A priest and performer considers religion, the arts, and the often thin space between sacred and secular, church and culture, pulpit and pew.

Friday, February 24, 2012

"Mulberry Days"

Our daughter recently gave me a DVD of one of my favorite “Britcoms”. Mulberry was filmed in the early 1990s and starred the wonderful Geraldine McEwan as Miss Farnaby, an aging, resentful, unhappy spinster who lived with two grudgingly faithful servants in her ancestral manor house and who, due to her ill temper and demanding nature, could not keep a paid companion on staff. One day a young man shows up at her door, identifies himself simply as “Mulberry”, and insinuates his way into the household as her new companion. Initially, Miss Farnaby and her servants, accustomed as they are to their depressingly dull existence, don’t quite know what to make of Mulberry; his zany sense of humor and enthusiasm for life are completely foreign to them. Eventually, however, his infectious energy causes them to begin to see themselves and their world differently. Always lurking in the shadows outside the manor house, though, is an old man dressed completely in black. As the story unfolds we learn that the old man is in fact the Grim Reaper, and that Mulberry is his son, sent as an “apprentice reaper” to usher Miss Farnaby to her demise. But what Mulberry has learned is that Miss Farnaby has never really lived, and he wants her to enjoy herself before she departs this life. Thus he keeps putting off the deed he has been sent to do, much to his father’s dismay. And there’s one more catch to the story, as we learn why Mulberry is so conflicted about his job. At one point the Grim Reaper confesses to him, “I fell from grace with your mother.” “Who is my mother?” Mulberry asks. His father answers, “Her name is Spring.”

I think the season of Lent is a little bit like Mulberry. There is a sense in which both death and rebirth coexist. We begin the season still in the cold and dark of winter with a substantive reminder of our mortality: ashes on our foreheads in the shape of a cross and the solemn words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It is a time of austerity, simplicity, and surrender to God. Always looming at its conclusion is the passion of our Lord. But the word Lent originates with Anglo-Saxon and Germanic words referring to longer days; in other words, “spring”. As we move through Lent, the days lengthen and the earth begins to warm. New growth appears. Finally, the tomb empties. Death does not, in fact, have the last word. The resurrection of Jesus ushers in the season of rebirth.

May we all be able to live into the ambiguity that this season brings: solemnity tempered with joy, intentionality interrupted by surprise, death to an old way of life for the sake of transformation and resurrection. In the words of the show’s theme song, “These are Mulberry days.”


  1. Thanks, Cynthia, for the reminder of this delightful show, and for your insights.