‘Ecclesiastical Teddy Bears’ and How They Help us Mature

Some things operate at such a fundamental level that I don’t even consider them,. Until I ear someone else talking about them, and then I’m off! Today this happened. A professor was talking about ‘objects’ and our relationship to them.  How about that. Just ‘objects’.


She said that as children we re very frightened by two things. One is that if our parents go out of the room, they might never come back because they have disappeared, and the other is that our emotions are so strong, we think that we can destroy the world and everyone else in it by them.


So, she said, the permanence of ‘objects’ helps us get in touch with the idea that things keep on ‘being’ when we close our eyes, or they just happen to go out of the room.


Children develop ways of learning this. A teddy bear or a blanket can serve as a kind of transition between thinking that everything disappears when I closer my eyes, and knowing that they don’t. This is known as a ‘transitional object’. It is a kind of comforting thing that helps us to grow up. 


I remember when I first cam to Montreux I brought some ‘comfort objects’ with me like my ‘comfort spoon’ for breakfast and some other things to remind me that even though I was leaving my then ‘home’ behind it did not disappear, and I was not totally out in the cold with a new situation. But lie all transitional objects, I find by experiment that many other spoons are just as good as my ‘comfort spoon’ and I am happy to use them.


But this idea of the ‘comfort spoon’ is a metaphor for the whole of a new life here. I am gradually expanding my horizons into the world of speaking French, and making new friends.


The other kind of object is a ‘fetish’. This kind of object is held onto at all costs because it represents not a piece of comfort as I move from one stage of maturity to another. A fetish represents a ‘stuck; kind of place where the object itself is my security, and I cannot move on.

The lecturer said that some kinds of mobile phones represent a fetish in the West. We often think about people with a ‘foot fetish’ as someone whose sexual development has been arrested at a certain stage. Some forms of Obsessive Compulsive behaviour make fetishes out of certain objects because the anxiety provoked by not having them fixes a person’s life around those objects.


In the Church we are also subject to such relationships to ‘objects’. As people subject to fear we need our ‘ecclesiastical teddy bear’ in order to help us to move from one state of maturity in faith to another. These kinds of objects could be anything from a style of service, to a particular hymn book, to an arrangement of furniture, to a style of music. Almost anything in the Church can be used as a form of comfort that serves as a source of stability while we move on.


I remember being a young adult and being part of what was then called the ‘para-church’ movement. We thought it was going to be the future of the Church, but as it turned out, this ‘para-Church’ broke up as people grew up and had families. It wad a kind of ‘transitional-object’ that helped us go from a teenage faith to an adult faith. But it was never meant to be permanent.


I also remember when I first went to Brisbane to work. There was a small church just down the road where I knew and liked the priest, but I needed a safer place, so I went to a larger Church where I could just ‘sit’ for a while, as I got my bearings.


Do you recall the joke? ‘How many Anglicans does it take to change a light bulb?’ ‘CHANGE?????!!!!! My great grandmother GAVE that light bulb’ This joke describes how we can make a fetish out of objects in the Church. It is why it is a sign of congregational health that we have had our clean out of the loft, and created some space in the back of the Church and done other minor changes. It shows others, and demonstrates to ourselves that we are mature Christians who are not locked into one particular way of being in order to feel really secure. We sing ‘All my hope on God is founded, not ‘All my hope on a 1662 Prayer Book is founded’ We are not a type of ‘religious hoarder’ who because of their fear  sits amid ever growing piles of magazines and empty food cans for fear that if ever anything is changed, everything will collapse. This is decidedly unhealthy for a human being, and unfaithful to a faith in God as well.


Interestingly enough, there is another set of phrases that we use that describe our relationships with objects, that delivers comfort, not by keeping them, but by having the long view that ‘this too shall pass’. When the going gets tough then it is comforting to know sometimes just sitting tight, or battening down the hatches will mean that the storm will pass. Jesus is in our boat, and because he is with us in our boat, he comforts us in our fear of being swamped. We can sometimes sit light to the swirling tempest, and not do anything much because we know that ‘this too will pass’. It is also healthy to ‘have things’ but not to have them too much because we know that everything will pass away, except God’s love for us. This is the import of the poem by Shelly. Here is the inscription on the ruins of a statue.

“My name is Ozymandius, King of Kings, Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair! “ Shelly goes on to say “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.” Some humility in the face of the desert is a salutary thing.


On the pilgrimage I met a very fine woman from Atlanta. She was a former school teacher and said that in being a school teacher she had to learn to be a good negotiator. There must be something that we agree on, even if it is to disagree! She said. She also said that the secret to a good negotiation is to be able to walk away. ‘you care…but not that much’. That sounds to me like the same kind of mature relationship to ‘objects’ that the professor was talking about on the radio. We do form attachments, but the clue to a healthy life is the trust that letting go one set of ‘objects’ does not mean that there won’t be any more! It is the ‘through-put’ of life that makes us healthy. For Christians this ought to be much easier because our lives are founded upon God in Christ who in the Spirit is ‘with us always’.




About frpaulsblog

Paul Dalzell is now a semi-retired priest living in Alexandra, Australia
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