September 9th, 2016


Today is National Teddy Bear Day

I collect bears. My first bear was Joe. Joe Bear was my teddy bear, given to me when I was about three years old. My mommy made his fancy duds, at my request. Once, I asked Mother for a nightshirt for him. She gave me a little striped shirt with snaps on the shoulder, a shirt made for a child just barely entering toddlerhood. When she gave me that shirt, I remembered wearing it. So that memory-of-a-memory is my earliest memory, of me being so small (about one? one and a half?) that my head was too big to go through a t-shirt neck hole.

Joe's retired now, so I bought him a little rocking chair to sit in. Like the Skin Horse in The Velveteen Rabbit, much of his fur has been loved off. He has become Real.

Some of my colleagues look at me askance when I talk about the sacramental value of teddy bears. C.S. Lewis said that attributing life and independent personality in order to have a relationship with an object is what "playing with it" means in a child's life. Being tucked into bed with a trusted stuffed friend means you're not really alone. It means you can face the darkness and the quiet of the house and go to sleep unafraid. It means, in effect, that the teddy bear is a stand-in for God against the day when you have a relationship directly with him and can face your fears through prayer.

Every now and then, I bring Joe to church to make this point with small children, or a similar one. They understand. Some people might look askance at my attitude toward Joe, as they might tease young children about their bears, but I tell them all, "You never make fun of a guy's bear." The people who do are just whistling in the dark, denying their own need for comfort or announcing their lack of it. Of course, the great object is to leave behind our little sacramentals and rest in our Savior's love, directly and consciously. But whatever helps us get to that point -- teddy bears, rosaries, a "prayer closet" -- is an aid to devotion, not a distraction.


Joe Bear