Like an Old Teddy Bear

Jim Martin posted a fine reflection on facebook about the schmaltzy “Footprints” poem that has attracted so many. He writes:

The poem is (or poems are) frequently targeted in some more “sophisticated” spiritual circles for some good-natured, and not so good-natured, ribbing. It’s not Shakespeare or Dante of course, and perhaps the sheer ubiquity of the poem (on cards, posters, mugs, etc.) may have deadened some of its appeal. A darker motive for making light of the poem, though, is that it is popular, and surely, some more “advanced” thinkers believe, its popularity must mean that it is somehow not worthy of “serious” attention, or that it has little to teach us.

This is a common fallacy in some sophisticated spiritual circles. Such thinking makes the fatal mistake of forgetting that the Holy Spirit can be powerfully at work through a popular work of art. Indeed, its popularity can be put forth as an argument for its significance: Why else would it touch so many people respond to it? The Holy Spirit speaks through both “high” and “low” theology, and, besides, why do we need to make such distinctions at all? I’ll bet that the Beatitudes didn’t sound all that sophisticated either.

Agreed. Just because something is kinda schmaltzy doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily bad or even unsophisticated. Some can draw deep meaning in the simplest of things. My pastor, Fr Jack Ledwon often reads the Eucharistic Prayer for Children–because, as he says, “Sometimes the most profound things can only be captured in the simplest of ways.”

article-0-16092761000005DC-556_964x1274It calls to mind one of the favorite homilies I heard about awhile back. My buddy Fr. Jack Collins told me about it. He said “A priest gave this homily where he took out an old looking teddy bear. He said, ‘I’ve had this guy since I was a child. He’s old and half the stuffing is out of him and he’s missing an eye, but I still love him anyway. He’s my favorite, even though I’ve got a lot of new stuffed animals.”

“God loves us just like that. I’m old and worn out and I don’t see too well either. But God still loves me just as much as he always has.”

I could just feel my eyes welling up. It was a beautiful sentiment but also gave us much to consider.

How well do we love those closest to us? As we age and our relationships, especially those of us who are married, age–are we still able to love the same? Do we really take that commitment to love forever seriously?

Because God has made that same commitment to us.

So who is the old teddy bear in our lives? Find them today and hug the stuffing out of them, because God has been doing that with us for as long as we have been alive.

Amen.

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3 thoughts on “Like an Old Teddy Bear”

  1. One of my past students from Fairfield, inspired by the poem, co-created a nonprofit in Ecuador to help students in extreme poverty be able to stay in school, providing tutoring and resources like retreats, school supplies and hopes to offer more nutritional assistance soon. After doing a year of service with Rostro de Cristo, she lives in Ecuador now and works for the nonprofit. So, while the poem may be well-known… the Holy Spirit is clearly still using it and we clearly don’t have the message down yet. We often forget the importantance of human dignity of each person we meet, and hopefully, would aim to share God’s love with every day.

  2. The first time you hear Footprints, it catches you off guard – the very very first, unadulterated-by-the-culture hearing. It strikes at a very human experience- the sense of having been abandoned by God, which we know is a key experience in the spiritual life (the *sense*, not the actuality!), most powerfully experienced in Gethsemane by Christ Himself, and a fear that even if unspoken, is very alive in the human heart – that we will be left alone to deal with that which is most troubling to us. It also communicates something the soul barely dares to hope but longs for with all of its being – the affirmation that our God is a Personal God Who does not leave us orphans, but walks with us through the difficulties and trials of our lives. A few dozen readings later, with cheesy art and fonts, sure, it elicits some eye-rolling. But I try never to scoff at it, remembering that beautiful, powerful and true communication at the heart – something I know I need to know every day and that has changed my life forever – the knowledge and understanding that Christ walks with me, is there for me, and carries me, doing for me what I cannot do for myself. If that is not power & truth I don’t know what is.

    I love the teddy bear story too – I always remember how on our confirmation retreat one of the devoted ladies that had been teaching forever read us Velveteen Rabbit and talked to us about becoming “real.” We were 16-17, nearing the end of junior year, and with not a few decisions and relationships looming large in our lives. It was another that walked the line of schmaltz for me – but when I quieted my self-conscious-this-is-cheesy-voice and opened my ears for half a second, I knew the words communicated a real human truth.

    We need to give people a shot, even if we don’t like the style/mode of what they are offering us, and not be so critical of presentation sometimes. Sadly, I think our meme-culture, at least the adults, is getting worse and worse at this. :(

  3. My brother Randy still has his old teddy. Until I read this just now I could never understand why.

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