The Bear Affair

East of the Sun, West of the Moon, by Susan Campbell

In a quiet moment, into my mind wandered the thought of a bear hug – how nice it would feel for arms enfold you with strength, determination, and love. Like a bear hug. Quietly, the image of Bear slipped in. It was a warm and comforting thought, and in that moment, I thought of Jesus – somehow – as a Bear. As the one who might truly give such a warm and comforting bear hug. It probably sounds strange to everyone else, but to me in that moment it was a glory; a beautiful delight. Something about the quiet strength of the idea took me by surprise and won my heart; a love so large, so strong, and somehow clean and pure. Strange how the mind moves sometimes – where the thoughts come from, who knows; and who knows where they go? That is out of the reach of our vision; all we know is that the thoughts do appear, and that we are gifted with their presence for a moment. I did not have long to bask in the beauty of the thought before thoughts of Lewis’s admonitions in Letters to Malcolm came to mind – The moment your mind creates an image of God, you must destroy it, for not being complete, it will be wrong. Obviously. Realizing the danger, and yet still loving the picture, I prayed. “If it is alright for me to think of Jesus as a Bear, then I’m going to need some signs.” – But the picture had seemed so beautiful!!! Still. Thoughts that are untested, even though beautiful, must not be trusted. Softly, I pushed the thought away, and set it back adrift on that sea that washes the vessels of thoughts upon our shores. That is what I try to do with the thoughts I don’t know what to do with, or don’t know if they are right, or good. If you think you love something, set it free.

The days went by. Mother’s Day came, and it was a whirl of activity, putting together a dinner for the mothers in our lives. We had decided on a more complicated menu, and dinner was late. But with everyone’s help we managed to pull it off together, and we were able to bring our families together and show our appreciation for the beautiful women in our lives. We cleaned up, and tired, I climbed gratefully into bed. Then, a knock came at our door. It was my daughter, with a little card and a paper sack in hand. The children had forgotten to present me with their card earlier, and she wanted to give it to me before I went to bed. Lights went on, and I read the precious notes from my children with a swelling heart. I reached into the paper sack, and out came a little white polar bear, with a red muffler. It was a simple little bear made out of wool, and tiny too. But a quiet arrow went straight to my heart, and the tears came to my eyes.

Art by Marc Simmont

The next day – bears in mind – I began to do some research. I was curious to know if there had been any significant bears in mythologies or fairy tales, and my research brought me to a lovely little string of articles on Bears, Myth and Moor, by Terri Windling. It was somehow just what I had wanted, and it had a beautiful collection of information on tales and myth on bears, and art, depicting bears, and a girl. – Thank you, Terri, for the lovely thread. (I have shared the images I loved most here.)

Art by Susan Beddon Boulet

I was not the only one! My heart warmed as I read through instances of Bears in mythology from around the world, in her article called Following the Bear. She said,

In Women Who Run With the Wolves, psychologist and storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estés notes the age-old connection of women and bears in the mythic traditions of many different lands. “To the ancients,” she writes, “bears symbolized resurrection. The creature goes to sleep for a long time, its heartbeat decreases to almost nothing. The male often impregnates the female right before hibernation, but miraculously, egg and sperm do not unite right away. They float separately in her uterine broth until much later. Near the end of hibernation, the egg and sperm unite and cell division begins, so that the cubs will be born in the spring when the mother is awakening, just in time to care for and teach her new offspring. Not only by reason of awakening from hibernation as though from death, but much more so because the she-bear awakens with new young, this creature is a profound metaphor for our lives, for return and increase coming from something that seemed deadened.

Interesting. Another article, Winter Poetry Challenge: Day 1,  said her theme for the day was Bears in Myth, Fairy Tales and Fantasy. At the top of her list of examples, was the white bear in East of the Sun, West of the Moon. That phrase jumped off the page – I had seen that before… Where had I just heard that? I searched my memory – I must have saved it somewhere! (I like to save quotes that stand out and are meaningful to me.) I looked through my little collection of quotes, and there it was, in my entry for June 1, 2018:

Still round the corner there may wait

A new road or a secret gate

And though I oft have passed them by

A day will come at last when I

Shall take the hidden paths that run

West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

—JRR Tolkien

Such a beautiful line, and somehow also so evocative. It reminded me of something else I had saved, from a letter of CS Lewis:

“The pleasures of spring have been jawed about so often that I am rather shy of saying anything about the lovely weather that has succeeded to the snow here. Do you know what if feels like when you go out for the first time without an overcoat and feel all the nerves funny up the back of your legs and see the clouds blowing about a really blue sky? At the same I know the spring too well to really like her. She invariably makes you feel lonely & dissatisfied & long for

‘The land where I shall never be
The love that I shall never see.’

You know what I mean?”

~Letter from C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves, February 20, 1917

(The actual lines are these, “The love whom I shall never meet, The land where I shall never be;” by Andrew Lang, History of English Literature, p. 579.)

Following the trail, I looked up the fairy tale, East of the Sun, West of the Moon. As it turns out, it is a version of the story of Cupid and Psyche, which Andrew Lang included in his Blue Fairy Book. – Not only does the road go ever on, but it also spirals upward, and round and round, it seems. As I was reviewing what I was writing and thinking about earlier in the year, I realized that I had been brought full circle back to where I began my journey for this year; with a new reading of CS Lewis’s Till We Have Faces — a re-telling of the story of Cupid and Phsyche — and the words “You also shall be Psyche,” ringing in my ears. As my year (I count that from birthday to birthday, on July 1st) comes to a close, it seemed like my road really had brought me back again, to revisit the idea from a new vantage point.

Art by Liga Klavina

The idea of God has often taken on strange shapes for humankind, and pictures of a god that is like the sun, or like an eagle are plentiful throughout history. It could be that we, like the Six Blind Men, stretching our hands out in the dark to find God, find him at first “like” an “eagle,” or even “like” a “bear.” Perhaps an animal creates a natural image of God for us from our particular and current point of view, because He is such that we cannot immediately or fully comprehend, and because He cannot communicate clearly with us, due to our present undeveloped nature. Images like a lion (as with Aslan in Narnia), or a bear carry a sense of otherness, of strangeness, of a gap in communication, and of a being that is very obviously different and other-natured than we are – perhaps even dangerous, to our present sensibilities.

“Aslan is a lion — ‘the’ Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he — quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion…” “Safe?” said Mr Beaver, “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Of course, God is higher than we are, and so it is in actuality we who are the animal comparatively speaking, and He who is the fully developed being, in the fullest sense possible. We are more like the mewling man-cub that is born into the world full of animal instincts and nature, who must be educated and brought higher up into the fullness of a Christ-like nature. But because we are in our story, and not in his, he sometimes appears to us as silent, large and looming. Perhaps that is why something about the image of an animal has fitted the human conception of the gods for so long. Perhaps one day we shall wake to find that it was really we who were bewitched all along – like Prince Rilian of The Silver Chair. And on waking we will see the spell for what it was, and find that we were the ones who have really been beasts all along.

And, as Christians, we have received an even better revelation; that God is a person, like we are. The one being that can completely fulfill all of our desires, and outmatch our truest hopes and dreams. And He is more; a good and loving Father, and a Son, and Holy Ghost. But it has been said the higher does not stand without the lower, and for me there was something suddenly new and sweet in that image from a time gone by, and in seeing Christ as a bear. After dinner I went outside, bears still on my mind, for a swim. I leaned my head back on the side of the pool and looked up into the starry sky, and I wondered if I might see the Big Dipper. And there was Ursa Major, its stars arching quietly over my house. I had forgotten that I had asked for a sign. I don’t know if there could have been a more perfect end to this particular day than that – seeing the constellation of Ursa Major (the Big Bear) twinkling directly over my house. It was a sign sweeter than I could ever have imagined or asked for. So at the end of the day, strangely, it seemed that the bears had it. Or at least, the bear had me. Interestingly enough, I didn’t get the actual bear hug I started out thinking about. But I did get Bear. And somehow, even though it was different, that turned out to be a better and warmer feeling than I had expected. As the knowledge that there is a person out there — even if you can’t see them — who you know absolutely loves you, warms your heart. Somehow that simple knowledge is is larger than the idea of any one particular thing they might do for you.

And that is the story of my Bear Affair.

– Beth 🌸

If you’re a bear, I’m a bear. 🐾

Art by Susan Beddon Boulet


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Just a little flower, turning her face to find the sun. I don’t always feel his rays on me, but when I do, the warmth and the feeling is simply wonderful, and I never want to be in the shadows again. Isn’t he lovely?

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