Good For People, Not For Eeyores

+JMJ+

Last year, I posted this gem from my three year old. So you don’t have to click over, here’s the text:

I was explaining to Emmie (now three years old!) that we were going to Good Friday service later today. As is usually the case, Good Friday here is overcast and gray with a high chance for rain. But as I rambled on about what we remember on Good Friday, Emmie just paused, put on her best Eeyore voice and said matter-of-factly:

“Good for people. Not for Eeyores.” 
 
 
 
I don’t even have a good follow-up for that one.

I wrote that I didn’t have a follow-up, but after a full liturgical year of pondering this strange comment, I’ve realized that my three year old (who is almost four now!) may have made one of the deepest theological observations….ever.

At the time when she made this comment, we were steeped in A.A. Milne from morning til dusk. My girls just adore the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood, but it is Eeyore alone who can elicit giggles AND groans from the children. They think he’s hilarious when he is bounced into the river during a game of Pooh-sticks, but they wriggle uncomfortably when Eeyore doesn’t realize he is giving Piglet’s house to Owl. I suspect this is what the children are supposed to feel, since Christopher Robin also stands there “wondering whether to laugh or what.”

Eeyore is the perennial bringer of gloom and discomfort, because he never quite engages with the world. He is always feeling sorry for himself because he doesn’t notice how much his friends care for him. In his more irritating moments, he even belittles them: “They haven’t got Brains, any of them, only grey fluff that’s blown into their heads by mistake, and they don’t Think”– betraying a very inflated sense of self. In the world of A. A. Milne, this endears Eeyore to our hearts because even as he is complaining about how no one cares, we know that Pooh and Piglet are already working hard to find him a nice, warm house! Children especially love Eeyore simply because he is a character who needs and asks for love. We, as readers, very much want Eeyore to notice how much he is loved, so we attach to him emotionally out of a desire to help him not be so willfully miserable.

All of this brings me to the point of consideration: what would Eeyore think of Good Friday? I am quite sure that Eeyore, if he could stop grumbling or looking for thistles long enough to lift his gaze to the cross at all, would not care one way or the other that we call such a day “good.” He would see a man wrongly accused, suffering needlessly, yet perhaps Eeyore would say, “So it goes. Today isn’t any worse than any other day.”

In our own lives, we can perhaps sympathize with those who recoil in horror at the cross, for even Paul reminds us that the message of a crucified God is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to the gentiles.” (1 Cor 1:23) An observer who accuses Christians of worshiping suffering and death, or mockingly draws an ass head on the crucifixion scene has already made the first steps toward conversion, for they have pinpointed the fact that the horror of Jesus’ death is at the very heart of the Gospel. When we meet someone like this, we have the opportunity to teach them about the Resurrection and the salvation offered to them through this Paschal Mystery. Then, they can make the choice to accept the “good” of this Friday, or reject it.

But what can one do with a person who refuses to even acknowledge the horror of the cross? By willfully persisting in gloom, an Eeyore could also make himself into a spiritual cripple, perpetually “bent over, completely incapable of standing erect.” (Luke 13:11) Eeyore wouldn’t call this Friday “evil” or “bad,” because for him there is no questioning the horror: it just Is.

,/p>

“Was it a Joke, or an Accident? I mean–“
“I didn’t stop to ask, Pooh. Even at the very bottom of the river I didn’t stop to say to myself, ‘Is this a Hearty Joke, or is it the Merest Accident?’ I just floated to the surface, and said to myself, ‘It’s wet.’ If you know what I mean.”

Of course this means that Eeyore is equally incapable of calling it Good. He can’t see anything of significance: it just Is. And for that sort of person, “Good Friday” and the “Good News” may not ever be accepted as good at all.

Now, I can already hear your objections, because my husband just sat and read this post and said, “But Eeyore isn’t all that bad! I like Eeyore!” Perhaps not. He is, after all, a stuffed donkey and we are meant to love him. But he’s proving too useful for me to stop on account of all that. Just remember: Eeyore is a metaphor. For you see…
…in this day and age, we western Christians are comfortably flooded with images of the crucifixion all the time. Our own house has a crucifix in every room; at my university, it was the same. When I go to mass, there is an enormous crucifix at the front, and many other little ones all around. We wear the crucifix as jewelry. We carry it our pockets on rosaries and chaplets, or perhaps we have a crucifix tattoo. I once had someone ask me: “If Jesus had been executed a hundred years ago, would you wear a fancy electric chair on your necklace?” I had never thought about this, but rather than confronting this question at the time, I shrugged it off. It was true: I didn’t see the cross in the same way I would see an electric chair, or a noose, or a guillotine.I could feign an argument and say, “Well, obviously not because Jesus didn’t die those ways,” but that would skirt the fact that this image of a bleeding, stripped, beaten God hanging on a tree is no longer shocking to us– rather, for most of us it is a comfort and sign of hope.

Now, I am not trying to say that we shouldn’t surround ourselves with crosses.  In the light of Good Friday, this comfort and firm reliance on the cross is just. Yet in our comfort, we must ask ourselves honestly: have I become an Eeyore?  Have I grown comfortable in my faith and the objects surrounding it, without paying attention to what they really mean?Am I so incapable of seeing both the horror and the glory of the cross?  Maybe I’m not willfully miserable like Eeyore, but am I willfully apathetic?

During liturgy today, we will partake in a ritual that goes back to at least 4th century Jerusalem: the veneration of the cross. On this day, we read John’s account of the brutal passion of Our Lord, how He was tortured and killed upon this cross, yet we almost immediately turn and venerate it… the paradox alone should jar us. So in the spirit of trying not to be an Eeyore, I offer this prayer:

+ As I kneel, or bow or place my lips on the cross this Good Friday, Lord help me to be moved to something… anything– anger, horror, confusion, gratitude, elation, surprise– preserve me from apathy that I may look up and truly see you so that I may sing your hymn of praise:
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:6-11)
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