It is always refreshing to take stock of one’s life, especially as one grows older and the life history builds! I remember listening in the 1950s to the odd Children’s Favourites on the radio in the days of “Uncle Mac”. These were the days of Max Bygraves warbling about coloured toothbrushes, Danny Kaye expressing concern about a certain ugly duckling and a light orchestral piece, seeking to emulate the sounds of a steam engine, one Puffin’ Billy. Among such delights were songs referring to a certain Christopher Robin. Do you recall They’re changing guards at Buckingham Palace (and Christopher Robin went down with Alice) followed by Hush, Hush, Whisper who dares, Christopher Robin is saying his prayers, the last soothingly intoned by Gracie Fields?
Christopher Robin was, of course, a real person, unknown as such by me in those years. Walt Disney then started issuing cartoons containing stories of Christopher and his friend, Pooh Bear, which were far too twee for my tastes. These cartoons were based on original stories of Christopher penned by his father, the playwright Alan Milne.
It was thus with some interest that I approached a cinema film based on the circumstances giving rise to the Pooh stories which was released about two years ago. Would the film include the songs from Children’s Favourites, penned by the composer of The Maid of the Mountains, Harold FraserSimson and other pleasures? The film actually brought into sharp focus how Christopher’s father, along with his friend, the illustrator Ernest Shepard, were inspired to capture the blissfulness of an innocent child, roaming through the beautiful Ashdown Forest one bright hot summer, without a care and with only the comfort and companionship of his cuddly toys. It was a delightful film which did not ignore the darker sides of life and Christopher’s subsequent less than halcyon existence. Particularly poignant was Christopher’s first day at private school where he was mercilessly bullied to a mocking parody of the Gracie Fields song, Hush, Hush, whisper who dares, Christopher Robin is being pushed down the stairs (which, of course, he was and on many, many more occasions).
The film was particularly arresting in that it highlighted the manner in which child and adult worlds interact. Childhood innocence and bliss were exploited by Christopher’s father and creative friends for financial and creative gain, developing a commercial product which was to cause its subject much distress when the real world impinged.
Jesus was also aware of the quality of childhood compared with adult life. Perhaps His most famous quotation is Suffer little children to come unto me, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven. This phrase can be problematic in interpretation. Is the innocence characterised by a child a requisite to enter Heaven? Children, we know, are in many ways like adults.
When mixing socially, they exhibit many adult and human vices such as selfishness, cruelty and bullying. Left to their own devices, children can murder, as in the case of Jamie Bulger. My own view is that Jesus was extolling the quality of unreserved trust and love in God as our Father in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven: the innocence which comes from perfection is impossible to achieve on earth and, therefore, in such absence, true penitence will be absolutely necessary to allow us to walk with God.