While our favorite stories depict the victory of good over evil, they align most closely to the Good News—or Gospel—of Jesus when this triumph comes through the transformation, not defeat, of the antagonist. In agreement with Christ’s teaching, Mary Poppins musically identifies that the secret to redemption is “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”.
How can a silly, made up word “change your life” as Mary Poppins sings? Clearly, Mr. Banks had no use for such notions.
Jane: Good morning, father. Mary Poppins taught us the most wonderful word.
George W. Banks: What on Earth are you talking about? Superca – Super – or whatever the infernal thing is.
Jane: It’s something to say when you don’t know what to say.
George W. Banks: Yes, well, I always know what to say.
As an financial executive, he proclaims his principles: “A British bank is run with precision. A British home requires nothing less. Tradition, discipline, and rules. Without them: disorder, chaos, moral disintegration.” As George Banks has worked diligently to create an orderly life, he sees himself as refined, successful, and put together. Hence, “I always know what to say.”
Mary Poppins enters his home as the new nanny, and his perceived control begins to slip away. After his son inadvertently causes a rush on his bank, all because the child wanted to “foolishly” give away a few coins rather than invest them, George’s world falls apart.
Brought in to see the CEO, he, his umbrella, and his hat are disgraced in front of his peers. When asked “Do you have anything to say?”, he finds himself speechless for the first time. He proclaims, “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” and finds himself full of joy.
Poverty of Spirit
Jesus’s teaching in the Gospel of Matthew explains the redemption portrayed in the Gospel of Mary Poppins. Christ begins his Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3).
To find redemption, Mr. Banks needs to become poor in spirit. It is not enough that he lose his job or money. His self-image needs to change. While he first sees himself as self-made, rich, orderly, serious, always in control and competent, he needs to see himself as incapable, at a loss, and completely undone. As he gains this humble identity, he finds freedom to experience joy and intentionally love his family.
Learning from Children
Like George Banks, I’ve found many lessons in being a father, learning from the silliness of my toddler. As my son plays, doing what seems reasonable to him, two ideas overwhelm me.
First, he’s incomprehensibly valuable. Second, he’s doing something rather ridiculous. (This first struck me when I saw him biting his shoe.)
Ever since, I’ve tried to view myself and others, and I mean adults, in the same way. While we have unimaginable value, loved dearly by God our Father, we don’t have it together. We might act like we do and think we do, but we might as well be toddlers chewing on footwear.
Are You Poor in Spirit?
How do you view yourself? Do you strain to see yourself like Mr. Banks: confident and in control. Take an honest look at your life, and accept the struggles and failures.
While we like to imagine ourselves as capable as the hero, we also want to think of ourselves as virtuous as the good guy. Being poor in spirit, however, requires acknowledging we are frequently the antagonist and that our faults, especially moral faults, cause problems for others and ourselves.
The Good News of Jesus Christ is that we don’t need to have it all together, nor must we perfect ourselves. God simply does not hold our mistakes or inabilities against us. Regarding serious faults such as selfishness, unloving apathy, and pride, he offers forgiveness. Jesus died on a cross, accepting punishment for our vices, and rose from the dead, offering to transform us into selfless, loving, and humble people.
Hence, you can simply turn to Jesus and say:
I’m a mess and I don’t know what to do. I turn my life to you and trust that you love me. Please forgive me and transform me. Please give me your joy and freedom.
We don’t just pray and acknowledge this once. We need this mentality and dependency as our worldview and lifestyle. Even as Christ matures us in love and competence, we must continue to identify as beloved children who need our Father. We must daily come to peace with our shortcomings and rely on God’s help.
Mary Poppins teaches us an ironic truth: while we naturally strive to see ourselves as impressive, self-made paragons of achievement, we find life, joy, and love when we give up the illusion, rest, and proclaim, “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”.