowing that we are loved, valued and held. These are all themes which fit rather well with Mothering Sunday: presence to accompany times of loneliness, to comfort, to love and reassure with hope.

Mothering Sunday is one of those days when things can get a bit odd. Stereotypes abound about what a mother is like: washing up, cooking, caring, putting food on the table… the list is almost endless and we know that many fulfill these roles, but also that they can be shared. Most mothers do still act as the primary carer, but there are many whose household is different or shared. For some there are two mums, for some none, for some that role is taken by someone else, even dads. And for some there is deep grief over loss, the aching of not ever having given birth, relationships being what they are, often complex, sometimes damaged, it’s not the straightforward day some might like to think it should be. We tread with care in this turning turtle world. And just like the world of the eccentric fixer, Topo-trepo-lovski, things can get out of place, out of shape and the wrong way up. We need help to sort them out and bring the world into focus and change how it looks.

Those themes, of being there when needed, reminding of hope and comfort, of loving and reassuring, are key for our growth and wellbeing. When the world is upside down and dark these help bring it back to where it should be. They are key themes in our faith and how we see God in Jesus Christ holding and loving creation. To live in tune with it is to embody these qualities and so give them form and life. We are to be people who inhabit them and display them.

The God we see in Jesus Christ is not an absentee, overstressed authority figure, fully occupied with much weightier matters to be concerned with our small trials. What we see is someone who stops along the way and gives full attention to the lost by the wayside, the crippled, the blind, the woman suffering with bleeding and those easily shunned and pushed to the margins. Even on the cross Jesus spares a word for one of those crucified with him and for his mother and close friend. Christ sees into the heart and recognizes the gifts and possibilities we often don’t even recognize in ourselves. It is the power of one-to-one conversations that can only happen with the gift of time and presence. In these healings take place – healings of mind and body, of spirit and hope. The excluded are included, the guilty restored in forgiveness, the lost and wandering found and brought into the fold. So much of what we want to celebrate on Mothering Sunday connects with how we see God at work in Jesus Christ and it is in these places that we find our lives reflecting the love of God.

All of us know there are times when we do these things and times when we fall short and don’t quite manage it. We can’t always show up, can’t always be there with the love and embrace, and can’t always do it for everyone. But we see in our mothering an image of how God in Jesus Christ acts and how he turns the world upside down again so that it is the right way up. The Song of Mary (Luke 1:46-55) is precisely about this flipperty flop world where the rich have too much, the poor not enough, the hungry longing for scraps from the table of those who are over filled. As our souls magnify the Lord, so the presence of God among us, announced to Mary by the angel, gives the world a flip and things start to change, to be transformed in his image, in his justice and in his love.

So on this Mothering Sunday, as we also continue our journey through Lent with the new Mary Poppins film, the world is flipped so that it is right the way up. It comes through loving presence that cares, that comforts, that reassures with hope.

Fourth Sermon in a series for Lent based on themes drawn from the film Mary Poppins Returns, Peterborough Parish Church, Sunday 31st March 2019

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About Revd Canon Ian Black

Ian is Vicar of Peterborough, Canon Residentiary of Peterborough Cathedral and Rural Dean of Peterborough. He previously served for 10 years in Leeds, as Vicar of Whitkirk and as a member of the Chapter of Ripon Cathedral. He has also worked in Kent in Maidstone and as priest-in-charge of a group of parishes 10 miles north west of Canterbury. He was a Minor Canon of Canterbury Cathedral, a prison chaplain and Assistant Director of Post-Ordination Training for the Diocese of Canterbury. Prior to ordination Ian had a career in tax, both with the Inland Revenue as a PAYE Auditor and a firm of Chartered Accountants as a Tax Accountant. Ian is married with two sons. He is the author of three books of prayers: Prayers for all occasions (SPCK 2011), Intercessions for Years A, B & C (SPCK 2009) and Intercessions for the Calendar of Saints and Holy Days (SPCK 2005). His latest book is 'Follow me: living the sayings of Jesus' (Sacristy Press 2017). He has been writing online since the mid 1990s.
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