The Gospel According to Barbie
The Gospel According to Barbie, 15 August 2023
A Sermon preached by The Very Reverend Nicholas Papadopulos, Dean of Salisbury
Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 1:46-55
“I only exist within the warmth of your gaze.”
They might be the lyrics of a love song, or the concluding line of a romantic poem, or the enraptured utterance of a mystic. But they are not: they are spoken by Ken in the final scene of one of this summer’s must-see film releases, Barbie.
I could be very unfair and ask for a show of hands. If you haven’t yet seen it yet: spoiler alert. As the film reaches its climax the very blond and very gormless Ken suffers something of an existential crisis. He has no identity other than that he is Barbie’s boyfriend. That’s what he was made to be. “It’s Barbie and Ken” he says. “There is no just Ken. That’s why I was created. I only exist within the warmth of your gaze.”
This is emphatically not what Barbie wants to hear. “Maybe it’s time to discover who Ken is” she chides. “Maybe all the things you thought made you you aren’t really…you”.
Never mind Oppenheimer, and never mind the Oscars: it’s that line that justifies my talking about Barbie and Ken on the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That line allows me to claim Barbie as this year’s spiritual blockbuster. It’s a pretty good summary of the challenge we face when we embark upon our baptized lives – when we embark upon the life that Our Lady lives and upon which she invites us to join her. “Maybe all the things you thought made you you aren’t really…you”.
We know almost nothing of Mary before the angel appears to her bearing God’s message. But St Paul observes in his letter to the Galatians that Jesus is born of a woman, born under the law, and we do know something of what being under the law meant to women born within Mary’s people, faith and culture. And what we know informs us that when the angel appears, Mary is asked to abandon the things that she thinks make her, her.
She is a virgin engaged to a man whose name is Joseph. “Greetings, favoured one!” says the angel. “…You will conceive in your womb and bear a son”. In those few words Mary is asked to put at risk every hope and ambition she has cherished since girlhood. She is asked to put at risk the honour and status of her family. And she is asked to put at risk her own person: public shame, and execution by stoning await her if she says yes. Marriage; family; public esteem – the things that make a Jewish girl in first-century Palestine a Jewish girl in first-century Palestine – all these she is asked to abandon.
Now: the Gospel according to Barbie is that Ken has an existence beyond the warmth of Barbie’s gaze. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that Mary has no existence beyond the warmth of God’s gaze. Because God is, she is; therefore God is not just to be believed in, but to be trusted. God is to be trusted because his purposes for his people are merciful and just. They are as Mary sings them in the canticle we call the Magnificat. Mary can say yes to God because Mary trusts God, and therefore everything that has seemed so important – family, culture, religion – is ultimately not.
Barbie urges Ken to get out from under her shadow. But the angel tells Mary that the power of God will overshadow her, and that in that overshadowing the salvation of humanity will be wrought. There’s no such thing as independence from God. At least, there is. It’s called death. Barbie pokes fun at the often-ridiculous expectations that men and women – but particularly men –place upon each other. The film’s teasing is necessary and welcome. But if Ken tries to find himself – if any of us tries to find ourselves – then we will be looking for an awfully long time. Mary requires us to acknowledge that we will find ourselves only when we do as she does, and recall our fundamental origin in, dependence on, and destiny with the one who calls us by name and makes us his own. Her son. “We only exist within the warmth of his gaze.”
Truly, all generations will call her blessed. Amen.