The Tao of Pooh: Sources of Wisdom

The Tao of Pooh: Sources of Wisdom - post on Literate Theology / Kate Rae Davis

I purchased this book when I saw it used after it had been recommended to me by multiple people due to my then-fondness for all things Winnie the Pooh — a fact which should date how long I’ve been meaning to read it. And the multiple recommendations and the time it’s been with me and the energy of moving it from one place to another has all contributed to a bit of a sense of overhype.

I had wanted Hoff to draw parallels in the particular, to articulate specific intersections between taoism and these stories from the Hundred Acre Wood. Instead, he explains a taoist principle and then provides a quote or story from A. A. Milne’s work. And that’s it. He provides these sweeping stories and leaves the readers to draw their own connections. At times, I appreciated the freedom; more often, I felt abandoned — like he had an interesting thesis and got lazy in actually proving it, so instead he just laid out the evidence and said, “Here! See?”

Though he fails to thoughtfully execute the idea, his intuition is good. In the foreword, Hoff writes that he was in a conversation about the historical masters of wisdom when someone argued that they all come from the East; Hoff differed. He went to Milne’s work as an example of a wise Western Taoist.

That his example of Western wisdom is found in children’s stories is significant, and unusual for Western thinkers. I imagine that for many readers, The Tao of Pooh is the first work that took seriously a beloved children’s figure and helped explain why that figure was so important in their lives.

Perhaps this is the greatest gift that Hoff gives his readers: a certainty that wisdom exists not only in the West, but in children’s stories, in fantastical tales, and made-up realms.

Indeed, we humans are always “doing” theology. We can’t help but convey our understanding of the world in every act, with every word, and within every story. Of course we tell our theology to our children in the stories we share with them; indeed, this may be some of the most dense and raw theology. The created worlds in children’s stories often contain aspects of magic or make-believe, which is a condensed way to talk about realities. For one relevant example,”heffalumps and woozles” is a condensed way to talk about all the things in the world that make us feel uncertain about our security, anything from robbers to natural disasters. It’s a silly-while-serious way to introduce children to a difficult concept: there exists in the world something that is not for your best interests. In adult theology, we have another condensed way to talk about this concept: evil.

Storytellers want children to understand the world the same way we do and help them find their place in it. This is why so many new parents are excited to build their child’s bookshelf; they know they’re stocking their child’s imagination with lessons and beliefs about the way the world works.

Perhaps we’d do better to examine children’s stories more carefully and to choose which beliefs of the world we hand on to the next generations. Do you want your children (nieces, nephews, neighbor’s kids) to believe the world is fundamentally safe or unsafe? for them or against them? easy or challenging? What stories do you know of that convey these understandings of the world?



On Writing - post on Literate Theology / Kate Rae Davis

Here’s my confession: I don’t love to write. Finding the right words with the proper connotations is tedious. Moving those words into a linear order to convey non-linear thoughts and emotions is frustrating. Constructing a piece so that the reader has all the needed information before arriving at the next point and the next point and, eventually, the conclusion, requires an out-of-myself-ness that’s draining. My thoughts, I find, are unwieldy. They are animals, some angry, fighting, blood-thirsty; others weak, starving, simply thirsty.

And yet, here I am. At my desk, as I aim to be every morning (but truthfully, after checking emails, I only manage to keep myself here about half my mornings). I have a mug of tea, or maybe it’s just a glass of water, my phone is face down, my everything notebook at my side in order to refer to my scribbles about my life and try to make some sense of them. I swivel in the chair, I look out the window. I wonder when the dog will interrupt me to be loved. I manage to get a sentence or two out. Swivel, stare. Where is that dog? I hope he comes by soon, to check on me, to be loved.

I’m here because, while I may not absolutely love the process of writing, I do love reading. Everything is arranged in a logical way, and after going through a well-written paper I understand the conclusions and it’s all so simple; I could explain the universe, or at least this fraction of it. For a few minutes, I feel secure in some new knowledge. Then the information gets admitted into my inner jungle of a world where it interacts with lurking creatures who live there, and this new piece quickly mutates into another unwieldy beast.

So I write something, I wrestle, I struggle, I re-phrase and re-order. I hate the piece. I hate my poor writing. I boil. This is shit!, I inwardly yell. Eventually, I decide I can’t take any more of that topic, or, as a godsend, the deadline approaches, and I stop. I call it good enough.

Some weeks go by.

Then, my hatred calmed, cooled, and stilled, I revisit the work. Perhaps I decide I’m able to work on it again, perhaps it was just returned to me from an editor. I read my own thoughts, but on paper they’re more clearly explained. The wild beasts are tamed, the fledglings are cared for. I realize, this is really good. I second-guess myself, check the header, Did I really write this? It all seems so much more manageable in this black-and-white linear space. It seems, even, hopeful.

And I move back to my desk, ready to tame the next portion of the jungle.