As you may remember, from A.A. Milne's beloved series Winnie the Pooh, after many whimsical and free days in his beloved Hundred Acre Wood, Christopher Robin has to say good-bye to his friends on the day he has to leave for boarding school. He’s very young, and must leave his precious place behind to become educated. And along with parting from family and place, there is a leaving behind of many trustworthy beliefs about perhaps what is most important in life. Playfulness. Imagination. The diversity of the kinds of friendships we can have. From bouncing Tiggers, to languid Eeyores, to Bears of Little Brain who dream up wonderful, catchy songs, to serious rabbits worrying mostly about harvest… (and I’ve always thought rabbit represents a foreshadow of adulthood.)
In the film, Christopher Robin, we witness a weather-worn grown-up version of the boy. After having to face the real world of boarding school, no longer allowed to draw pictures of his beloved stuffed friends, Christopher Robin grows up and is drafted to go to war and serve on the battlefield. He comes home and settles down with a wonderful woman, has a little girl, and devotes all of his efforts to a thankless job as an accountant for a furniture company.
Christopher Robin all but forgets his magical Hundred Acre Wood and the diverse set of characters he used to love. But his little daughter is longing for him to remember.
I won’t tell you the whole plot of the film, but I will say that I loved it, and thought it has a good deal to teach us about what it might mean to get to know our inner child again.
There is a very well-known therapy in depth psychology that is simply called Inner Child Work. It is about getting to know the part of yourself that was you as a child, who is still a part of you.
See, if you were lucky, you had a childhood that was free of trauma, and your parents made all the right decisions, and you didn’t have to experience rushed severances, nurtured more by institutions, than by an intimate web of intergenerational love. But more likely than not, some real shit happened, and you wound your way through the circuitous journey of your life, into a realm that does not have an adequate amount of love for the child you once were. Maybe you’ve taken the journey to slowly get to know your inner child, but most of us struggle to hold a special place in our hearts for our childhood selves. And we fail to send them messages, or speak to them in what Jim Finley calls “the timeless world of the unconscious” and say the things they needed to hear long ago. (Or, to put it another way, in your imagination, sort of “do” the things that needed to be done.)
There is a wild, childlike part of you too, that in some ways needed to be guided… things like not throwing your food, or being mean, or provoking. But commonly, the best wild parts of you were the parts that were severed… Like being told to colour within the lines. Like being made self-conscious of your little habits. Like not being allowed to be wildly creative... coming up with new words, or expressing your body, or humming or whistling a tune. And perhaps you had to part with a natural place, a wild place, that you were as bonded to as much as you were to a friend, and you may have been shamed for grieving that loss of place.
And for some, there is a very real betrayal, because like I said, real shit happened. Abuse happened. Things that should never have been, were.
Or a death happened.
And our whimsical worlds came crashing in upon us, and maybe even all our dreams felt like a betrayal.
And suddenly all the holes to fit into were square, and we had to get on with it, leaving our colourful world of Tiggers and Poohs behind.
In some sense, a severance must occur for childhood to transition to adulthood. But this used to be done in the form of a rite of passage. A ritual marking, that was still symbolic and still very imaginative and playful, (although also necessarily, a real "ordeal" as it was called). But the culture we are in does not have these rituals, and so ordeals come in the form of strange pattern interruptions of what should otherwise be a sort of methodical, institutionalized, life.
There is a term that Paul Ricoeur used, for the journey of belief, from what he called first naiveté to second naiveté. From that point of believing that all biblical narratives or fairy tales are literally true… and then after a university course or two, you begin to see any narrative, or any mythopoetic expression as suddenly, literally false. And then, there is another journey… that of arriving back at that place when we were children, but this time, with a second naiveté. A place where it is no longer “literally” anything, but now actual.
Most of us are either stuck in a first naiveté, or stuck in the denying of that naiveté. And there is a fatality to being stuck in either place. Because a grown-up stuck in the first naiveté can turn fundamentalist and hardened, in what used to be a childish innocence of literal belief. But also, a grown-up stuck in the total denial of that first naiveté, risks the loss of imagination, innovation, and creative, poetic thinking that comes from the realm of childhood.
Someone who has moved into a second naiveté has less challenges accepting the diversity of all the characters who come into their life. Adulthood can move back out of of rigidity, into a multitude of colours and differences.
The gospel reading for today is about being fishers of people. And we often have the image of a fishing rod, and hooking and luring people in. But they didn’t fish with rods in those days… they fished with nets. Which means, the nets didn’t discriminate on who was to be an acceptable fish or not.
I don’t think we would be struggling as a church, as much as we are, in the realm of accepting lgbtqia+ people, (or any person who doesn’t fit into what has been deemed “the norm”), if we could remember the characters who peppered our world as children. The Poohs and the Tiggers that we entrusted our most important secrets to. I trusted them to take me into their world, and their world was full of life, and colour. In one sense, I really learned how to pray, through enacting conversations with my stuffed toys, or my dog, or many of the trees I knew as my friends. When I encountered the world around me, I didn’t expect everyone and everything to be just like me, in order to make friends with them.
And that is what this is really about. Friendship. Relationship. Getting to know each other. Encounter. Making friends with who we really are, and making friends with who others really are. It isn’t about charity. Or even inclusivity as a buzz word. It is deeper than that. It is about finding that child within. Slowly finding a safe way to speak love to them. And then, eventually, making this realization of love about seeing the precious, inner child in everyone else.
The Waterboys have a song I cover that goes,
I'm gonna look twice at you
Until I see the Christ in you
I'm gonna look twice at you
Until I see the Christ in you
Till I'm looking through the eyes of love
And James Finley says in this song, Encountering the Inner Child,
"I see something precious in you, that you are not yet able to see.Where we are right now, is you, discovering with God's grace, the adult in you that can join me in seeing that preciousness in you. Because the child inside right now is waiting for you to see her."
Jesus said no one may enter the Kingdom of Heaven until they first see through the eyes of a child. Second naiveté is really what being “born again” is about. It is about believing each other’s experience. It is about reigniting an imaginal place within ourselves that stops ruling everything out, before we even consider that reality is far more interesting than we’ve narrowed it down to.
And the Kingdom of Heaven is certainly more interesting than what we've given credit for, which is why we must begin to see with the eyes of a child.
And... the Kingdom of God ... is within you.
Which means... you're interesting, too.
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on a regenerative farm on the Canadian prairies.