Winnie the Pooh and the Child in Us All

A.A. Milne concludes his Pooh stories with a blessing, “So they went off together. But wherever they go and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.”

Christopher Robin is growing up. He’s learning about adding and subtracting and the world beyond the Wood. Soon stuffed animals will give way to soccer balls, cricket matches, and sleepovers with playmates from school. As his world widens, imaginary playmates will become just that – imaginary! Stuffed toys will be stuffed in closets, no longer able to roam the Woods of our imagination at will.

There is something lost when we leave the Garden of pure imagination and when novelty and innovation are curbed by concreteness and counsel to be realistic. Sure, there are gains – we imagine new things and from these imaginings new possibilities emerge, but the “fall upward,” the end of what Tillich called “dreaming innocence,” also circumscribes our worlds. We can’t just “do nothing” as Christopher Robin mourns. Even prayer and meditation – and healthy habits – are viewed as luxuries in a world whose values are guided by achievement, consumption, and winning.

Yet, thank God, even in the most jaded spirit, there is a possibility of returning to the Garden, also known as the 100 Aker Wood. The Wood beckons us when we least expect it, and find ourselves lured to do nothing, to skip and dance, consider the lilies, and choose activities that neither “toil nor spin.”
While life is never the same once we’ve left the Wood and entered the world of schedules and rules, often aimed at organizational rather than personal well-being, we can return home from time to time. Writing the “Gospel of Winnie the Pooh” was a type of returning home to the bucolic world of King City, where in the 1950’s I could roam at will in our Salinas Valley cow town. I rediscovered the Wood in an acre plot tucked in the midst of high rises, where I could play with my two year old grandson, and act out the Pooh stories we had been reading. I rediscovered the Wood as I remembered my dear high school friend Wendy, who introduced me to Winnie the Pooh. I relived our innocent walks in the woods above San Jose, hippie kids following the artist’s way. Today, I find the Wood on the beach each morning, writing, and playing sports – we have our made-up teams – and various Batman games with my grandchildren.

Deep down, we all have that enchanted place where life is zestful once more. Deep down, whether we are in the White House, a pastor’s study, or taking a few minutes off in the work day, we can rediscover an enchanted sacred space that awakens us to the wellsprings of childhood, the child in the adult, and the creative synthesis of youth and age in the adult. Indeed, I suspect that our political leaders would govern more wisely if they could relearn the art of doing nothing, experiencing life in “inanimate objects,” and empathy with strangers.

Winnie the Pooh’s adventures invite us to discover our own sacred and enchanted places, where we feel most alive and rejoice in wonders of our one wild and precious life. We can, like Jesus’ companion Nicodemus, be “born anew,” fresh and free with the joys and tender mercies of every new morning and grateful for the sheer beauty of being alive.

(For more on Winnie’s adventures, see Bruce Epperly, “The Gospel According to Winnie the Pooh,” Noesis Books.)

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