Thursday, 26 December 2013

What would Mary Poppins do?

There are some fundamental truths in life, that are non-negotiable. One of them is that the answers to all questions of mystery, bafflement and confusion can be resolved by asking "What would Alice do?". The Alice books - Wonderland and Looking Glass, are the greatest writing of their kind in history, and should be mandatory reading for all. Given what Alice had to deal with, I think she might manage to cope with the more rudimentary questions and challenges that we have.

However that is not the question for this posting. The second truth is that Mary Poppins is one of the greatest musical films ever. Once again, there is truth and wisdom in this that all should be able to learn from. While it differs from the books, reading the books provides a level of depth that the film is unable to portray.

There are two main lessons that these great works can teach us. There is also the important point that Cockney accents are not as easy as some people think. But there are two main points that come out from the stories, that are important lessons for life:

1. Mary influences Mr Banks without seeming to. Her role and input was with the children, on paper, because she was the nanny. In many families the nanny is just a replaceable employee, and parents may not know who the latest one is. It is clear in the film that nannies have come and gone quite a bit, and their job was to keep themselves and the children out of the way.

Yet Mary manages to exert her influence of Mr Banks in a whole lot of subtle ways. She never directly undermines him, or tells him what to do. And yet she changes his attitude, for the better, while making him feel that it was his idea, his choice. He retains his position as the head of the family, his authority is not challenged, but he is completely turned around in his view, making a difference to the family.

It strikes me that this is the way that Jesus wants to do influence people. He is not about undermining people, demeaning them, or making them feel unworthy. But he is about changing people, influencing them to be better people. Sometimes, he wants us to just go and fly a kite.

2. Of course the big question is "What would Mary do?" The question is one that is addressed various times in the film, but addressed differently in the books, where Mary is a darker, more serious person. In fact, the fun, bright, magical person from the film is not the Mary of the books really.

The answer to the question is, so often, something magical. From the books, the reality is that she doesn't participate in the magic very much, the idea that "a respectable person like me, at the races?" is quite shocking, She is prim and proper, not doing anything "wrong", or against the social niceties of the time. The tales the children tell of what they did are dismissed by Mary, as being from their imagination.

What Mary does, quite critically, is enable people - the children especially - to see the magical in the ordinary. What they perceive as the magical, is what Mary enables them to see - they see the magical, despite the fact that the truth is the ordinary. That is the genius of Mary, that she enables this to happen, enables them to see something different.

In the difficult times of life, it is good to ask "What would Mary do?" The answer is, she enables you to see the magical in the ordinary. That is a wonder, that is part of the Christian message too - that there is magic, if we can see it. If we are prepared to be open, to let our minds see what is really there, there is magic, there is another reality, there is a baby who is God touching the world we know.

What would Mary do? She would enable us to see the truth. There is no greater gift.

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