Beth and Bear

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 feels when arms enfold you with strength, determination, and love. Quietly the image of Bear slipped in. It was a warm and comforting thought, and I thought of Jesus – somehow – as a Bear. Immediately thoughts of Lewis’s admonitions in Letters to Malcolm came to mind – The moment you create an image of God, you must destroy it, for not being complete, it will be wrong. Realizing the danger, I said to myself, If it is alright for me to imagine Jesus as a Bear, then I’m going to need some signs. – 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 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 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 gratefully climbed into bed. Then, a knock came at our door. It was my lovely daughter, Nessa, with a little card and a paper sack in hand. The children had forgotten to present me with a 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, and tiny too. But 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 just what I was looking for, 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

My heart warmed as I read through instances of Bears in mythology from around the world, in her article called Following the Bear. Quoting from Women Who Run With the Wolves, 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, and there it was:

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 poignant. 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’

– 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 apparently it also spirals upward, and round and round, it seems. As I was reviewing what I was writing and thinking at that time, 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 —which is 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 (birthday to Birthday, in July) comes to a close, it seemed the road really had brought me back again, to revisit the thought from a new vantage point.

Art by Liga Klavina

The idea of God has always taken on strange shapes for man, 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 like an “eagle,” or like a “bear.” Perhaps an animal creates a natural image of God for us from our particular and current point of view, in that he is such that we cannot immediately or fully comprehend, and in that he cannot communicate so clearly with us, due to our present undeveloped nature. Images like a lion (as of Aslan in Narnia), or a bear carry a sense of otherness, strangeness, of a gap in communication, and of a being that is very obviously different and other-natured than we are – 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 actually we who are the animal comparatively speaking, and He who is the full grown being, in the fullest sense possible. We are more like the mewling cub that is born into the world full of animal instincts and nature, who must be educated and brought higher up into the Godly nature. But because we are in our story, and not in his, He remains seemingly silent, large and looming; perhaps the image of an animal fits our current vision of that dynamic somehow. For now. 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 waking we will see the spell for what it was, and see that it was truly we who were beasts all along.

I went outside, bears still in mind, for a swim, and I looked up into the starry sky to find the Big Dipper. There was Ursa Major, her stars arching quietly over my house. So by the end of the day, it seems the bears have it, as far as I’m concerned. And interestingly enough, I didn’t get the hug. But I got a Bear. Or perhaps Bear simply has me, and that’s alright too.

 

– Beth

If you’re a bear, I’m a bear.

 

Art by Susan Beddon Boulet